Category Archives: Gourmet

Ever had a burger in a former streetcar station? Get it at the Helvti Diner

Burgers are their business. And their business provides a quality and taste I haven’t encountered elsewhere, even in the USA.
The Helvti Diner, open since October 2011, is definitely the best burger place I’ve ever put foot in.

A diner you say? Well, this may not be the diner that comes to mind when thinking of an American movie or what you may have experienced in real life. This diner does not have greasy tables, cold tile floors, or booths’ that you don’t want to touch because they look filthy. No, this diner is, as my husband would say, the luxury Swiss version of an American diner.

Every time I visit the Helvti I receive a friendly greeting, especially from the general manager Armon. The authentic music they play makes the wait for a table pass quickly (times can vary depending on the day and time). Be warned that on the weekends you have almost no chance to quickly get a table as a walk in so reserve in advance if possible. If you do have to wait, rest assured that when your table is free the experience is worth every minute.

The Helvti doesn’t pretend to be a “serve all types of food” place, which I like a lot. Their slogan “Burgers are our Business” pretty much says it all. You will not find any “foo foo” or “wannabe” dishes on the menu. What you will find are burgers, fries, side salads, milkshakes, and deserts. There are a few options for vegetarians, but really, you come for the meat not the greens.

With luxury burgers also come luxury prices. But once you taste this special burger developed by Françoise Wicki (chef of the Restaurant Helvetia across the road) you will find that it is worth every Rappen (Swiss cent). The Swiss Prime Burger is declared to be 100% Swiss Veal. The classic burger is 100% Swiss Angus Beef, while the Helvti Diner special is made of 100% Wagyu Beef. The Wagyu is supposed to have a more aromatic taste, although I am not sure I would be able to tell the difference. The meat mixtures do not contain any further additives, as often used in other burger places, such as pork meat, eggs or simply fat. A quarter pounder (170g) burger costs between 17.50 CHF (Swiss Prime Burger) and 32.50 CHF (Wagyu Burger) each served with coleslaw, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. If you feel very adventurous, you can even go for the double quarter pounder (2x170g). Just keep in mind that the double is a lot of meat to eat. I once shared a table with three guys who ordered the doubles only to watch them go pale when they were served (which made me laugh to no end).

The burgers come with a homemade sauce of chili, spicy BBQ, cocktail, hot’n’spicy tomato, curry or garlic mayonnaise. I prefer the garlic mayonnaise over the others, especially the hot’n’spicy which was too sweet for my taste buds. You can further “pimp your burger” with cheese (choice of original cheddar, Swiss alpine, and blue), Swiss bacon, fried egg or my personal favorite “holy moly! guacamole” for an extra change between 2.50 and 4.00 CHF. I often order more than I can actually eat. My usual is the Swiss Prime or the Classic Burger with a side of French Fries (extra 4.50 CHF) topped with cheddar, bacon and the holy moly! guacamole. Add a nice cold Amboss blond draft and I am as happy as can be!

The atmosphere at the Helvti Diner is quite pleasant despite the high turn over of guests. The seating is narrow and the tables a bit small so it may not be the best place to go for a long evening. Unless of course you like to hang out at the bar, drink some beers, listen to nice music and watch people come in, go out and go by. As someone described it before: “You never sit at the Helvti Diner longer than on an extended tram ride.”

The people working at the Helvti Diner are extremely friendly and attentive, the burgers are cooked as you’d like them and have always been served exactly how we ordered them. Even when the place is over crowded, Armon and his staff have always been super calm and managed to accommodate all their guests as well as possible.

Tips:

  • Always make a reservation, no matter if lunch or dinner time
  • Ask for a booth in the back of the diner
  • Watch out: Closed on Sundays

Helvti Diner
Kasernenstr. 2
8004 Zürich
Tel.: 043 322 04 24
http://www.helvti-diner.ch

Ithaki – Athens posh restaurant with a view

The opportunity to have dinner at the locally renowned beach restaurant Ithaki in Vouliagmeni came about through pure luck, chance and the help of a very charming Swiss International Airline agent at the Athens airport named Emmanuel. Due to an overbooked flight, we were offered the possibility of giving up our seats in exchange for a free overnight stay in Athens, a generous amount of pocket money, and a return flight the following day.

Once the possibility became reality, our guide Emmanuel took us on a tour through the secret passages and corridors of the airport to retrieve our luggage and to make arrangements for our hotel and return flight.

As an added bonus, he also recommended an exceptional place for dinner. From our hotel it was only a 30 minutes taxi ride to Vouliagmeni.

There, the Ithaki elegantly presented itself right on the Kavouri Beach with a strong vibe of poshness.

Our first impression included lots of wood and glass, white table cloths, smooth lightning, a live piano player, the sound of waves, and very intimate and private tables arranged along the terraces (all facing the sea).

All in all, maybe not the cheapest place to eat in the area, but definitely a must experience. The menu was not overwhelmingly long (a pleasant experience) offering traditional Greek dishes, fresh fish and meats, as well as Sushi and Sashimi. Surprisingly, some of the fish is actually frozen (typically indicated with an *). A pity since there are plenty of fresh fish options to choose by the kilo from the local area.

The wine menu presents a good choice of Greek and international wines. Service is very polite and attentive, almost blending into the surrounding.

As a starter we selected an eggplant/cheese dish and fresh mussels in a white wine sauce. The serving process for the main dish of fresh grouper was a unique experience of presentation (rolling cart and silver bell covers to keep the food warm) and preparation (surgical removal of the bones, fins, and heads from the fish prior to serving with fresh vegetables).

Tips:

  • Booking required if you are going to typical Greek dinner hours (between 22:00 – 24:00h).
  • If you take a taxi there consider arranging a return with the same driver. As the area is well liked be Athenians, it might be difficult to find a cab for the ride back to the city.

Seek and hide truffles in Siena – Taverna San Giuseppe

The choice of restaurants in Siena is just as large at the hotel choice. Some of the restaurants you can find on TripAdvisor or other sites catering to frequent travelers. Luckily we had recommendations from a friend’s wife (with support from her local colleagues) presenting us with an exclusive list of local favorites to choose from. We trusted our friends’ direct and especially authentic, Italian suggestions and were rewarded with a special experience at the Taverna di San Giuseppe. This is how fromfriendsforfriends.ch works.

The Taverna di San Giuseppe is a short walk up an inclined street leading away from the Piazza del Campo. It is somewhat hidden and a nice surprise when you find it as you are in an area where you don’t expect a restaurant anymore.

The interior is warm and inviting and really feels as though you are in a Cantina with its wooden tables and rustic walls. The owner’s son Matteo told us that the current building dates back to the year 1100 and older still, the wine cellar housed in the tufa rock of an old Etruscan house dates back to 200 BC. Opened in 1998 by Marco Neri and Lorella, a Sienese family, the restaurant used to be an auto garage and a carpenters’ workshop. Matteo could still remember the cars lined up for repair and mechanic parts hanging off the walls.

The San Giuseppe menu features several classics such a Ribolita (a hearty potage made with bread and vegetables), Brasato (braised beef or stewed with vegetables), and Bistecca Fiorentina, but the recommendation we selected was the fileto with truffels and Prunetti olive oil and the cinghiale (wild boar). Of course you will also find a great variety of homemade pasta including Gnudi, Pici, and Tagliatelle, choices of meats such as prosciutto, salumni, sausages, and finally a great choice of cheeses from the wine cellar.

When you order your food, ask Matteo for a recommendation on the wine in combination with the meals and then take a walk down to see the wine cellar while the food is being prepared.

The cellar is indeed tremendous with more than 500 labels of national and local wines, of course mostly Tuscan ones. The wine cellar can be reserved for private parties and events as well as private wine tastings and wine classes.

La Taverna di San Giuseppe is indeed a restaurant worthy of a recommendation in Siena. While the choices on the menu are vast, it is the small things that matter in the end, and for me it was the attention of the service (one waiter even brought me a little stool for my handbag), the excellent quality of food and the comfortable environment.

Tipp: Book a table after 9 pm and you will get the local environment, rather than the non-Italian visitors.

Address:
La Taverna di San Giuseppe
Via G. Dupré, 132, 53100 Siena
Tel +39 0577 42286
www.tavernasangiuseppe.it

 

Silhouette Island – The essence of the Seychelles

If you are looking for the spectacular, then the scenic Silhouette Island is the place for you.  Located in the Indian Ocean nestled among the various islands that make up the Seychelles, Silhouette hosts only one resort: The Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa.

Smoothly built into the lush vegetation of the rain forest that touches the sandy beaches, the Labriz features different types of independent villas for every taste. The Garden villas are set back into the tropical forest, the Beachfront villas allow you to walk off your own porch into the sand, and the Beachfront Pool villas offer an additional private plunge pool. The Hillside pool villas have a larger pool, a spectacular view but no direct access to the beach. We chose the regular Beachfront villa and loved it.  We just didn’t see the value in having a private pool facing the ocean if you can dive directly into the real thing just a few feet away.

Our Beach villa was approx. 100 m2 with a spacious open bedroom and a private patio overlooking the sea. Depending on your exact room it is possible that the tree line slightly covers the direct view of the ocean. The bathroom was large with a walk-in shower, separate bathtub and out back, a nice little garden with an outdoor shower. The villa is well equipped with a flat screen TVs and a DVD player, although the WiFi connection was not very good.

The five restaurants of the resort include a decent variety, but since they are the only options on the island they give the resort a dining monopoly.  The Grann Kaz Plantation House restaurant serves traditional Creole food, the Portobello restaurant Italian, and the Grill & Teppanyaki Japanese cuisine with a more international flavor by blending Asian and European influences. The Cafe Dauban, the main restaurant, offers daily breakfast and varied theme dinners. The bar and pizzeria offer a lighter option for lunch. If you are booking half-board you can dine around at all restaurants at the resort, except for Teppanyaki that you will have to pay for separately. Keep in mind that you should also budget for drinks, cocktails and wine, as they are typically not included in the price. A decent bottle of wine will cost you approx. 50 euro and unfortunately you won’t have the possibility to buy anything different except what is offered at the resort owned shop, where the prices are the same. If you can, you might want to bring a couple of bottles from your stop over at the airport, it’ll be worth it.

The staff is very friendly and the room service is spectacular. Our one complaint was the in-room breakfast, which took almost 1.5 hours to arrive and was cold and not very appealing. What was nice is that after giving feedback that we were not happy with the room service, we were offered a free dinner at the Portobello restaurant, which did a lot to make up for the poor breakfast.

What I was most impressed with was the fact that the resort was built in alignment with nature and does not fight against it. The spa is the best example of the resort’s close-to-nature concept. The spa entrance is accessed by walking between a series of boulders, the treatment rooms are connected via wooden steps or natural steps built into the massive rocks, and everything is clean and elegant with an open air feel.

Even if you are staying for 2 weeks on Silhouette Island, you won’t get bored easily or feel that you can’t enjoy your privacy. This is due to the size of the beach, the 5 restaurants, available hikes to Mount Dauban (beware, the humidity is very likely to make you feel like you climb Mount Everest), excursions for diving, snorkeling and opportunities to discover the islands diverse plant and animal wildlife. It is really quite impressive: rare plant species like incense-cedar, funny looking short-tailed-jacketed bats, mini chameleon, lots and lots of crabs and giant tortoises. The whole island has been a National Part for a long time.

This resort offers high-end relaxation, luxurious spa treatments, decent swimming, spectacular snorkeling, hiking and nature. You just need to survive the exciting boat ride over to the island.

Lots of love from the …liebes Rot-Flüh

The …liebes Rot-Flüh 5-star hotel, not even 3 hours away from Zürich, located by the small Haldensee, offers plenty for a romantic, relaxing weekend get-away. The wellness and spa area of the …liebes Rot-Flüh is 3000m², including different sauna, Turkish steam bath, outdoor swimming pool, relaxation area with waterbeds, Ayurveda temples, as well as an indoor pool provides enough variety for a whole weekend.

Shut the world out for some time…

The 101 rooms and suites are either very traditional Tyrolese with floor carpets, wood and colourful curtains, kitschy but high quality decoration or modern, wooden floor rooms, glass walls and classy arrangements. The rooms ranging from double comfort, double bio, comfort suite, nobel and rural suite, Cinderella junior or luxury suite, Spa luxury and Penthouse suite are either in the main house or in the attached houses, some of them offering space for up to 12 people. You will find bathrobes, slippers and even a spa bag for your things to back when going to the wellness area. You can also test Samina beds and accessories in certain rooms. When asked for Samina pillows, they were provided at no additional costs. Great service.

The spa is one of my favorite spots in the …liebes Rot Flüh. With an area over 700 m² and a wonderful water garden, the offer of massages, beauty treatments, and Hawaiian or Ayurveda rituals you will have a though choice to make. Definitely a different style than the opulent exterior and interior of the hotel, with clear lines, water, slate stone, canopy beds and water wall…

The 4 restaurants offering traditional and international cuisine are all worth visiting. The breakfast is served in the panoramic breakfast room, overlooking the Haldensee and the surrounding mountains. The oldest son of the family Huber, Christoph heads the restaurants and bars and will always make sure you have everything you need. Breakfast is incredible, fresh fruit, local cheeses, breads you can only dream of, eggs, pancakes, sausages, cold cuts, muesli… anything your heart longs for. The coffee is not ideal, but the Cappuccino at the Loch Ness Restaurant in the house will definitely make up for it. You will not want to eat any lunch after the delicious and wonderfully prepared breakfast. Even though you might skip lunch at the Loch Ness (so strange but actually pretty nice, you can have lunch in your bath robe), which includes either a soup, salad buffet or a fantastic roast beef, the Austrian afternoon coffee culture and the choices of fantastically looking cakes won’t help walking away from it.

Dinner is served at either of the three restaurants Via Mala, La Cascata Nobile or the Loch Ness. The La Cascata is rather classy, the food exceptionally good, and the selection of wines is vast. The Via Mala invites you to dive into tradition and past, a main room, beer garden like, small cosy side rooms, all in their special, lovely decorated style. It feels like you are walking into a small Tyrolese village. Also here, the food is exceptional, the Wiener Schnitzel probably even better than the one at Figlmüller in Vienna.

…the Wiener Schnitzel probably even better than the one at Figlmüller in Vienna

You will find yourself sitting at dinner, when all of a sudden the room darkens, lightning and thunderstorm noise fills the air, the waterfall from the first floor turns into a wild river… it is really something you need to experience.

After dinner the cigar and whiskey lounge invites for a smooth fade out of the day, the only downside of it is though, that the doors to the cigar lounge are open, which means the smoke doesn’t stop from going into other rooms as well.

Last but not least… you might be a little shocked by the pink outside of the hotel, amazed by the kitsch and old, and not at all shabby feel (walls painted, colors, decoration) but it is definitely very special and it will grow on you by the time you experienced everything.

Highlights: Service and friendliness or staff and Huber sons Christoph and Alexander, nails done by Rita, massage by Denis, food in all restaurants, surrounding and location for great cross country skiing, skiing and walks…