Gasthof Hirschen in Eglisau, SwitzerlandThe highlight of Tom’s and my recent stay in Eglisau was the fine meal we savored in the little town’s Michelin-starred restaurant. It has also been awarded 17 points by the Gault Millau restaurant guide. We could easily see—and taste—why. 

The restaurant is the pride and joy of the Romantik Hotel Gasthof Hirschen, an atmospheric hotel housed in a medieval building beside the Rhine. The hotel’s–and restaurant’s–setting is straight out of a storybook.

At La Passion, an intriguing menu features groupings of ingredients, rather than elaborately named dishes–“We have this-or-that, may we prepare it for you?” Better yet, “May we surprise you?”

An award-winning chef

Chef Christian Kuchler is a rising star on the Swiss restaurant scene. Named ‘Discovery of the Year 2010’ by Gault Millau, his reputation has grown steadily since he arrived in the Gasthof Hirschen kitchen.

He has added a Gault Millau point each year since 2010, and with the 16th point, a Michelin star. Just last year, Christian was awarded the 17th point, and named ‘Climber of the Year 2013’. Quite an illustrious career already, I’d say.

This chef starts with the basics of classic French cuisine, then does a riff that is modern, inventive, and best of all, hits all the necessary notes for flavor and satisfaction.

Understated elegance

La Passion occupies a single room with just four tables, a quiet place of understated, rustic elegance. The building’s ancient support beams have a commanding presence in the room, and dictate placement of tables. Tables are laid simply, and motes of evening light stream through open windows. The windows of La Passion overlook the Rhine.

‘Menu Surprise’

We opted for the Menu Surprise, to give the kitchen maximum freedom to, well, surprise us. We were rewarded with a series of creative flavor and texture combinations, absolutely fresh ingredients, and courses harmoniously sequenced. Service was amiable and unobtrusive, the arrival of each course perfectly timed. We lost track of time as the sun set against the background of a gentle murmur from guests at the other three tables.

Chef Kuchler had me at the amuse-bouches: five small dishes intriguingly arrayed before me (including a test tube containing a few sips of tomato bouillon),  a glass of champagne to the side. From the Parmesan mouse with chanterelles to a duo of Perigord truffles with cauliflower cream, to a layered cube of smoked sturgeon and char cream, each was what it should be, a bite-sized preview of the meal to come.

Our five courses seemed like ten, thanks to a five-part amuse bouche, presentation of the meal mostly in tiny cups or bowls, and a pre-dessert sorbet. Wines for each course were just right, including a smooth ‘assemblage’ of twenty(!) wines from an Aargau vintner as accompaniment to the dessert.

Exceptional dishes from our Menu Surprise: scallops, peanuts and pineapple in two complementary preparations, with tiny dollops of wasabi flying-fish roe, a cucumber -and-tonic sorbet and a masterful dessert bowl–tiny cheesecakes, rhubarb cubes -and-curls, Grand Cru chocolate and swirls of meringue. The main course, beef cheeks with potatoes five ways (perhaps more, I forgot to count!), was meltingly tender, and served with Choron sauce. Perfection on a plate.

It was an evening of extraordinary food, matched by friendly, unobtrusive service and an intimate setting–a meal we will long remember!

If you go

Eglisau is just thirty minutes from Zurich’s Main Station by train, and twenty minutes from the airport. La Passion is tiny, so be sure to reserve a table!

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Many thanks to Switzerland Tourism and to Swiss Historic Hotels for hosting our visit to Hotel Gasthof Hirschen, and to Chef Christian Kuchler and his colleagues, who turned our mealtimes into gastronomic adventures. We will be back!


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