By Andy Hayler
Hotel de Ville has an illustrious culinary history, gaining three Michelin stars under Fredy Girardet, Philippe Rochat and then Benoit Violier. Following the latter’s tragic death in January 2016 the leadership of the kitchen has transferred to Benoit’s long time right-hand man, Franck Giovannini. Franck has worked in the kitchen here for many years, and so a smooth transition seemed assured, and so it proved at this latest visit, my fifth meal here. The restaurant is on a hillside in sleepy Crissier, four miles from the city of Lausanne. If planning a visit here then the nearest airport is Geneva; from the airport there are plentiful trains to Lausanne. Be aware that a taxi ride all the way from Geneva airport to Crissier will result in a fare the size of the national debt of a small country.
There is a cosy bar at Hotel de Ville, and a small garden terrace at the back accessed via the kitchen. The dining room has generously spaced, large tables, with a further dining area and a solitary kitchen table. There was a tasting menu at CHF 380 (£294), as well as a full carte choice. There was a further option of a “discovery” menu (at CHF 295 = £228) where the kitchen decides what to serve, and this is the route that we took.
The wine list was extensive and expensive. The cheapest bottle listed was CHF 70 (£54) and prices went rapidly up from there. Examples were Podere Le Boncie Le Trame Chianti Classico 2010 at CHF 105 for a bottle that can be found in the high street for CHF 36, Trimbach Cuvee Frederich Emile 2005 at CHF 195 compared to its retail price of CHF 47, and Henri Gouges La Perrieres Blanc 2005 at CHF 290 for a wine that will set you back around CHF 113 in a shop. There were plenty of prestige wines too, such as Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet 2007 at CHF 965 compared to its shop price of CHF 600 (the distinctly cheaper 2011 was bizarrely listed at the same price), and Lafon Le Montrachet 2002 at CHF 2,380 for a bottle whose current market value is actually a touch higher than that at CHF 2,641. If you looked very hard at the list there was the odd relative bargain: Kongsgaard The Judge Chardinnay 2008 was CHF 320, actually some way below its current retail price. The relative mark-ups moderated considerably as you moved higher up the list, but the cheap (er) wines were priced quite stiffly.
Bread is made for the restaurant by a nearby bakery that they own, and was very good indeed, with a fine array of different loaves presented. The meal began in spectacular fashion with a dazzling summer vegetable veloute topped with Imperial caviar (farmed Oscietra caviar from Iran). The depth of flavour of the veloute was quite remarkable, the caviar adding a note of luxury and a natural seasoning (20/20).
This was followed by a pretty dish of langoustine tail from Brittany, served with tomatoes, a slightly spicy mayonnaise and a crisp curry tuile, with a classic sauce Americaine, which involves lobster, shallots, tomatoes, brandy, wine, butter and cayenne pepper. The sauces here are a great strength of the restaurant and this was no exception, the langoustine tender and the gentle hint of spice a pleasing refinement (between 19/20 and 20/20).
This was followed by another lovely dish. An egg was lightly poached and sprinkled with wild mushroom powder, alongside porcini and chanterelle mousse served with a mushroom and white wine reduction. The ingredients were impeccable and the technique faultless, the sauce another utter joy of classical French cooking. The dish had beautiful balance and great depth of flavor, and it is hard to see how it could be improved upon (20/20).
Next was oven-steamed turbot from Brittany, served with tapioca chips, radish and zest of lemon, resting in a pool of another glorious sauce. The fish was magnificently cooked and had lovely flavor, the chips bringing an extra texture and the citrus providing a pleasing freshness. Even the radish was superb (20/20).
This was followed by summer vegetables including fennel combined with very small pieces of shellfish including squid, topped with leaves and wrapped in a celeriac ring, resting in an aniseed flavored sauce. The fennel had stunning flavor and the delicate shellfish combined well with the earthiness of the vegetables (19/20).
“Duck Fredy Girardet” comprised a whole Nantes duck carved at the table and delivered in two separate servings. This came with assorted vegetables and yet another fine, deep, rich sauce made from the cooking juices. This was lovely, but was perhaps the least stellar dish of the evening for me. It seems churlish to not rave about a very fine piece of precisely cooked duck with a rich sauce, but this dish seemed to me merely excellent whereas so many of the previous ones had been remarkable. It is also perhaps a sign of how the cooking here has developed over the years, as this was a dish from an earlier era (18/20).
There was a vast selection of cheeses in lovely condition, offered with a different and impressive selection of breads. The first of two desserts was apricots from Valais, served with apricot sorbet and crispy fragments of caramelized eau-de-vie almonds and a little white Valrhona chocolate. The apricots were magnificent, their natural sharpness nicely contrasted by the flawless almonds (20/20).
Iced local raspberries and cherry plums were served with shreds of pistachios. The quality of the fruit was impeccable, the nuts combining well with the acidity of the raspberries (19/20). Finally there was excellent coffee with a tray of superb petit fours.
Service was silky smooth as ever, our waiter suave and friendly. I was being treated tonight by a friend so fortunately did not see the undoubtedly vast bill. A typical cost per head for a la carte choices here with a modest selection of wine would come to about £250, more if you ventured far from the bottom of the wine list. This is hardly cheap, but to be fair is less than you would pay in a Paris three star.
This was another stunning meal here, a shining example of why French cuisine is still top of the tree at the pinnacle of world cuisine. Magnificent ingredients, superb culinary technique, attractive presentation and harmonious dishes – Hotel de Ville is as good as food gets.