Chef Heiko Nieder at The Restaurant at the Swiss hotel in Zürich serves delicate creations adorned with impeccable flora and fauna hand-picked by the brigade. Richard McComb samples the lunch menu
Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, missed a trick when she stayed at the Dolder Grand in Zurich. Admittedly, she had a lot on her mind, like wreaking revenge on a corrupt financier, but to fail to dine at the two-Michelin-star The Restaurant smacks of reckless oversight by the meticulous computer hacker. A quick check on Google would have flagged up the splendours of the ground-floor dining room.
We meet on The Restaurant's sun terrace after the chef and his team have delivered a faultlessly prepared nine-course lunch. There are two unscripted pre-starter courses - an exquisite looking and tasting Cretan salad, all gentle tang and lightness, followed by a salad of octopus, banana (yes, banana) and olive oil with garlic and garlic flowers.
A dish of barely cooked rabbit with miso, green tomatoes and green meadow herbs is particularly stunning. The rabbit is sliced and marinated in green tomato juice with green Tabasco, white balsamic, sugar and salt. There is "miso crème", pimientos del PadrÁ³n, shimeji mushrooms (pickled in cane sugar and soy sauce), marinated enoki mushrooms, bread chips and piment d'Espelette.
Then there is the small matter of picking the dish's nine meadow herbs: sorrel, dandelion, burnet, chive, plantain, meadow carrot, bedstraw, lady's smock and bird vetch. "It takes two chefs half an hour to pick the herbs in the hotel's garden each day," says Nieder.
The quality of the vegetables, like all the produce, is outstanding. The green tomatoes, spring vegetables and zucchini flowers, just some of the vegetables showcased, come from local farmers in Switzerland. A light yet flavour-infused "soup" is described with glorious understatement as 'vegetable stock'. The vegetables - dried tomatoes, mini tomatoes, mushrooms including shiitake and mairitterling (sautéed with shallot and garlic), celeriac rolls, celery cress, boiled celeriac, boiled parsley root, parsley cress, garlic slices and thyme - are precisely but not clinically assembled in the centre of a white bowl and gently luxuriate as a waiter pours stock over them.
Brittany lobster with marinated baked strawberries, beetroot, tarragon and mustard has become a signature dish at The Restaurant and tastes like an edible expression of summer.
The fish course, Icelandic char ("it is better than from the mountains"), comprises a tartare and a tranche of the sweet fish "cooked" at 65ÂºC or, in Nieder's words, "kissed" by the heat. It is accompanied by a salad featuring pansy blossoms, camomile flower and borage.
Fastidious attention to detail means the hotel employs a full-time chocolatier. "It is very important for the hotel to have our own homemade chocolate and to do so with our quality standards it requires a person who does it as a full-time job," explains Nieder.
The Restaurant has 15 tables and a private dining room and usually has 40-45 covers for dinner. Nieder insists the reopening of the hotel in 2008 was not accompanied by a specific brief to chase culinary accolades.
"We never talked about it," he says. "We only wanted to have happy guests. We never talked about two Michelin stars or the points of GaultMillau. At the beginning, we only wanted to serve fine dining and we would see what would happen. You have to do the best you can. Every day you have to want to make everything better - the whole product."
For all the spectacular cooking, Nieder ensures The Restaurant impresses for the simpler things as much as the rarefied flourishes. Take the bread. A rustic sunflower bread is brought to the table with a herb butter and a cream cheese butter. It is deliciously good.
Nieder loves bread and his kitchen also produces five varieties of buns, including caraway and Amaranth buns. Nieder says: "This variety of homemade breads is very rare in hospitality and you can say that it is a craft in itself."
The chef himself was something of a prodigy, winning the title of "Discovery of the Year" by GaultMillau for his work at L'Orquivit in Bonn in 2003. So I ask him what advice he would give to a young chef starting out.
"It is important you learn the basics before trying signature dishes," he says. "Young chefs need to be aware that they have to work a lot for little money before they can reap the fruits of what they have learned. It is also important to learn to say 'No' to your boss," says Nieder.
But it might be best to wait until service is over.
From the lunch menu
Canapés: Nacho bag; pommes soufflé with herbal salt; cheese BrÁ¶tli; radish with dried seaweed and wasabi; scrambled eggs foam, Thurblau cheese and fried onions; vegetable rolls with Pedro Ximénez vinegar
André Clouet Brut Rosé Champagne
Lobsters with strawberries, beetroot, tarragon and mustard
2012 Sauvignon Blanc Steirische Klassik;
Manfred Tement - Steiermark Rabbit with miso, green tomatoes, green meadow herbs
2011 Condrieu Invitare; M Chapoutier - Rhône
The vegetable stock
Dry White Niepoort - Porto
White chocolate with woodruff, celery, basil and Campari
2010 Soandre; Bosco del Merlo - Veneto
Eight courses: 208 CHF; five courses: 178 CHF
The Restaurant at the Dolder Grand
8032 ZÁ¼rich, Switzerland
+41 44 456 60 00