Switzerland has 26 cantons and four languages, but one dish unites everyone: fondue. Bread chunks dipped in a pot of hot cheese has literally been a national dish since the 1930s.
Especially during the chillier weather periods, fondue is a pretty appealing dish to rally around – already excellent cheese turned to gooey, molten goodness over a burner or open flame. It is said that eating from the same caquelon (fondue pot) establishes friendships. Perhaps specifically because there is quite a challenge in spearing bits of crusty bread on sticks and swirling them into the mixture without losing the bounty.
Fondue doesn’t have a particularly exotic origin. It began as a way for Swiss Alp farmers to use up bits of cheese. These were melted in a pot with wine and flour. They then dipped in chunks of stale bread to moisten them and voilà, a feast.
The communal notion of the dish, the sharing of food and the gentle chatter and laughter that ensues when friends precariously balance a morsel of food over a seething lava of melted cheese, lives on.
No wonder it was such a hit at 1970s dinner parties with the bright orange fondue pot taking pride of place in the laminex kitchen and today, modern fondue still is on the hit-list of hearty dinner experiences. Perhaps the addition of kirsch helps matters as well.
Here are our five favourite fondue restaurants outside Switzerland to enjoy a cheesy evening:
For traditional fondue climb the stairs to the Swiss Club in Flinders Lane. This club founded in 1899 is the cultural heart for the Swiss in Melbourne. The fondue is divine and creamy like béchamel sauce. The chef rubs a traditional “caquelon” with finely grated garlic before adding white wine. As the wine simmers he adds the imported Emmental and gruyere cheeses mixes in the cornflour and then dissolved in the kirsch whilst continuously stirring. The mix is then kept warm at your table with a spirit lamp and the dipping fun begins. Lose your bread in the molten cheese and you owe the table the next bottle of Gewürztraminer.
For an authentic taste of Switzerland, there is none other than Eiger Swiss Restaurant in Petersham. They serve authentic Swiss cheese fondue exactly as it would be served in any small restaurant in Alpine Switzerland. Their cheese fondue is designed to be shared between two or more people (they don’t do single serves) and it comes with basket of bread cubes for dipping. If you are not watching your weight or cholesterol you could even order a side of spätzle (soft noodle-like dumplings) or rosti to further dip away with.
Where better to indulge in a pot of molten cheese than beside the wintry slopes of a ski resort &mdash in this case, Sonnenalp Resort of Vail? Located in the heart of Vail Village, Swiss Chalet’s Alpine-style décor and an array of old-style fondues and raclettes transport you straight across the Atlantic.
Après Ski Chalet at Café Select has a white truffle fondue that is to die for. The truffle taste is prominent and the liquid cheese is plentiful. To get to this hidden back-room-boutique-bar-restaurant you’ll have to cross through the kitchens of Café Select. The tiny dining room that seats about a dozen is filled with cow bells and snow boards to create the ski chalet effect. The music is loud. But that’s how an Après Ski Chalet exactly has to be like – even if it’s in the middle of Manhattan.
St Moritz, the oldest Swiss restaurant in London – it opened in 1974 – is the real fondue deal with plenty of cheesy choices: gruyere, emmental or vacherin with crusty bread, potatoes or vegetables as your dippers. More carnivorous types should order the Fondue Bourguignonne – cubes of prime beef you cook yourself at the table in hot oil. A large selection of Swiss wines are also always available. And if you are full of creamy melted cheese dance it away in the nightclub of the same name located beneath the restaurant.
And for those who like spending time outdoors in the summer and like to do a fondue on a campfire – easy. If you have access to a camping stove and a few tea lights, you can have a traditional swiss cheese fondue in the great outdoors.