Many still think that Swiss cuisine inevitably involves melted cheese. I’m happy to eat fondue and its sibling raclette in winter, but on my recent visit to Switzerland’s most populous city, I had my eye on some of the more contemporary restaurants. Whether traditional or avant-garde, Zurich’s top dining establishments have access to superb local produce and freshwater fish, in addition to the expected high-quality dairy products. Eating in Zurich, although not inexpensive, is a consistent pleasure.
I recommend pairing Swiss cuisine with the country’s world-class wines, few of which are exported. Switzerland makes fine wine from both international and unique indigenous grapes such as Arvine, which can make a superb white. Pinot Noir is the most commonly planted variety, red or white, and the best examples are very seductive indeed.
One of Zurich’s newest Michelin stars belongs to this jewel box of a restaurant, located above the popular Mövenpick Wein-Bar, a short walk from all our recommended hotels in the city. Cozy 20/20 opened in 2016, but with its extravagant wood-paneled walls and ceiling, it looks much older and has a strong sense of place. When we arrived, it took a moment to find the one waiter who was working — only three tables were occupied during our lunchtime visit, and there was no host — but once we did, he provided impressively warm and knowledgeable service in flawless English.
I opted for the three-course Taste the Experience menu, which started with three exquisite little bites: a tapioca cracker topped with sweet wild prawn, citrusy yuzu and briny roe; a delicate spiral of deep-fried potato crowned by veal tartare and smoked-eel cream; and a dome of Landes goose liver encased in Port gelée. The fish course was a masterful composition of Breton turbot with vegetal spinach purée, savory chorizo coins, sweet butternut foam and deeply flavored turbot jus. And I loved the fork-tender Ibérico pork cheek, braised for 48 hours. A balsamic glaze cut through the richness, and peas and chanterelles added fresh and earthy notes. Fragrant, well-balanced wines by the Stiftskellerei Zurich paired beautifully. Closed Sunday and Monday.
20/20 by Mövenpick
Nüschelerstrasse 1. Tel. (41) 44-211-4570
On the opposite side of the Limmat River, tucked a block away from the tourist-filled Marktgasse, this restaurant also has an ostensibly traditional atmosphere, with an aged herringbone oak floor, coffered wood banquettes and a pastoral mural of cows. But Bauernschänke feels far younger and edgier than 20/20. Indeed, this restaurant isn’t for everyone, notably because most of the tables seat four people or more. Just as we received our dessert of lemon balm sorbet served with disks of frozen yogurt and sprinkled with fresh elderflowers, the host showed another couple to our table. They proceeded to whisper to each other, as if concerned that we might understand their charming but unintelligible Swiss German dialect.
Those willing to endure a little potential awkwardness will be amply rewarded by delicious soulful food and a selection of fascinating wines, many of which are fashionably “natural,” having been vinified with minimal intervention. On the recommendation of our server, we started with glasses of floral and slightly tannic Austrian Sauvignon Blanc by Weingut Maria & Sepp Muster, which worked well with a dish of shredded-pork lettuce wraps with a carrot-jicama salad, crunchy puffed sesame and ponzu vinaigrette.
I was surprised when our server recommended a red to pair with our main artichoke-based course, and even more so when she appeared with the bottle and asked, “Is it OK to pour it in the same glass?” Artichokes are notoriously difficult to pair with wine, but these savory hearts topped with slightly briny Baerii caviar and accompanied by rich beurre blanc married harmoniously with the Catalan El Rumbero by Oriol Artigas, a blend of mostly Syrah and Merlot that tasted of sour cherries and earth.
Bauernschänke is geared toward the adventurous palate, but I can see why one major restaurant critic called it 2018’s “opening of the year” in Zurich. Waitstaff will happily explain the German-only menu. Closed Sunday.
Rindermarkt 24. Tel. (41) 44-262-4130
See our additional Zurich restaurant recommendations under “Dining” on the bottom of the Zurich destination page.