The Peripatetic Epicurean
The following piece by food writer Ayesha Quatermain was first published by The Essential Edge on 21 August, 2012.
The Lake Geneva region is not known for great cuisine. To be fair, compared to the 1990s when Chinese, Indian or Ethiopian restaurants were about as rare as the European Lynx (slowly making a comeback), you’ve got a greater choice today, but most of it lacks inspiration. Want to spend CHF 25 for a bowl of spaghetti with a bit of butter, an enemic slice of pizza, or a half dozen lake perch that look suspiciously as though they died in infancy? You came to the right place. (See list for good value restaurants below)
Want something more, requiring culinary imagination? Head for Lyons, Paris, or better, go to Italy. Granted, Geneve is not a city that is necessarily devoted to culinary excess, but there are definite questions about the price you pay for what you get. (Some readers have suggested we institute an ignoble prize for the most mediocre restaurants, but we’ve decided to be positive and list, at the end of this piece, the establishments on both sides of the border that offer good value or are worth visiting according to recommendations from friends and colleagues.)
The difficulty of finding a decent restaurant in Geneva and neighbouring France has become an obsession both for residents and visitors. You would think that Swiss and French Restaurant Associations ought to be concerned. The fact is that they seem blissfully unaware of how dire the situation really is, or at least that is the impression that we had when we asked them about the dearth of choice in the region some months back. Particularly in Switzerland, where there is an entrenched attitude among many restaurateurs that there is nothing wrong with mediocre food plopped in front of customers at outrageous prices. As long as there is no other choice of price and quality, the theory seems to be that unprotesting diners can be led to the cash register like Swiss cows herded to a trough filled with stale corn meal.
In some establishments, this outrageous behaviour extends to charging for tap water -for “ecological reasons” as one restaurant owner tried to suggest or refusing to serve you if you don’t order a drink with your meal. In the United States most restaurants, whether cheap or expensive, automatically place fresh water on the table, or at least offer it to you if you want it, but this is Lake Geneva, where even water can be an excuse for gouging a customer. Furthermore, Geneva tap water is actually better in quality – and genuinely more ecological – than most commercial mineral waters.
But the uncomfortable reality for a country that relies heavily on the service industry for survival is that Geneva restaurants are beginning to lose customers. Given the current economy, there is reason to think twice about going out, not so much at lunchtime when a relatively acceptable “plat du jour” may cost only CHF 15-35, but in the evening when an average dinner with wine will set you back CHF 70-100. While restaurants on the French side, in Ferney-Voltaire, Divonne, Annecy or Thonon, are certainly cheaper – often by 20-30 percent – the food is usually just as uninspiring.
It’s not that we don’t mind laying out a bit of cash for a good meal, but what irks is the feeling that we probably could have done better at home, and that we have been ripped off once again. In short, we should have known better.
When compared to some of the restaurants you find by driving an hour or two into France or Italy, where you can have a four-course dinner with excellent wine for less than 45 Euros, Geneva is a wasteland. You have to look hard for those oases of cuisine that stand out as good value. And even if you wish to splurge, the Lake Geneva region – apart from a small and very select group of restaurants, such as the Auberge de Lion d’Or in Cologny on the outskirts of the city – is not exactly on the razor’s edge of new and imaginative cuisine.
During the 1980s, Freddy Girardet’s Restaurent de l’Hotel de Ville in Crissier, just outside Lausanne, emerged as arguably one of the best – if not the best – restaurants in the world. Girardet’s successor Philippe Rochat held his own as one of the globe’s top chefs. Sadly, Bernard Violier, who took over the Crissier restaurant from Rochat earlier this year, appears to be living more on the reputation of his predecessors rather than creating his own cuisine. The Financial Times recently slammed the restaurant (Mountain Low, FT Magazine, August 11-12, 2012) for not being up to snuff given the high dinner prices it charges (300 CHF average with wine).
Another renowned restaurant, the Perle du Lac in Morges which we used to find excellent, has also gone downhill based on recent customer comments. People used to take the TGV from Paris for lunch chez Girardet and Rochat. I doubt they’ll be doing that for Violiet. Or for Geneva.
To help you find some of these oases of good value, The Essential Edge has put together the following suggestions for both sides of the border.
GENEVA – SWISS SIDE
Obviously, everyone has their favourite place for price, food quality and atmosphere. The following selection were recommended to us by various friends and colleagues. Most of these are places where you could take your family, friends or business colleagues without feeling that you have been ripped off.
Café Restaurant Curiositas , Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 10 1205 Geneva (Entry through the Centre d’Art Contemporain)
Tel. 41-22-321-30-37 http://www.curiositas.ch
Near the Old Town and Plein Palais, Curiositas is located inside the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Expensive, but one of the most original decors and some of the best cuisine in Geneva. An exception to our comments above, and a favorite hangout of Geneva’s elite cognoscenti.
An original bar and restaurant located near the Forces Motrices building next to the Rhone River. A favorite hangout for artists, bohemians, musicians and the Geneva intellectual crowd. A place to enjoy good company without needing to bankrupt oneself.
Restaurant de la Maison des Arts du Grütli, 16 rue du Général-Dufour, 1204 Geneva. Tel. 41 (0)22 321 51 58
The Grutli – the café for the Maison des Arts – is a favorite hangout for writers, artists and the independent cinema crowd. Also a good meeting place if you want to show off your knowledge of Geneva.
The Buvette des Bains du Paquis, 30 Quai du Mont-Blanc, 1201 Geneva. http://www.buvettedesbains.ch/
One of the great gems of Geneva for fun food at a modest price. Located on the jetty at the Bain des Pacquis just opposite the Kempinski Hotel overlooking the lake and a few minutes up from the Mont Blanc bridge. Extremely simple, but its charm is its rustic ambience – a day at the beach in the center of Geneva. Fondu in the winter and salads in the summer. This is also one of the best breakfast settings. From CHF 10 for breakfast to around CHF 20 for a fondu. The place to take friends and visitors, and even for relaxed business meetings over lunch. And in the summer, go swimming at the same time.
Café du Soleil, Petit Saconnex, Geneva. Tel. 41-22-733 34 17. Email: email@example.com
Nearly 400 years old, this is one of Geneva’s most established café-restaurants. Located just opposite the church in Petit-Saconnex and only a few minutes walk from the Intercontinental Hotel, and a few more from the United Nations, this is a pleasantly laid- back place with an outside terrace for anyone working internationally. The cuisine is not fantastic, but the Café du Soleil offers some of the best cheese fondues in town, plus a reasonably priced plat du jour and good salads. Best reserve as it gets crowded, particularly on nice days.
Restaurant du Creux de Genthot, 1294 Genthod, Geneva. Tel. 41-22-774-1040. http://www.creuxdegenthod.com/
Slightly upmarket and specializing in lake fish, particularly perch, this is probably one of the most romantic openair restaurants (there is also an inside dining area) just outside Geneva with a view of the lake and the Mont Blanc. You can even have a quick dip in the lake before dinner. The sort of place to bring your loved one or foreign visitors and clients you really wish to impress, even if just for a morning coffee or a drink before dinner in a Riviera-type setting. The food is good and you can get away with 60-80 CHF per person depending on the wine – and desert. Well worth the price. Unusual for many restaurants, it also offers a vegetarian menu which changes every day. The restaurant is open seven days a week from March to December from 10.00 hours onwards. Check for indoor winter times. For visitors without a car, you can take the local train from Cornavin or the Jardin Botanic (near the UN) and get out at the Genthod stop and then only a 4-5 minute walk to the restaurant.
Le Lacustre, 336 Route de Lausanne, 1293 Bellevue, Geneva. Tel. 41-22-774-1002
Just a few minutes from the Creux de Genthod and closer to Geneva, this is another excellent fish place. Le Lacustre is the only restaurant in Bellevue (on the lake road to Lausanne on the way out from Geneva) which is really “feet in the lake,” beautiful, with good food and at a reasonable price. (Reckon 60-80 CHF depending on the wine). For those visitors without a car, you can take the local train from Cornavin or Jardin Bontanic (Direction: Coppet) or even the V bus from the United Nations (20-odd minutes to Genthod-Bellevue) with a ten minute walk to the lake.
Hotel-Restaurant Kutchi, 325 Route de Lausanne, 1293 Bellevue, Geneva. Tel. 41-22-774-0100 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A good Afghan restaurant – also in Bellevue – with a garden and very perfumed traditional food with fair prices. Nice for a different sort of lunch, particularly with a group of people and a mixed assortment of dishes.
Located one minute from the Chambesy railway station and a good 10-15 minute walk from the United Nations and the Botanical Gardens, this is a pleasant café-restaurant to go on nice days. You can sit in the garden and enjoy traditional Suisse cuisine at a reasonable price. If it rains, you can go inside. Also a good place for morning coffee or an early evening drink. They have a good plat du jour plus a menu. The waiters are helpful and prepared to move quickly if drops start falling.
Opposite the US mission and the UN tennis club and just up the road from the United Nations, this is always a practical place to go for a business lunch or to meet for drinks. You can sit outside on nice days, but there is lots of inside space. However, best reserve. They have a good plat du jour plus a reasonably priced menu boasting traditional French cuisine. The Cent-Suisse is also a superb location for workshops and seminars, particularly if you wish to get away from the UN or other traditional conference centres.
Café Dunia, 12, chemin Franck-Thomas, 1208 Geneva. Tel. 41-22-700-4925.
A pleasant Thai restaurant located in a a furniture store near the Gare des Eaux-vives. Good plat du jour plus the usual Thai dishes at a reasonable price.
Cinecitta, 17, Rue Montchoisy, 1207 Geneva, Tel. 41-22-736-4959.
Good local Italian with great pizza.
Da Paolo, 3 Rue du Lac, 1207 Geneva. Tel. 41-22-736-3049.
Another Italian with excellent pizza.
Located in the Place du Cirque not too far from the Old Town, this offers – according to one of our local Swiss connoisseurs, “the best pizza in town.” He also recommends trying the Foccacia Parma. “You will never wish to eat anything else in your life.”
Perle du Lac, 126 Rue de Lausanne, 1202 Geneva. Tel. 41-22-909-1020
Not too far from the United Nations or the WTO, try this restaurant in the Mon Repos Gardens for a more relaxed and not too expensive lunch. A great place for sitting outdoors with a splendid view of the lake. It also has Wifi for those who can’t quite get away from the internet. Parking is often awkward. You can park in front of the restaurant itself, but make sure you leave a note saying that you’re a client. Otherwise you will get ticketed. The Brasserie is cheaper than the more formal restaurant. You get the same good food. For those interested in dancing, nearby are free Tango (Monday) and Salsa (Wednesday) lessons at the Museum of Sciences. See http://www.labarje.ch/. And right next to it are free summer film projects at the Cine Transat. http://www.cinetransat.ch/2012/
L’Adresse, 32 Rue du XXXI Decembre, 1207 Geneva. Tel. 41-22-736-3232. www.http://www.ladress.ch/en/
A very contemporary bistro in Eaux Vives. Good healthy food with a nice terrace tied to a boutique.
La Buvette du Port de Choiseul, Chemin du Vieux-Port 20,1290 Versoix, Geneva.
A lively and often very noisy little fast food bistro overlooking the Port de Choiseul port in Versoix. The pizzas are hearty – and cheap – and you can order them with a bottle of rosé or white wine while swimming at the public beach next door. Vegetarians need to go upstairs to the regular restaurant to see what they can order. La Buvette is a great place to meet up after work with friends or for a picnic and you’ll feel like being on holiday. There is always a nice mix of nationalities from Swiss to South African and Portuguese. You can take the car and park nearby (good luck on finding a spot) or even better go by bike. Otherwise, you can take the local train and get off at Port Choiseul followed by a six or seven minute walk to the port.
Not fancy, but good Swiss food for a quick lunch. Also nice dinners from 50-60 CHF with wine. Check their website, but the Grand Café often has special jazz evenings.
Auberge de Floris, Route d’Hermance 272, 1247 Aniéres, Geneva. Tel. 41-22-751-2020
An excellent gastronomic restaurant and bistro on the left bank of Geneva with a superb view of the lake and the Jura mountains beyond. A great favourite with many who live here, it is not cheap but offers a cuisine worthy of its location. The chef, Claude Legras, is first rate – he used to cook at two fancy restaurants before buying the Floris – and his dishes are creative based on ingredients and flavours according to the season. The bistro menu with lake fish and other specialties is less expensive than the restaurant (it also has a very reasonable lunchtime plat du jour at 22 CHF). Reckon on 70-110 CHF with wine. Depending on traffic, the Floris is a 15 minute drive from the downtown area, but you can also take the H bus to Hermance.
Le Petit-Lac, Quai de Corsier 14, 1246 Corsier Port, Geneva. Tel. 41-22-751-1144.
For several of our friends, this café offers excellent Swiss food. It is also on the water with a pleasant terrace. Others are not so convinced that the food is always so good, but the location seems to swamp the bulk of such criticism.
Lemon Grass, 3, Route de Chéne, 1207 Geneva. Tel. 41-22-700-8155
Thai takeout. Always good – and inexpensive.
Auberge Communale de Collex-Bossy, 195 Route de Collex, 1239 Collex-Bossy, Geneva. Tel. 41-22-774-1516 Email: email@example.com
Situated in the lovely village of Collex-Bossy on the outskirts of Geneva airport and near Ferney-Voltaire in neighbouring France, the Auberge is run by distinguished chef, Olivier Martin, who used to write a weekly column on his recipes in the Migros and Coop weekly magazines. The building and atmosphere of the auberge are rather mundane, but the food is excellent. Traditional cuisine, such as tomato and mazzarella fagottini, lake perch and tuna fish tournedo with parmesan and thyme flowered roast potatoes. It’s principal offering, however, is bison (American buffalo from the nearby buffalo farm at Collovrex). As one of our friends put it, “if it were not rather pricey, it would be my favorite restaurant.” Reckon 80-100 CHF including wine.
Good French food with a nice ambiance, but often closed in August. Expect to pay at least 60-80 CHF with wine in the evening.
Mango Deck, 20 Cours de Rive, 1207 Geneva. Tel. 41-22-840-2006 Second location in the Old Town at 15-17 rue Bourg-de-Four, 1204 Geneva, Tek. 41-22-310-2532
Healthy meals cooked in an autoclave and served in bamboo boxes. Quick service.
Mikado, Rue de la Terrassiere 23, 1207 Geneva. Tel. 41-22-700-4477
Japanese self-serve and well-known for excellent sushi. A good place for lunch, but be prepared to queue over lunchtime. Best to get there early or late.
Opera Bouffe, 5 Ave de Frontenex, 1207 Geneva, Tel. 41-22-736-6300. http://www.operabouffe.ch/
Good French food and pleasant decors. Never a disappointment. Located 50 metres from the Place des Eaux Vives. Reckon minimum 50-60 CHF for dinner with wine.
Sushiwok Rive, 13 Rue Pierre Fatio, Geneva. Tel. 41-22-700-8442.
Good Asian takeout featuring sushi and curries.
Thai Phuket, 33 Avenue de France, Geneva. Tel. 41-22-734-4100
Good, fairly priced Thai restaurant near the UN and a popular haunt for international aid people, journalists and diplomats. Nice plat du jour menues but best book for lunch.
FRENCH SIDE – PAYS DE GEX
The Pays de Gex north of Geneva starting with the border town of Ferney-Voltaire is a much neglected part of the Lake Geneva region. Many visitors do not realise that it is often worth slipping across the border (now open with the Schengen accords) to seek out hotels and restaurants, or even to go hiking in the Jura. However, like Geneva, it suffers from a dearth of good restaurants. However, there are some which are well worthwhile, particularly if you are at a loss where to go for lunch or dinner. The problem is that for most of them you will need a car.
Here are some favourites:
L’Insolite, 1133 Route de Geneve, 01210 Ornex, France. Tel. 33-450-40 06 72. www.http://www.restaurant-linsolite.fr/
Located in Ornex along the RN 5 out of Ferney, this is a homey traditional restaurant with a stylish interior (well, for the area) and quality food for the price. The plat du jour at lunchtime is 16.50 Euros for an entrée and a main. The pizza is good but try the risotto. There is good parking but you can also take the F bus from the Palais des Nations or Ferney. Here are a couple of fine restaurants in the Lake Geneva region:
L’Div Cafe, Divonne-les-Bains, 114 rue Guy de Maupassant, Divonne-les-Bains, France.
Not the greatest cuisine but a nice place to meet for dinner (traditional French) with friends for a good nosh at reasonable prices. The food is sometimes very good, sometimes not, as with the service. However, when the weather is nice you can sit outside or simply have a drink. A lot of residents, both local and expats, meet here for sundowners or meals. While best to reserve, you can usually grab a table within a few minutes. We like the place.
Café-Restaurant Auberge Communale de Cessy, 460 rue Mairie, 01170 Cessy (Ain), France. Tel. 33-(0) 450-41-79-22
The Cessy Auberge Communale ranks as one of the best restaurants in the Pays de Gex and a favourite with locals and expats. It offers excellent value traditional French cuisine with a respectable à la carte selection, good wine list and several menus at graduating prices. We have followed this restaurant for a number of years and have rarely been disappointed. The menus tend to reflect the season, such as “la chasse” in the autumn or whatever mushrooms or fruit are available in late summer. The offering of cheeses – presented in a rustic old grape carrier – is quite a good one – usually at least a dozen different kinds with the waiter helpfully explaining each one, including the inevitable Bleu de Gex.
Basically, you get a fine gourmet meal that is far better than some of the more expensive and pretentious restaurants on the Swiss side. Expect to pay 50-80 Euros depending on the wine. We tend to go for the Gigondas, whose price is “correct,” if we opt for the meat dishes, such as beef or venison. At lunchtime, the Auberge Communale offers an excellent plat du jour in the 15 Euro range. The restaurant lunch is more sumptuous and expensive. In good weather, you can sit outside. Well worth coming out for lunch from Geneva or in the evening. The F bus from Geneva also stops directly in front of the Auberge.
Chez Michele, 30 Rue Joseph Leger, 01170 Cessy, France. Tel. 33-450-41 56 76.
Great for a typical workman’s lunch (14 Euros for salad entree, main meal, cheese and desert plus as much red wine as you want). Dinners are more expensive and not that good despite the extremely friendly service and nice atmosphere.
L’Incontro, Cessy, France.
If you want a good – and inexpensive – Italian meal, this is the place to go. A delight for parents with kids (reckon 45-55 Euros for 4-5 including pizzas, some wine…) and you can sit outside when the weather is nice. Always a nice atmosphere with Italian football games on the large screen TVs. Just off the first roundabout as you enter Cessy along the RN5 (direction Gex from Ferney), the restaurant looks a lot more upmarket than its prices (you will not find comparable prices in Geneva), so it is also the sort of place you can bring clients you know well and simply wish to eat and talk. The place is usually packed on Fridays and Saturdays, but they always seem to find a table for you. The pizzas are excellent and so are the home-made pasta dishes. The staff are friendly and welcome customer comments. Be careful of the red wine though. They always seem to keep it in the fridge, so we have to ask for room temperature wine.
Shalimar, 34 chemin des Muriers | Centre d’Aumard, 01210 Ferney-Voltaire, France. Tel. 33-450-40 48 03
There are now quite a few average or relatively good Indian subcontinent restaurants in the Geneva- Pays de Gex region. Some have proven good for several years, such as the Rajpoute in Ornex, but then dropped off in quality. The Shalimar now ranks as one of the best in the Lake Geneva region. The chef is a Pakistani from Swat who trained in sushi cuisine but now serves excellent Indian-Pakistani food. If you’re with a group, ask him to prepare a mix of dishes of his choice. You won’t be disappointed.
Restaurant le Chanteclair, 13 Route de Versoix, Ferney-Voltaire, France. Tel. 04 50 40 79 55
Another one of the best restaurants in the Pays de Gex together with the Auberge Communale de Cessy. At least, we’ve never been disappointed. Located in the centre of Ferney just up the street from the Hotel de France and the Voltaire fountain. Very easy to reach from the UN in Geneva (take the F bus if you have no car). It’s young chef offers a variety of Table d’Hôte, which are excellent and well-presented. Sometimes the service is long but the wait is worth it. In good weather, you can sit outside in the small garden terrace. Romantic. Best reserve.
L’Imprevu, 22 rue de Meyrin, 01210 Ferney-Voltaire, France. Tel. 33-4 50 28 26 13
Good and very reasonably priced food. Service is slow but you will have an nice dinner (30-40 Euros depending on wine) in pleasant surroundings in Ferney and easily reachable from the UN. Highly recommended as a “where should we go tonight” type restaurant for anyone visiting Geneva.
Le Rectiligne, 2981 Route Tour du Lac, 01220 Divonne-les-Bains, France Tel. 33 (0) 450 20 06 13 firstname.lastname@example.org
We have gone here a number of times. The food is excellent, but steep. The presentation comes off a bit pretentious but, hey, why not? At least Bruno Pecheu, the chef, makes an effort to serve up every dish with style. Maybe not the place to take the family while watching the scheckles, but certainly good for a business dinner with expansive menus at 45, 75 and 85 Euros (without wine).
Les Vieux Bois
5638, route de Gex, 01220 Divonne-les-Bains, France Tel. 33 (0) 4 50 28 86 14
Located on the outskirts of Divonne on the main road to Gex, this is a relatively new restaurant since the old auberge was renovated. According to friends, the food (traditional French) is good and at a reasonable price, worth recommending as a modest and unpretentious place to go for dinner. Also, not always the case with Swiss and French restaurants, it is child friendly.
Palais de Saigon, 41 Rue de Meyrin, Ferney Voltaire, Geneva Tel. 33 4 50 40 88 16
One of the best Vietnamese (with real Vietnamese) in the area. Just up the road from L’Imprevu and the Voltaire fountain.
Ayesha Quatemain is a writer based in the Lake Geneva region.