Wednesday, March 21, 2012


When it comes to chicken teriyaki, it doesn't get much better than Shibata, but if sushi is what you're craving, Takumi can definitely hold its own.

Pictured below: shrimp sushi and tamago.

Sushi from Takumi - Plainpalais, Geneva

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Doughnuts - Sort Of

In my previous post, I wrote about Geneva's repeated failed attempts at producing a half decent doughnut. Of all the places that sell doughnuts here, only one is even worth trying, and not because their product tastes or feels like a real doughnut, not because anyone actually bothered to glaze it, but only because at least it meets one requirement: inside, it's actually soft. And while it takes more than that to make a doughnut, it's a whole lot more than anyone else can say about their attempts in this city.

So where does one get the round, soft pastry with a hole in the middle that isn't quite a doughnut but comes closer than anything else in Geneva? Migros. Yep, yep, the supermarket chain operates boulangeries throughout the city and if you go to the one in Balexert you can get yourself a Swiss sugar doughnut. You can also get donuts that have vanilla or chocolate icing on them but I would skip those altogether.

Sugar doughnuts, M-Boulangerie - Geneva, Switzerland

Friday, March 9, 2012

Geneva's Food Culture: Epic Fail

My dear readers (yes, all three of you), after a couple of (fun) years of writing this blog and many more of living in this city I call home, it's starting to dawn on me that there is something a little wanting in the restaurant industry here. That much we already knew you might retort. But I'm referring to something beyond what we usually complain about. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way the service industry approaches consumers in Geneva and this is especially evident in the restaurant business.

Far be it from me to paint all of the city's restaurants with the same brush, many of them do go the extra mile, and having a meal in such establishments is a highly pleasurable experience. Quality restaurants are usually expensive and Italian, French or Shibata. Or they're located in a five-star hotel, but when you're charging that much money, you really have no excuse. So the fact is great restaurants are few and far between. I've drawn up a list of things I feel contribute directly to Geneva's failings when it comes to how its businesses prepare and serve food. So here goes:

A total lack of imagination

Let’s just start with the most obvious point on this list. Food-related businesses here lack imagination in so many ways, it probably deserves an entire blog post unto itself. But let’s start with a staple that should be found in every culture: hot food you can eat on the go. In the U.S. you’ve got burgers, hot dogs and a plethora of foods from around the world. Go to any large city in the United States and you’ll find quick, hot meal options on every street corner.

Other cultures offer their own signature foods, examples include hot, fresh slices of pizza in Italy, empanadas with various stuffings in South America, fish and chips in the UK, falafel sandwiches in
the middle east, etc.

What can you really get here? Don’t kid yourself, you really have three options only one of which can really be claimed to be somewhat of a local specialty: kebabs (not really my cup of tea), McDonald’s (strongly dislike it) or your typical boulangerie fare (cheese and ham sandwiches, ramequins and croissants, etc.). The cold, hard truth is that most boulangeries in Geneva are boring and unexceptional and even the better ones will lose their appeal really quickly once you’ve been a few times.

But the lack of commitment to originality doesn’t stop there, say you do go the sandwich route, can you name one original sandwich filling you’ve had in this city? More importantly can you name one original filling that is both fresh and genuinely a treat for your palate? I challenge you!

No attention to detail

Let’s stay on the sandwich topic for a second. Let’s say you do find that exceptionally original, tasty sandwich. Question for you: how good is the bread? Is it fresh? Is it hot out of the oven? I’m thinking probably not. There is a famous sandwich chain in Geneva, other than feeding you various processed fillings (seriously, processed eggs? Oh dear Lord), their bread is pre-baked. Yep, yep, in spite of the high turnover this business enjoys, they can’t even be bothered to make fresh bread. And by the way, bread that isn’t technically fresh and processed fillings and sauces comes at close to a whopping CHF 10 in this particular chain.

There are numerous places in the rest of the world that understand that when it comes to sandwiches, quality bread is a key ingredient. I can’t think of a single place off the top of my head in Geneva that seems to grasp this concept.

You can’t really go out for breakfast here

I’m not talking about Sunday brunch and boulangeries don’t count either, I mean a real place that serves you various breakfast staples every day of the week. Eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, beans on toast if that’s your thing, bacon or even cereal. Actually there is such a place, it’s called a five-star hotel. Otherwise you’re stuck with a boulangerie continental breakfast. That’s it. But you weren’t hoping for variety, were you?

They always have to botch something

A friend of mine was recently complaining about IKEA’s hot dogs, which I agree are no gourmet meal, but hey, they cost all of one franc! And while I’m no fan, what seemed to bug him most was the soft bun. I was like, dude, that’s the one thing they actually got right. Kind of. This whole baguette business was never the way hot dogs were intended to be eaten. I use the hot dog example but this is true of lots of other things.

A general unwillingness to commit to quality

Ever have a doughnut in Geneva? It is a truly painful experience. They are dry. And they are hard. This so consistently seems to be the case, that I am starting to believe coffeehouses here and various other places think doughnuts should actually taste and feel like hockey pucks. But no, let’s not give them a pass quite so easily. They know they’re serving you inedible garbage and they’re doing it anyway. Let’s try a different example, when is the last time you ordered a dish here and enjoyed the side of rice that came with it?

Laziness and/or apathy

I recently went to a sandwich place in town and asked for one of the sandwiches listed on the blackboard. I was politely told there weren’t enough people making sandwiches that day and therefore I could have either of the sandwiches sitting in one of those display cabinets which by the looks of things had been made a couple of hours earlier, or you know, not have a sandwich. Oh and by the way, I was the only customer in the shop at that point. Now, wait a minute, doesn’t it say all sandwiches are made to order in this place? Which brings me to my next point...

Not sticking to initial commitments

Geneva’s food industry is rife with this kind of thing, they’ll tell you they’re open year-round but won’t be, they’ll tell you sandwiches are made to order except when apparently they can’t be bothered, they’ll list items on their menu then when you try to order them, they’ll tell you they’re not available, the list goes on.

Thinking organic or local ingredients get the job done by themselves

Yes, right now organic and local food is the way to go. That is an effort I applaud. Slow food movements are on the rise and that’s definitely a good thing. But that doesn’t mean restaurants should slack off on doing the rest of the job right, namely, making exciting food that actually tastes good and makes you want to come back for more. I personally don’t go to places just because the ingredients used are organic.

Polite, friendly service is not always on the menu

I saved this one for last because this is a recent and highly unfortunate development in Geneva. What has happened to this city in the last couple of years? There was a time when a restaurant’s waitstaff was generally polite and pleasant to deal with. However, I and a number of my friends and acquaintances have recently experienced a kind of rudeness previously unknown here. Sure, people in the service industry here may not always be warm and fuzzy, but they’re usually very civil.

This, unfortunately, no longer seems to be the case. When it comes to dealing with restaurants, there are many things I’m willing to forgive, it is, after all, a stressful job and a thankless one at that. Forgetfulness or even minor signs of stress I won’t hold against you. Be rude to me once and I’ll never visit your establishment again. This has happened on two separate occasions in the past month. But that’s a post for another time.

So that’s my list, boys and girls! What do you think, am I being too harsh? Too lenient? Have I missed anything? I await your comments!

Monday, March 5, 2012

A bon entendeur's hamburger episode (French)

Check out A bon entendeur's hamburger episode, I don't entirely agree with their ratings, I personally believe Calamar's burger remains one of the best in Geneva, even though they are entirely right about their sub par fries.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Holy Cow and Inglewood - nothing to write home about

This is a tough review to write. I'm constantly complaining there is a consistent lack of effort to improve Geneva's food culture yet when not one but two new burger joints open in a short amount of time, I'm a little... underwhelmed with the effort.

Inglewood, a small restaurant between Plainpalais and Acacias, definitely gets higher marks as far as I am concerned, their burger certainly feels like an overall quality product. The meat is fresh and tasty but the winner here is definitely the bun, it is pretty much by itself what makes the experience worthwhile! The poppy seed roll is crispy on the outside and soft inside, the way it really should be! The fries are OK but nothing spectacular, the salad is a wholly forgettable experience... which saddens me. Most places here don't understand that a salad, be it a side, can be a fresh and delicious experience. Use the right ingredients, add the right dressing and you're in for a very special treat! But no such luck here.

So while Inglewood's burger is enjoyable, it somehow fails to live up to the hype (in a recent episode, Swiss television's A bon entendeur rated Inglewood's burger highest among the 11 burgers it tested) and I was expecting a more palate-pleasing experience. Also, getting in is no simple task. You can't book for lunch so you just have to go and hope they'll have a spot for you, and you may want to book in advance for an evening meal -- it seems to fill up pretty quickly. Out of my three attempts to sample their food, only one was successful, and let's face it, a girl can only take so much rejection.

Oh yeah, one final word about Inglewood: do yourself a favor and skip the desserts. Especially the donuts.

Now onto Holy Cow, again I had high hopes for this place, after all, ever since it first opened in Lausanne, it has consistently been getting rave reviews. Yet in spite of the fact that they seem to be doing everything right (they use fresh, organic ingredients, have a baker make a special bun and only seem to use local suppliers), virtually nothing about their burgers works for me. The bun is too soft and bland, the meat is OK and may well be of a superior quality but in terms of taste and texture, I just didn't enjoy it. But worst of all was the overpowering barbecue sauce they seem to use in most -- if not all -- of their burgers. It so completely ruined the experience for me the first time around, I actually made it a point to go back and order a burger that didn't list the offensive sauce as one of its ingredients but lo and behold, it somehow still made its way into my Big Cheese.

The fries are very unimpressive and while I thought there were more than enough of them, I doubt everyone would feel the same way.

I don't know. I'm not sure how to evaluate this place fairly, clearly a lot of effort has gone into making Holy Cow what it is and many people seem to enjoy it, but I find it hard to believe you would genuinely enjoy a meal in this restaurant if you've had a decent burger anywhere else in the world. And I'm not just talking about cities in North America, I would include many other cosmopolitan cities around the globe.

A Big Cheese menu at Holy Cow (the burger with a side of fries and a drink) will run you about CHF 18. For a gourmet burger, that seems fair, but frankly for the Holy Cow experience, I thought it was a little overpriced. If you happen to be taking your entire family out for dinner, it's downright expensive for what it is. Frankly I'd order a Big Mac at McDonald's any day over a Holy Cow burger, and I say this as someone who has a very strong aversion to McDonald's.

I could go back to Inglewood. I doubt I'll be going back to Holy Cow.

Pictured below: Inglewood's Pasadena burger followed by Holy Cow's Elvis Blue Cheese and Big Cheese burgers. And yes the bun was sadly just as flat as it looks in the last picture.

Pasadena cheeseburger - Inglewood, Geneva

Smokey Big Cheese and Bacon - Holy Cow, Geneva

Big Cheese - Holy cow, Geneva

Kempinski and Four Seasons

Thinking of visiting a five star hotel for teatime? You might consider Four Seasons, the hotel's menu boasts an impressive selection of teas and you can also order their sinfully delicious (if rather expensive) chocolate chip cookies. Once you bite into a cookie, you'll probably find the texture to be somewhat cakey, but they're still very good.

Geneva's Kempinski Hotel is probably one of the very few places in the city that will serve you a Reuben sandwich. Exciting, isn't it? Sure. That is until you see it and compare it to a Reuben you might get in any other self-respecting establishment in the world.

Pictured below: the Four Seasons' teatime chocolate chip cookies followed by Kempinski's Reuben sandwich.

Chocolate chip cookies - Four Seasons Hotel, Geneva

Reuben sandwich - Kempinski Hotel, Geneva

Thought I'd also add the kind of Reuben you're probably more accustomed to seeing just for kicks:

Photo credit: Ernesto Andrade