March 2005 produced rather fewer encounters with good after-concert food (there being no trips to Italy) but nevertheless some pleasant surprises.
In Switzerland, working with KOB and recording in Lucerne, there were two favourite spots:
Opus, a Vinotek close to the opera house and beside the lake, has two eating areas, a cosy cellarage area where you eat at small tables surrounded by racked wines, all displaying their credentials and prices on labels to tempt the diner, or a more canteen-like area at the other end of the establishment (choose the former if you are allowed). There is also a small delicatessen shop with gadgets for sale (a cheese grater which impales the parmesan and looks both ingenious and attractive in cherry-wood, though we found from past experience that if the cheese is at all aged, it will also fall off in large lumps). The food menu is restrained and some items are only available at ‘normal’ dining hours (i.e. not after concerts) but the range of wines is enormous and the published trade list many times longer than the menu. The front-of-house bar does tapas snacks and wines by the glass — a place to be seen in Lucerne.
Restaurant, Bar, Vinothek
tel: 041 226 41 41
web review: www.frommers.com
Slightly further away, a walk across the ‘Dance of Death’ bridge and along the lake brings you to the Ristorante Padrino (part of the very Grand-Hotel National, again by the lake). Italian cooking, Indian service (both excellent) and a patron who really recommends with vigour. Very fresh pasta, excellent fish, no music, good sweets and apparently no need to book (though this was not high season).
tel: 041 410 41 50
Because of the popular annual Jewellery and Watch Fair in Basel, I was not accommodated in the central Hotel Basel as usual, but forty minutes drive away in the German spa town of Badenweiler. The Hotel Römerbad was a step back in time, but with the assets of an old-style grand restaurant (mostly empty) and a lunching terrace looking onto magnolia trees, a ruined castle and the distant Black Forest. Excellent old-school waiting (including a maître-d’ who ventured that he liked my recording of the Bach French Suites!) and again, absolutely no background music. The big spa complex a short stroll away in the village offers many different shapes, sizes and temperatures of baths (including a whirlpool that drags you round in a circle — zero effort) and every brand of massage and health treatment, with ultimate German efficiency. The hotel, incidentally, supports a music festival; pictures of the Emerson Quartet, Henze, George Benjamin and Birtwistle on the walls as you walk to your room.
tel: +49 7632 700
It would be unfair not to mention some English addresses here, so two recent venues, one a favourite and one a discovery:
Northwards from Cambridge (towards Ely and turn left) is the village of Sutton, and through Sutton and a small (slightly signed) right turn is Sutton Gault (not on many AA maps). The Anchor is a pub-restaurant beside the River Ouse (though, as with many Fenland waterways, the embankments are raised so high that your view through the windows is of grass), with gas mantle lighting still functioning. Good, shortish gastro-menu, unusual wines by the glass and friendly service which goes on delivering lunch on Sunday well into the afternoon (but the rooms are small, so better book). Again, without the hazard of wallpaper music, but some good art on the walls (we spotted Tom Philips and Paul Nash). Good walking amongst sheep and lambs by the river afterwards.
The new discovery was a Vietnamese restaurant in East London, to which we were led by Caz Hildebrand, who has designed almost every cookbook you have on your shelves (Moro, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver etc.). Huong Viet is in a utilitarian building that describes itself outside as a Vietnamese Community and Education Centre, but inside is a thriving and busy restaurant, with scarcely a Vietnamese diner in sight. A comprehensible menu, wine list (or BYO) and the usual temptation to order more than you need. Spicy squid, spring rolls with prawn, tilapia fish soup spiced with (possibly?) cinnamon, clay-pot items and sizzling plates. The set menu for £15 looked like a bargain. Just don’t go for the decor.
12-14 Englefield Road,
London, N1 4LS
Tel: 020 7249 0877