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The Dolder Grand: A Culinary Castle Soaring Above Zürich

The Dolder Grand: A Culinary Castle Soaring Above Zürich

The Dolder Grand: A Culinary Castle Soaring Above Zürich

Some castles stand out for their beauty and others for their history. The Dolder Grand does both, and then some.

Throned on a hill overlooking the majestic lake Zürich it can be easily named as one of the best hotels in the world. A timeless and eclectic property that opened its doors in 1899 and still is an example of elegance, luxury and class. Especially if you are an art, spa and food lover.

From the Alhambra in Granada, to the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. From Mont-Saint-Michel to the Taj Mahal, there’s something inexplicably appealing about castles. They are majestic, historic, unique and some of them still inspire fairy tales and fantastic stories around the world. They are magical, appreciated for their architecture and usually used to illustrate different eras in history. That magic can be found up on the hills of Zürich at The Dolder Grand, originally built during the times of the Belle Époque. Right from the beginning, the property became synonymous with everything that that period of time represented: a time of optimism, progress and enlightenment when society went through deep changes, technology became hope, and the joie de vivre flourished as a response to the end of an era of war. 

Images of the construction period of The Dolder Grand’s original building. Photo courtesy of TDG.

The property was originally designed by Jacques Gros and opened on May 10th 1899, just one year before the Paris Exposition from 1900. Meanwhile, Zürich was becoming an epicentre of change, a home for intellectuals, scientists, politicians and artists that were looking ahead into a new world. The birthplace of Dadaism, just to give one example. Today The Dolder Grand reaches 125 years and between 2004 and 2008 it underwent a major renovation by Norman Foster + partners, who extended it, reconnected it to its forest environment, doubled the amount of rooms and at the same time, managed to make it energy efficient and more sustainable. 175 breathtaking rooms and suites, a 4000 thousand square metre spa that is an attraction on its own, a train that connects the hotel to the centre (The Dolderbahn) and an art collection worthy of its own museum with pieces by Dalí, Ernst, Botero, Miró, Haring and Stallone just to name a few. Yes, Sylvester Stallone. 

A bird’s-eye view that shows the old and the new living together in perfect harmony. The main building and the new one designed by Norman Foster. Photo by Hiepler Brunier.

Every room has personality and a story (or many) to tell. From Winston Churchill to Liz Taylor, the walls of The Dolder grand have seen it all. And even though elegance is the common thread along the entire hotel, some suites have some distinctive touches. Like the “Maestro Suite” in the tower of the main building, which is a tribute to the Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan. The 170-square-meter “Masina Suite” with a private roof terrace, is named after the Italian actress Giulietta Masina and an electric guitar signed by the Rolling Stones is the highlight of the “Suite 100”, named after the Club 100 in London. All the furniture and lamps in the “Carezza Suite” have an organic shape – a homage to the work of the Swiss painter Alberto Giacometti. But even after this impressive list, what stands out the most about The Dolder Grand is it’s multiple food offerings.

Another example of the eclectic style of The Dolder Grand in the place where the old and the new building face one another. Photo by Hiepler Brunier.

 

The majestic entrance hall of the Maestro Suite, in the tower of the Main Building, which is a tribute to the Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

A Culinary Castle, Soaring Above Zurich

The list of accolades that recognize The Dolder Grand is long: a 5 out of 5 on the Forbes Travel Star Awards, Condé Nast Traveler’s reader’s choice award number 1 in Zürich and 4th in the world, Hotel of the Year 2024 by Gault & Millau and two Michelin stars for its crown jewel ‘The Restaurant’. But what makes this place a culinary destination and how did they turn it into one? The secret is quality, variety and talent. Headed by culinary director Heiko Nieder, a team of more than 500 people put in their part to run this hotel and its 6 restaurants, bar, and one of the worlds most prestigious gourmet festivals in the world, The Epicure, that this year will take place from the 2nd until the 7th of July with world class collaboration dinners and events. 

In a hotel, it all starts with a good breakfast, and The Dolder Grand’s is famous for being the best in Switzerland. It’s abundant, but elegant and divided into a buffet area where you can find all the classics, and some more modern and creative presentations. Breads, croissants and all types of pastries, cereals, cheeses, cold cuts, raw, cured, smoked and cooked fish, vegetarian options, and of course, organic eggs in all its shapes and forms. Those are also extended à la carte, where guests can find the classic Eggs Benedict and Royale; signatures like the Armer Ritter, a brioche with eggs, truffle ham, spinach, truffle and cress; or the Exclusive, an omelette with crème fraîche and chives to which guests can add 10 or 30 grams of Oscietra caviar.

Then the day can begin properly.

The grand staircase of the lobby at The Dolder Grand with a beautiful bronce sculpture by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

After breakfast, the space turns into Saltz, their all day dining restaurant where chef Julian Mai serves uncomplicated and fun dishes that please all types of palates.

The space is quite diaphanous, open and modern and includes a massive terrace that makes guests feel even more connected to nature with a panoramic view of the city. Classics like the Veal Bird with morels, carrots salad and mashed potatoes share space with dishes like Lobster Thermidor with tarragon hollandaise sauce, a 28 aged dry-aged Tomahawk steak with truffle fries and Café de París sauce, or a Breton sole on the bone. Dishes and flavors that we all know and love, done with the best ingredients and paired with a great selection of Swiss and European wines to create the perfect hotel eatery.

Now, all these deliciousness comes from just one of the gastronomic spaces of The Dolder Grand, but before we continue with a written food tour of this dreamy castle, more about the man responsible for all of it.

The Saltz restaurant, designed by artist Rolf Sachs, exudes a unique atmosphere that, like the rest of the property, expresses both a modern and a classic side. The red area is the most striking on. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

Heiko Nieder: Becoming A Chef

Born in 1972 in the north of Germany, Heiko Nieder remembers to this day that his first contact with a professional kitchen was through his grandmother. She was a chef for a butcher company and, even though it would be something unthinkable today, she took him with her when the kindergarten was closed and his parents went to work. Heiko would run through the kitchen and play surrounded by pots and pans.

“I was five years old and I still remember the smell of that kitchen where my grandmother worked. But the reality is that I became a chef because I love it. I love food. And when I cook, my top priority is to share this enjoyment with others who love food as much as I do” explains Heiko.

When it came time for him to choose his path in life, and back then it was done at a very young age, Nieder remembers that even though he loved food, his first impulse was to reject the idea of becoming a chef. It didn’t mean the same thing then as it means today and that pushed him to try his luck with an internship at an office position. He, of course, hated it. He saw everyone as zombies, in front of a desk all day, repeating the same thing over and over, but luckily, the product that they sold sparked his interest: tea and vanilla. The scents and the flavors of those reconnected him to his original passion.

The culinary King of the castle: Heiko Nieder in front of the five-star kitchen of his two Michelin-starred “The Restaurant”, also home to the special nights of The Epicure. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

Simultaneously, an older friend from his neighbourhood who was a waiter and a chef asked a then sixteen year old Heiko for help for an event he had to do for his church. This was the first time he really worked in a kitchen. He even remembers using salmon and being so happy about the whole thing that that same day, he got home and announced that he would become a chef.

The following year he began his apprenticeship at the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg, followed by stints at the Le Canard Nouveau restaurant in Hamburg, the hotel ‘Zur Traube’ in Grevenbroich and in Berlin’s restaurant Vau, where he began having his own culinary voice and freedom to create. That led him to become the head chef at L’Orquivit in Bonn for five years, where he was named ‘Discovery of the Year’ by Gault & Millau, gained his first Michelin star in 2004 and, above all, laid the first stepping stone towards finding what has become his unique culinary signature, one that blends perfectly with the DNA of what would become his new home.

Entering The Dolder Grand 

“I wanted to do something greater. I wanted to give more, to receive more and the opportunity to come to The Dolder Grand was like a dream come true. My time in Bonn was perfect for me to come into my own, to find my voice, to play, to learn and to do things my way, but then came the perfect offer and that became the beginning of a new path.” tells Heiko. He moved to Zürich January 31st 2008, his first day at The Dolder Grand was February 1st where he opened “The Restaurant’ during April that year. 

In contrast with its super modern entrance hall, the living room of the Maestro Suite at the top of one of the towers of the main, original building, is a show of the more traditional side of The Dolder Grand’s architecture.

When you get to spend some time at The Dolder Grand and learn about its history, it is easy to realise that the selection of Heiko Nieder as the chef that would take over the project of The Restaurant was spot on. If the idea was for that restaurant to be the most elevated version of the culinary expression of this very unique property, the one responsible for bringing it to life couldn’t be too classic nor too modern. He had to be able to distil the essence that made this property a sanctuary for the “it” crowd of the Belle Époque, he had to honor the past while cooking dishes that feel current and progressive, and that is exactly what Heiko does.

He describes the beginning of his journey towards finding his own style of cooking as a moment when he wanted to be a purist. But arriving at a place as majestic as The Dolder Grand made him have to take a U-turn. Not in the essence, but in how he presents things. For Heiko, it is all about reflecting the quality and obsession with detail that make the hotel so special and his successes are an affirmation of his approach: on top of the two Michelin stars, he holds an impressive 19 points in the Gault & Millau guide, making him one of the absolute best chefs in Switzerland. He was also voted ‘Chef of the Year 2019’ by the same guide and also holds a plethora of other prestigious awards.

The Dolder Grand has what must be one of the most impressive art collections found in any European hotel. Artworks on display include over 100 original works such this master piece by Salvador Dali greeting guests at the entrance of The Restaurant. Photo courtesy of TDG.

The Restaurant**

There’s a big difference between being eclectic and having no identity, and The Restaurant, just like The Dolder Grand itself or like its astonishing art collection, is definitely an example of the first. Here, things are composed by a combination of ideas, styles and tastes from a broad and diverse range of sources, and the duality of classic and modern is the root of it all. When you enter the two Michelin starred The Restaurant, the first stimulus to the senses is a painting: “Femmes métamorphosées – Les sept arts” from 1957 by Salvador Dalí. Then the journey continues with a menu created to make guests remember why they love food.

One of Heiko’s signatures, the lobster with strawberries, beetroot, tarragon and mustard, or what could be named as spring from the land and the sea on a plate. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

Like a passionate art collector, Heiko Nieder has dedicated his life to gathering experiences and knowledge that he turns into dishes that are an extension of his personality and creative mind, like one of his signatures, the lobster with strawberries, beetroot, tarragon and mustard, or what could be named as spring from the land and the sea on a plate. It was the first dish he ever served at The Restaurant back in 2008 and it stands the test of time. Fresh, colorful and surprising. He translates each season into menus that highlight beauty, individuality, detail and most importantly, flavor. Can a luxury hotel with over a century of history have a two Michelin starred restaurant with a Dalí in the entrance that somehow makes guests feel relaxed and welcomed? It can. And even though it might sound like the perfect recipe for stiffness and pretension, Heiko and his all-female front of house team headed by the extremely talented Evelyn Igl and Katharina Sarrot, who also creates a one of the best wine pairings you will try in a long time, make the room as enjoyable and laid back as it can be.

The dishes and its beautiful pairings start to come to the table with a first wave of beautifully presented snack: Gougère with shiitake and coffee, “Steak Tartar” bags, Armer Ritter with Comté and Périgord truffles, Tomme de Fleurette with potatoes and pickled onions, Radish with kimchi spice and nori, Eggplant tart with black pepper and Heiko’s elaborated version of a Waldorf Salad. A sensorial and intense as diving into the Dalí in the entrance and paired with a 2012 Laurent-Perrier Alexandra Grande Cuvée Rosé. A glass of Château Galoupet Resé from Provence follows and makes every bite of the signature lobster dish an experience that continues with a selection of homemade breads, a glass of 2011 Krug paired with white asparagus and egg, cress and Oscietra caviar. Explosive!

Classic and direct but with a twist and done to perfection: char with rapeseed and chamomile by chef Heiko at The Restaurant. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

A perfectly cooked char with rapeseed and chamomile was one of the tastiest dishes of the night, followed by a hamachi with peas, coconut, Vadouvan curry and dill and a veal with morels, Emmentaler cheese, chervil, lettuce and horseradish, also cooked to absolute perfection and paired with a glass of 2010 Aloxe-Corton Premier Cru. The sweet moment can never be missed from an experience like this: first comes a milk ice cream with rhubarb, ginger, pecan and rosa, followed by a nespola with cocoa fruit, yuzu pepper, grain and shiso, and to end an array of petit fours and bonbons, one of them with a very sweet backstory:

A bonbon of chocolate with popping candy that has stayed in Heiko Neider’s repertoire even since before he came to Zürich, and even though it might seem like something that everyone has done at this point, 25 years ago the idea was new to most guests. “We had a table of 6 very old guests that seemed impossible to please. It felt as if they were coming from a burial. They wouldn’t smile or react to anything throughout the entire evening, but magically, when they tried the popping candy chocolate, they started laughing and crying like babies. It was unbelievable and that day I promised that I would never take it out of the menu, so decades later, we still make it. To me it represents the reason why I chose to become a chef, to make people forget everything else for a second and connect to whatever they connect to when they try something that moves them. To make people happy” closes Heiko.

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The wine list at The Restaurant comprises over 800 different wines, including some amazingly rare finds. In close teamwork with Heiko Nieder, the Gault & Millau awarded young sommelier Katharina Sarrot selects the perfect wine to accompany each course. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

Blooming Garden, Hidden Dragon, Canvas On Display

Believe it or not, there’s more to The Dolder Grand when it comes to food. Starting with Blooms, situated on the edge of a forest and amid vegetable beds, herbs and fruit bushes The garden restaurant serves up a relaxing outdoor dining experience around an enormous red steel structure by Keith Haring. Culinary Director Heiko Neider and Bloom head chef Robin Briner prepare light, refined creations – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, organic, regional and seasonal – using the garden as their inspiration. But don’t let the list of exceptions fool you. The flavors and the intensity make you forget that this place is a vegetable heaven.

Situated on the edge of a forest and amid vegetable beds, herbs and fruit bushes, Blooms serves up a relaxing outdoor dining experience to savour. Designed in the style of a terrace, the kitchen garden has space for 36 guests, with awnings sheltering the tables and the kitchen. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

Another eccentric trade of the hotel is their hidden Japanese omakase Mikuriya, run by chef Atsushi Hiraoka in what from the outside, looks like another hotel room. However, inside Atsushi Hiraoka enters into a culinary dialogue with his 8 guests and gives them free rein to his innovative and artistic talent. Eggs, fish and meat are lovingly shaped into kappo-style sushi right before their eyes as the chef reveals one or two of the secrets of Japanese cuisine.

Upon request, sake, shochu or Japanese beer are offered to accompany selected courses. It’s the perfect accompaniment to this traditionally light cuisine, which focuses on the delicate original flavors of the ingredients – particularly in the case of sushi – and contains the subtlest of seasoning.

A short walk takes guest into yet another wonderful space, the Krug Lounge, another terrace with a breathtaking view where bubbles mix with tasty snacks like their signature currywurst, Dolder truffle fries and tarte flambée with caviar and guests can order a “Press for Champagne” bell. And last but not least, the newly opened Grand Meatery takes over a space where the concept changes every 4th month (until lately it was a One Thousand and One Nights-themed pop up restaurant). Steak and meat dishes à la Heiko Nieder. From beef tea with caviar and crème fraîche to carpaccio roll with foie gras and black truffle all the way to ribeye, entrecôte, or Kagoshima beef – this restaurant space is currently all about meat.

The Canvas Bar & Lounge, a grand room filled with contemporary art and historic charm. A suggestion? Get a Grand Espresso Martini and a Dolder Torte after a relaxing spa day. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

The nightcap is done at the Canvas Bar & Lounge, a grand room (where you can of course also find food and a very special pastry selection) filled with contemporary art and historic charm. Guests can enjoy a top class Dolder Negroni or a Grand Espresso Martini. Or get more adventurous and try some of the original drinks inspired by the incredible art pieces in the property while they enjoy the unique Dolder Torte, created from shortcrust pastry, a crunchy layer, champagne cream, marzipan and chocolate is a true dessert icon.

The Epicure

For a long time Heiko had the idea of bringing some of the best chefs and culinary concepts from other countries to Zürich. Not only to share the things he saw and tried in his travels around the world with locals and guests from “The Restaurant”, but also to be able to exchange knowledge and fun moments with the culinary elite. That was the inception of The Epicure, the gourmet festival that this year turns nine years with what promises to be its best edition yet, from the 2nd until the 7th of July.  

“I wanted to create The Epicure for a long time but the construction of the Gallery, the biggest event space of the hotel, was the sign that it was time to finally do it. For the first edition, I invited friends and some chefs that I met at other events and we started with 3 evenings of collaboration dinners and the final. This year we are doing 5 evenings of highly exclusive collaboration dinners topped by the big final, where we serve a ten course flying menu and have eleven stations where each guest star chefs presents one top dish, on top of cheese stations, desserts, ice cream station, live music, cigars… It is a big celebration of food and gastronomy.” explains Heiko.

The all-star lineup of The Epicure 2023 brought together some of the world’s best chefs. This year, the stars will shine even more. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

Over the course of five evenings this year, Nieder will team up with three Michelin-starred chefs Norbert Niederkofler, Javier Torres, Stefan Stiller and Jan Hartwig, as well as four times consecutive awarded best New Zealand chef Vaughan Mabee, to create unique eight course menus featuring pairings not seen before.

Then, on the last day, The Final will bring guests closer to the chefs and prepare dishes in front of them. International star chefs Tamás Széll, Guido Braeken, Kristian Baumann, Przemyslaw Klima, Alex Dilling, Benoît Carcenat, Konstantin Filippou, Stefan Stiller, Vaughan Mabee and host Heiko Nieder will create a feast for almost 400 fun-loving food lovers. German “Pastry Chef of the Year” Marco D’Andrea will present the sweet finale, rounded off with exquisite drinks served by the refined Scarfes Bar from Rosewood Hotel in London.

“Somehow, the next edition feels very far away. But right after this 9th edition is done, we’ll start preparing for the 10th anniversary of the festival, and I already have some great ideas in mind,” closes Heiko with a smile as he envisions an even brighter and bigger future for the gastronomic offerings of the culinary castle on top of Zürich.

The Dolder Grand
Kurhausstrasse 65, 8032 Zürich
www.thedoldergrand.com

Heiko Nieder in action during last year’s edition of The Epicure. Photo by Philippe Hubler.

 

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