The sun had finally come out and people at the stalls at the Saturday market in Carouge, one of Geneva’s more characterful quarters, were revelling in it.
While the biggest crowds were drawn to the wine at Domaine des Esserts’ table, two much smaller stands exemplified the past few months’ wet weather. One offered a range of colourful roses, whose heady aroma mixed with that of spit-roasting chickens and legs of lamb; the other a magnificent array of wild mushrooms.
Quite how verdant all the countryside that surrounds Geneva is this particular summer became even more obvious an hour later, once we’d arrived at the Domaine de Châteauvieux, west of the city. We were politely escorted past the open kitchen, through the dining room and out on to the terrace.
There was the Rhône river catching the sun’s rays and, close by, a nature reserve above which a series of birds elegantly swooped. There was a grandstand view of a bicycle race taking place along the valley floor. Directly beneath us was a steeply sloping vineyard. There could hardly be anything calmer and more life-affirming than the view across to the range of mountains in the distance, where Mont Blanc is apparently visible on clearer days.
Our reverie was broken by the smartly dressed maître d’ and sommelier brandishing a large menu and wine list. As they departed we took in the prices and we gasped. First courses here are SFr80-90 (£55-£62), main courses SFr90-100 and desserts more than SFr40. Our collective and immediate reaction – that we settle for the prix fixe lunch menu – was thwarted by the fact that it is only available on weekdays.
While these prices immediately confirmed the opinion of the expat guests gathered around our friend’s table the night before, that the best-value restaurants in Geneva lie across the French border in Annecy, we were here, I comforted my wife, to learn. And I have to say that despite a bill of SFr440, we both left extremely impressed. While the main reason for this only became evident as we were leaving and I bumped into Philippe Chevrier, the chef-proprietor, his excellent food was not the only factor.
There was the undeniable sense of bonhomie that emanated from all the staff. Then there was the opportunity to be rewarded by following a rule that can be put to very good effect in almost all expensive restaurants today: drink local. This wine list’s prices take off when it comes to France but at SFr55, a 2010 Petite Arvine made in the Valais by Rene Favre et Fils, a cuvée apparently named “John & Mike”, proved a crisp apéritif and was equally vibrant with our food.
An amuse-bouche of the succulent meat from a shoulder of lamb inside crisp filo pastry, plus a small bowl of gazpacho, whetted the appetite for two excellent first courses. These were spears of asparagus alongside langoustines from Brittany topped with caviar, and finely diced cannelloni of tuna wrapped in lardo, served with a toast spread with seaweed butter. Under the cannelloni were thin, jelly-like strips made, Chevrier subsequently explained, from a heavily reduced bouillabaisse.
Equally impressive were our two fish dishes: a fillet of turbot with a creamy, appetising yuzu sauce and grilled lobster on a mound of risotto laced with asparagus and morel mushrooms. We skipped dessert for financial reasons – a good decision given the quality of the petits fours.
The following day, the only slightly larger sum of SFr485 bought an equally enjoyable lunch for four. La Closerie, in the suburb of Cologny, belongs to Viviana and Angelo Citiulo and their very personal approach is obvious. By the entrance is a line-up of some of Italy’s top wines, while just inside is an immediate expression of their hospitality – a dessert trolley laden with punnets of fresh berries; tarts stuffed with apples, pears and pêches de vignes; a raspberry millefeuille; and a rich chocolate cake.
By the time we got to dessert, our equally food-and wine-obsessed companion was a happy man. He lauded the vitello tonnato and the squid that were the more intricate of our first courses and we all shared the same enthusiasm for the pastas – trofie with bottarga and ravioli with a broad bean sauce – and a lemon risotto with scamorza cheese that followed. A bottle of 2000 Ego by Bressan from Friuli at SFr170 went a long way to both swelling and softening the bill.
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Domaine de Chateauvieux
Chemin de Châteauvieux 16 Peney-Dessus, 1242 Satigny, Geneva; +00 41 22 753 1511; www.chateauvieux.ch
Place du Manoir 14, 1223 Cologny-Geneva; +00 41 22 736 1355; www.lacloserie.ch