In the week leading up to my birthday, Julian repeatedly told me he’d be taking me somewhere really special for my birthday dinner. The day of my birthday, he said I’d better not ruin my appetite because he was taking me to a local pizzeria and had been saving up to order three pizzas just for me! While I will happily eat pizza any night, I had a feeling he was pulling my leg. This feeling was confirmed when he told me to dress up (he said it was a fancy pizzeria 😂) but I still had no idea where we were going. It was only when we reached the Les Trois Rois hotel that I realized he was taking me to one of the best restaurants in the world, three Michelin star gourmet restaurant Cheval Blanc. Though Julian and I had eaten at Michelin starred restaurants before, Cheval Blanc was our first three star restaurant. It made it extra special to be able to enjoy this culinary experience together.
Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois
Cheval Blanc is located within Les Trois Rois, Basel’s nicest hotel and one of Europe’s oldest. Founded in 1681 as an inn for gentlemen and rebuilt in 1844 as a Grand Hotel, Les Trois Rois’ guest book reads like a who’s who of world history. Empress Michiko of Japan, Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth II, and Pablo Picasso have all enjoyed this hotel’s hospitality. Situated directly on the banks of the Rhine, Les Trois Rois also boasts one of the city’s best views. At night, the hotel is completely lit up and it glows in the most magical way.
Cheval Blanc Atmosphere
A few weeks ago, I had dinner at La Brasserie, another excellent restaurant at Les Trois Rois, without ever noticing Cheval Blanc. As it turns out, Cheval Blanc is tucked away in a discreet corner of the hotel. After being ushered through glass doors, I found myself in an exquisitely elegant room with high ceilings, ornate furniture, and striking chandeliers. Cheval Blanc is an intimate space with only eight tables. The candelabras at each table cast a warm glow over the room, creating an atmosphere of quiet refinement and making it the perfect romantic dinner setting.
Aperitifs & Amuse Bouches
The meal began with a warm welcome from our server and an aperitif. On our waiter’s recommendation, I had a delicious glass of champagne and Julian had an Americano (his new favorite drink after our weekend in Milan). My champagne was a splendid accompaniment to the amuse bouches, or bite-sized hors d’œuvres selected by Cheval Blanc’s chef, the acclaimed Peter Knogl. Our first amuse bouche was a cucumber foam, yogurt, and pickled gleek combination. Sounds a bit odd but it was an incredible combination of flavors. Next came a salty and sweet macaron followed by cream of mushroom on top of Iberian ham and finally a mix of minced tuna, avocado, and radish.
After selecting our main dishes, we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle. We wanted to share a bottle of wine but since I had chosen meat and Julian fish, we could not decide whether to have white or red. Luckily, the sommelier had a solution. She suggested a half bottle of white wine to accompany our starters and Julian’s fish followed by a glass of red for my main dish. On the sommelier’s recommendation, we selected a Cervaro della Scala, a white wine from Italy. The first thing I noticed about this wine was its fragrance. It had an aroma reminiscent of honeysuckle. While it was a tad fruity, it was also woody and elegant with a long finish. It was unlike any white wine I had tried before and was truly unforgettable.
For our starter, we had one of Julian’s favorites, foie gras. Though I am generally not a big fan, this duck foie gras accompanied by pineapple and green pepper was exceptional. On our server’s recommendation, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and order the smoked eel. Paired with beetroot, black garlic, and Wasabi, this dish turned my notion of smoked eel on its head. Needless to say I was very happy I had taken our server’s advice.
Sublime Main Plates
Next came our main courses. I ordered the Kobe beef (after all, it’s not everyday you turn 26!) and Julian ordered the red mullet filet. Both dishes were sublime. The vinaigrette of shallots and ocra paired beautifully with my tender beef. For Julian, the crispy scales of his mullet took the filet to the next level.
Although we were quite full after our dishes, we didn’t dream of skipping dessert. It was a tough decision but we decided to go with the exotic chocolate with yozu. I’m a chocolate fanatic so I couldn’t resist trying Peter Knogl’s interpretation of a chocolate dessert. Yozu is a fragrant citrus from East Asia and its tart flavoring was the perfect compliment to the dark, rich Swiss chocolate.
Our dinner at Cheval Blanc was one of those meals that you never want to end. Luckily, it just kept going and going. To our delight, after finishing our chocolate treat several mini desserts appeared. These included bite-sized chocolates and sweets, mousses, and delightful grapefruit macarons. Like the amuse bouches, I was amazed that something so small could be packed with so much flavor.
To conclude our meal, we both ordered a digestif. For me, a Plum Liqueur and for Julian, a Poire Williams, a brandy made from the Williams pear. Unfortunately, all good things must end and so almost four hours after our meal began, it came to a close. Reluctant to leave the comfort of the Les Trois Rois, we stepped onto the balcony to enjoy the fresh night air and full moon reflecting over the Rhine.
An Exceptional Culinary Experience
Julian and I agree our dinner at Cheval Blanc was one of, if not the best meal of our lives. While the food is superb, Cheval Blanc offers much more than a good meal. It offers its patrons an exceptional culinary experience where each bite surprises and delights you with its intricate combination of flavors and ingredients. This combined with the restaurant’s impeccable service and old world glamour make it abundantly clear why Cheval Blanc is one of the world’s best.
If you’re headed to Basel, also be sure to check out my list of favorite coffee shops, restaurants, and bars and my top 10 things to do in Basel!