A tour of my favorites
I have lived in Basel for two years now. From this website it may seem I mostly visited restaurants in other countries. But appearances can be deceptive. I have been to a fair number of restaurants in or just outside Basel. Although I can’t say I have eaten in every watering hole, it is long enough to start noticing myself going back to certain places. That is the moment your favorites set themselves apart from the crowd. The days of testing a different restaurant every time I go out are growing fewer. Not that I lost my appetite for new adventures, but sometimes I just want to go to a familiar address. A place that I really like. A place that fits me. Where I feel at home. A restaurant that I would recommend to any of my friends. This is a tour of the joints and food temples I like most, culminating in my favorite. For now.
On our first visit to Basel, a wintery December weekend in 2014, some good friends showed us around. For lunch they picked Schlüsselzunft. I remember a big traditional tiled stove, which gave the dining room a cosy but unstuffy and distinctly Swiss atmosphere. Even a little bit of old chic. I remember a bottle of champagne to celebrate our impending move to Basel and a piece of juicy, flaky white fish. Certainly a place that I would like to revisit.
When we lived in our temporary, corporate apartment, the urge to go out was big. We checked out Volkshaus (a mix between French brasserie and German beerhouse, slightly disappointing, simple fair, – I remember a bland white veal sausage -, but not bad for a Friday night when you don’t feel like cooking), Zum Isaac (simple, but decent dishes – I remember a piece of juicy lamb with couscous and a bottle of Italian red wine -, and for balmy evenings a great terrace on the square), and Zum Goldenen Fass (buzzy, neighborhoody, pub-style food – I remember a slightly chewy piece of pork).
Swissified and real curry
After we had moved, we quickly hooked up with a bunch of wine enthusiasts. With them we visited Portuguese Besentiel and Oliv. The first one, located in a, for Basel standards, somewhat rowdy part town, did a good bacalhau. The second was more refined, but our boisterous group felt a little of out of place in the quiet and slightly sterile dining room. More a place for a romantic tête-a-tête.
Then there were, obviously, plenty of work related dinners. Jay’s springs to mind first (I remember tasty swissified Indian curries, chatty crowds, and a limited choice on a never-changing menu, now unfortunately closed), but also Krafft (certainly good, but the grand dining room overlooking the Rhine somehow created higher expectations) and Chez Jeannot, where I had a good lunch meeting over unremarkable food.
And finally there was a stream of visitors and family from out-of town. With our parents we went to La Cave in Saint-Louis (good cooking, but it is all about the wine) and sampled the dishes at Maison de l’Inde, also in Saint-Louis (may be not as happening as Jay’s, but better for Indian food). With our cheese-fondue addicted friends we visited Rhyschänzli (also good for other fare, lively atmosphere), and with our star-hunting friends we tried out the fancy Stucki (excellent).
There is one restaurant that I haven’t mentioned yet. I have been there with friends, I visited with my parents, we had a work dinner with colleagues and we celebrated a birthday. For all occasions it seemed to be the right place. Its location is unremarkable, a pit stop on the road to Basel in Grenzach. Some paraphernalia inside remind you of the fact that part of the dining room used to be the reception area of the hotel. Cognac-colored wood paneling goes high up the walls. The old counter now operates as the bar displaying a wide collection of liqueurs and other spirits. Modern Vitra chairs stand around simple but sturdy dark tables that are nicely spaced out across the room and lit up by a series of white, modern lamps hanging from the ceiling like little puff clouds. A sitting area sports orange and green armchairs inviting you to have an aperitif or a digestive around the fireplace. Warm, retro and modern. I am talking about Eckert.
On our latest visit we had the four-course tasting menu. As on previous visits, the menu was consistent and none of the dishes were below the bar. The main course of deer – nicely rosé and as tender as you can get it -, stood out. It was served with bulbous chervil, the root of a plant that is related to the chervil of which we use the leaves in our soups. The flavor lies in between turnip, celeriac and sweet chestnut, the reason why this tuber is also called earth chestnut. Encountering an ingredient that I never ate before, gives a meal just that little bit extra.
The starters had an Asian touch (Kingfish tartar with a lime ponzu, a Japanese sauce based on citrus, and fried celeriac, with mussels and yuzu crackers) and were both well balanced; the lime and yuzu gave the dishes just a little kick without overpowering the subtle marine elements.
Our dessert, although seemingly traditional – sorbet, salted caramel and crème fraiche -, held a final surprise. Sweet potato gave the mandarin sorbet a rich mouth sensation.
Don’t tell me that Matisse serves more ingenious dishes or Le Cheval Blanc’s level of pampering transfers you to higher realms. I know and I don’t want to miss it. But more often you just want ‘normal’ good cooking and easy-going but attentive service without the feeling that you are going overboard. Eckert delivers on all dimensions.
Baslerstrasse 20 – Grenzach-Wyhlen (Germany)
T: +49 (0)7624 91720
four-course tasting menu: € 69,-