Join local resident Sue Style on a gastronomic tour of a region renowned for its hearty food
1 L’Auberge de l’Ill
Alsace’s legendary three-Michelin-star restaurant beside the River Ill has welcomed countless crowned heads of Europe and international celebrities, whose photographs line the walls outside the dining room. It’s hard to remember that this was once just a simple inn on a bridge, where the speciality was matelote, a creamy, freshwater fish stew served with home-made ribbon noodles.
Nowadays, the restaurant, in the village of Illhaeusern, is a kind of honorary grand-mère of France’s grandes tables, commanding respect and affection. What draws people back is the setting (come for lunch, the better to enjoy the views across the garden to the river fringed by weeping willows), the grand but not pompous food and the friendly service. One of the joys of eating here is that this remains a family inn at heart, still owned and run by members of the Haeberlin dynasty, who are unspoiled by its considerable fame. Your fellow diners are as likely to be locals celebrating an anniversary or birthday as celebrities and dignitaries.
You don’t come here to be wowed with culinary fireworks, rather to be cocooned in classic French cuisine, beautifully executed, at heart rooted in Alsace but equally assured when venturing into Mediterranean, Moroccan or Asian waters. Alongside firm fixtures such as foie gras scooped with a warmed spoon straight from its decorated Alsatian pottery terrine, or breast of pinkly roasted pigeon wrapped in a brilliant-green cabbage leaf, come creations such as ginger-infused lobster with mango and apple, or lamb rack with aubergine ‘cannelloni’ and citron confit.
Puddings range from almond blancmanges and chibousts (an old-school concoction of crème pâtissière and beaten egg white) and home-made sorbets arranged in a bento box. The wine list is filled with Alsace’s top growths (including Trimbach, Hugel, Domaine Weinbach, Josmeyer and Rolly Gassmann), plus sufficient grands crus from Burgundy and Bordeaux to float any connoisseur’s boat. Mains from €55, six-course weekend lunch menu €129.
Auberge de l’Ill, 2 Rue de Collonges au Mont d’Or, 68970 Illhaeusern
Tel: (Fr) 3 89 71 89 00
2. La Taverne Alsacienne
This cheerful tavern in Ingersheim, a firm favourite with the winegrowing fraternity, business people from nearby Colmar, locals and tourists alike, is run by the formidable famille Guggenbuhl. Chef Jean-Philippe was born here, left home to train at the region’s top tables and returned to the family fold in 1985 to take over in the kitchen, due to his father’s illness. His two sisters, Béatrice and Joëlle, run the dining room with cheerful efficiency, watched over by the eagle eye of maman Guggenbuhl.
The restaurant is always packed, so booking is essential. At the front there is a cosy, checked-tablecloth area, and at the back a slightly more elegant dining room. There are several prix-fixe formules (including a €19 lunch menu on weekdays), a menu terroir and the renowned menu retour du marché, which varies depending on what is delivered to the kitchen door in the morning. In honour of the restaurant’s golden jubilee in 2014, a celebratory menu (€35) offers a choice of foie gras or crab/avocado, cod with a tomato vinaigrette or rack of ibérico pork and wild mushrooms, with a pear and chocolate finale.
The chef’s two great passions are fish and wild mushrooms. The former comes almost exclusively from inshore boats and their catch is delivered twice a week by a local supplier who sources direct from the Rungis wholesale market in Paris. The latter are supplied by a faithful mushroom-hunter from the nearby Vosges mountains (and by the chef on his days off).
The à la carte menu is a skilful balancing act between ancient and modern, where Alsace classics (foie gras, snails with riesling and wild mushrooms, choucroute) alternate with crab and avocado with a citrus fruit flourish, monkfish and scallops in an egg yolk-yellow saffron sauce or ibérico pork with truffled mash. Desserts range from iced kougelhopf doused with kirsch to a warm chocolate cake served with melon ice.
The chef’s wine interests match his passion for food and the list is a treasure trove for enthusiasts. Watch out for the iconic wine bottles that stand sentry on the stairs down to the washrooms.
La Taverne Alsacienne, 99 Rue de la République, 68040 Ingersheim
Tel: (Fr) 3 89 27 08 41
The Plus Beau Village of Riquewihr has plenty of restaurants serving piles of choucroute and tarte à l’oignon to the tourists thronging its medieval streets. D’Brendelstub, however, stands out from the crowd, both for its crazy, psychedelic decor, concealed – rather unexpectedly – behind the façade of a 14th-century half-timbered house, and for its funky, highly original food.
The blackboard lists a selection of dishes that change according to the seasons and chef Jean-Luc Brendel’s whim, alongside a more static main menu. Among the pick-and-mix starters, some are locally inspired (foie gras and charcuterie from Domaine de la Schleif, marinated Vosges trout), while others are more adventurous (think Thai-style pancakes and parcels, tomato and strawberry gazpacho). There are several variations on the tarte flambée theme, most of which deviate from the usual crème fraiche/bacon/onion norm. A fun idea is to order one (or several) to share – choose between toppings of garlicky snails and parsley, roasted Mediterranean vegetables, or pink-fleshed trout with basil and coriander. The tartes (which cost around €12) are done to a crisp on the floor of the wood-fired oven and brought to table on a board, ready to be cut in wedges (and eaten with your fingers).
For mains, you can generally count on a rib of beef (even, occasionally, a whole lobster) done on the open fire, or spit-roast honey-glazed ham. In summer there’s often a risotto of locally harvested chanterelles with shaved Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, while autumn brings choucroute with duck sausage and confit, made with the new season’s freshly salted cabbage.
Cheeses are sourced from a handful of farms up in the Vosges mountains and served with home-made fruit chutney, while sweet treats include classics such as crème brulée, rum baba or a deconstructed tarte au citron. The wine list is rich in vinous discoveries, many of which (Hugel’s Gentil, gewürztraminer from Domaine Agapé) are served by the glass. Menus start from €20
D’Brendelstub, 48 Rue du Général de Gaulle, 68340 Riquewihr
Tel: (Fr) 3 89 86 54 54
La Bistronomie, 6 Rue Henry de Crousaz, 68110 Illzach
Tel: (Fr) 3 89 61 88 00
Trendy wine and tapas bar attached to Restaurant La Closerie, in Mulhouse’s southern suburbs. Delicious bites and wide selection of wines, many by the glass.
Kouglof, 50 Rue du Général de Gaulle, 68240 Kaysersberg
Tel: (Fr) 3 89 78 22 73
Pâtisserie-salon de thé on the main street, part of Olivier Nasti’s hotel-restaurant empire, offering re-imagined kugelhopfs (mini-, maxi-, sweet and savoury), delicious cakes and pastries.
Look out for baeckeoffe, a robust one-pot meal that combines pork, beef, lamb, potatoes, leeks and carrots, lavishly spiced and marinated in riesling, straight from a decorated pottery terrine in which it has cooked for several hours.
Anyone on a self-catering holiday, or putting together a picnic, will get a true flavour of Alsace at the following shops
Au Pain de Mon Grand-Père
58 Rue de la Krutenau
Tel: (Fr) 3 88 36 59 66
Part of a series of superior organic bakeries in and around Strasbourg and Colmar, this shop sells proper baguettes, burnished brown loaves from rye, buckwheat and unbleached white flour plus seasonal specialities (pumpkin, chestnut etc.), all baked in wood-fired ovens.
MEAT AND CHARCUTERIE
16 Rue des Orfèvres
Tel: (Fr) 3 88 32 60 60
Old-world boucherie-charcuterie with its main shop in Strasbourg’s top foodie street (and branches elsewhere). Elegantly presented racks of lamb, veal fillets vie for attention with pâtés, tourtes (meat pies with pastry over and under), foie gras and choucroute garnie to take away.
DUCK AND FOIE GRAS
Le Domaine de la Schleif, 30A Rue de Molsheim, 67120 Soultz-les-Bains
Tel: (Fr) 3 88 47 98 98
Lucien Doriath’s award-winning farm produces foie gras from a flock of Barbary ducks raised and finished on the domaine. Besides foie gras, it also makes confit de canard, pâtés, terrines and pies, all of which are on sale in the farm shop, Le Comptoir des Saveurs.
Fromagerie Saint-Nicolas, 18 Rue Saint-Nicolas, 68000 Colmar
Tel: (Fr) 3 89 24 90 45
This shop in Colmar’s old quarter stocks a superb range of cheeses, selected and aged by Jacky and Christine Quesnot. They also have a stall in the covered market on Thursdays and at the outdoor Marché Saint-Joseph on Saturdays. They are in Mulhouse’s covered market on Thursdays and Saturdays, and at Guebwiller’s street market on Fridays.
Fromagerie Antony, 5 Rue de la Montagne, 68480 Vieux-Ferrette
Tel: (Fr) 3 89 40 42 22
Enthusiasts travel from far and wide to this Aladdin’s cave of cheese in the depths of the hilly Sundgau area, close to the Swiss border. Bernard and Jean-François Antony are masters of the art of ripening the finest artisan cheeses, from Munster to aged Comté, and Mont d’Or to Fourme d’Ambert. They also offer a cérémonie de fromages, a tasting menu taking you the length and breadth of France via its fromages, with wines to match.
CHOCOLATE AND PASTRIES
Thierry Mulhaupt, 18 Rue du Vieux Marché aux Poissons, 67000 Strasbourg
Tel: (Fr) 3 88 23 15 02
The exquisite chocolates, pastries and desserts at this award-winning pâtissier’s shop in the heart of Strasbourg (with a branch in Colmar) look almost – though not quite – too good to eat. Dark, milk and white chocolate squares and bars are flavoured countless ways (balsamic vinegar, lime and basil, ginger, Sichuan pepper, salty caramel) and a kirsch-infused truffle is dedicated to Alsace.