A Zurich Fave Revealed: Hiltl… and their Chocolate Mousse
It’s not that I’ve been keeping it a secret from you. I simply never mentioned one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Zürich. It’s where I have a monthly lunch date with a friend. It’s where my mom asks to go for lunch as soon as she arrives at the airport here. It’s where I take friends who are visiting, as well as my carnivorous husband. It’s Hiltl, Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, since 1898.
I could go on and on just about the history of the Hiltl family and how this all came to be, Rolf’s masterful combination of tradition and innovation (he’s the current owner and fourth generation, above left); or on the restaurant itself, its phenomenally fresh buffet of salads, vegetables, curries, chutneys and more; its cool lounge area and attractive bar (I love the fresh juices); the trendy decor and happening scene on the weekends when it even transforms itself into a club (funny to dance where you otherwise are serving yourself tofu and radishes from the buffet). Or I could tell you about the stellar Sunday brunch with live music, the Kochatelier (cooking classes with Pascal and Markus, top right), Hiltl’s ingenious advertising campaigns (just look at this 30 second clip, I LOVE it!) and their catering of the hottest events around town. Clearly this is no ordinary vegetarian restaurant.
It’s a Zürich institution. With a seriously good chocolate mousse. (recipe below)
Despite the temptation, I always ignore the lengthy menu and go straight for Hiltl’s buffet; it’s even tougher to resist. But I did have my first à la carte meal there for a special event that coincided with the 10th anniversary of tibits (partners with Hiltl, with restaurants in Switzerland and one in London too) and the launch of their first cookbook: tibits at home (only in German for now). The recipes for all of the dishes we tried are actually in Hiltl’s second cookbook: Hiltl. Veggie International. A World of Difference. (October 2009). To whet our appetites, there was date cheese mousse with caramelized pears; crostini with aubergine caviar; crêpe rolls with cream cheese; and hot crispy tofu with mango and apple chutney.
Then it was chef Pascal Haag’s tomato and orange soup that warmed us all up, made with basil and cinnamon foam, served in a cappuccino cup. Puff pastry triangles followed, filled with mushrooms, brandy and cream. And a creamy pumpkin risotto made with honey and Parmesan cheese.
And then there’s that chocolate mousse, served with a crisp shortbread cookie, passion fruit sauce, whipped cream and an edible flower to complete the picture. The mousse itself was incredibly light, and the perfect balance between sweet and dark. I assumed Hiltl’s chocolate of choice would be Swiss Felchlin (my personal favorite), but it’s French Valrhona at Haus Hiltl.
Given a tour of the restaurant’s impeccable kitchens, I was a big fan of the rows and rows of tupperware containers, each filled with another brightly colored spice and a label on top. The Hiltl chefs were all busy chopping, prepping or plating, nonstop action, yet in a calm and fun atmosphere. After plating the panna cotta (below right), one of the pastry chefs moved on to the chestnut vermicelli (below, bottom left), and I went off to have a laugh with the girls playing with dough and fondant (below, bottom right).
I happened to be sitting with the owner Rolf Hiltl’s French wife, Marielle Hiltl, who considers herself more Swiss now, having been here for over 20 years. Conversation bounced around from our travels to our favorite cuisines. I told her how I love Moroccan cooking – couscous, tagines and b’stillas. She told me of her love for cheese soufflé. As you all know me too well, you won’t be surprised to hear that this led to a passionate discussion on soufflé… au chocolat. Fast forward to my baking date a few days ago with Marielle and chef Pascal. Marielle (below left) showed us both how to make her chocolate soufflé, doing just as her Alsatian mother taught her.
Marielle avoids using only a high percentage dark chocolate, as it would be too bitter for her three children. The best compromise she found is using half 70% and half 50%, along with local, organic Swiss milk and less sugar than usual. Oh, and Calvados. We all took turns whisking and folding, but I must give credit to Pascal for whipping the egg whites by hand, and stiff enough not only to be able to hold the bowl upside down… but above his head even! That’s some serious whisking – and courage !
While a favorite address of mine in Zürich has now been revealed, the recipe for Marielle’s chocolate soufflé does have to remain a secret. But a big thank you to Chef Pascal and to Rolf Hiltl for allowing me to share the recipe for their divine chocolate mousse here. Enjoy !
Hiltl’s Chocolate Mousse
from the cookbook: Hiltl. Veggie International. A World of Difference. *
400 ml cream
120 grams bittersweet couverture
120 grams grand-cru couverture 72%
2 tbsp milk
70 grams egg yolk
2 tbsp white sugar
edible flowers for decoration
Whip the cream. Melt all the chocolate with the milk in a bain-marie.
Beat the egg yolks and sugar until you have a light, very foamy mass and mix with the liquid chocolate.
Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate and egg mixture and refrigerate for 4 hours.
Hiltl tips: The chocolate mousse will be even firmer if you chill it for an entire day. Use pasteurized egg yolks.
* Other desserts in this cookbook are crème brûlée (one of Hiltl’s most popular desserts), cheesecake (a Hiltl recipe since 1970), and linzertorte. Hiltl’s first cookbook, Virtuoso Vegetarian, also has Hiltl’s famous brownies, mango ice cream, nut salad and another Hiltl specialty, their Easter Cake.