From Geneva, you can be in the mountains in less than an hour. But when you're in desperate need of some traditional Swiss fare – Alpine ambience included – who can wait that long? So rather than travelling to 1500 metres for a taste of the Alps, instead step foot inside the charming, pine-clad Le Chalet by Mandarin Oriental and be instantly transported to an authentic mountain retreat, right in the heart of town.
Enjoy a traditional fondue at Le Chalet
Apéros at Le Chalet
Sitting within the hotel's renowned Café Calla restaurant, the temporary wooden pop-up recreates the warmth and cosy decor you'd find after a long day on the slopes. The moment I crossed the threshold, I felt far removed from the centre of Switzerland's most international city. The effect was instant, from the animal furs and cheery staff dressed head-to-toe in traditional outfits, to the characterful candlelight and mouthwatering waft of melted cheese.
As the perfect way to begin the evening, Le Chalet's autumnal apéro is recommended by the knowledgeable staff. Le Spritz du Chalet au bitter Valaisan is a warmer version of the popular summertime aperitif, and made with Aperol, Prosecco and a dash of sugar and local bitter. Sip slowly and pair with a scrumptious platter of air-dried Grisons meat, cheese and warm bread.
The menu offers a wide range of Swiss specialities – including rösti (thinly sliced potato with melted cheese) and delicious Zurich-style veal – but, for the main course, it had to be fondue. I opted for the infamous moitié-moitié, or ‘half and half'. Made with equal parts Gruyère and Vacherin cheese, this popular version offers a mild yet wildly flavourful fondue. As delicious as anything you'd find in the depths of the Alps, this rich, simple meal is cherished by the Swiss – and for good reason. Mine was paired with a glass of beautifully crisp, local Chardonnay (yes, it's all about the vin blanc), which was delightful.
Looking across Geneva's rooftops to the Alps
The Swiss use slightly stale bread to mop up the cheese. But do be sure your bread is firmly on your fork before taking the plunge. According to the local rules, if you lose your bread in the sea of melted cheese, the next round of drinks is on you.
When the fondue is reduced to nothing more than a thin layer of hardened cheese around the pot, you have, arguably, the crowning glory of the experience. Ask for la religieuse, or ‘the nun', and your server will take away the pot, scrape off the remaining cheese with a special tool, crack a fresh egg over the top, and swirl it all together. The chewiness and smokiness of the burnt cheese combined with soft, scrambled egg is well worth fighting your dining companion for.
Le Chalet’s cosy interior
Post-fondue, enjoy a hot mint tea, which, say the Swiss, aids digestion. However, one of the several locally produced liquors will do the trick just as well. For the grand finale, I managed to find room for a light dessert, beloved in this part of the world. Crisp meringue served with thick Gruyère cream and fresh tart berries was the perfect way to top off my culinary tour. And as I stepped out into the fresh Geneva night, I was reminded that the winter wonderland was Le Chalet's magical effect.
Le Chalet by Mandarin Oriental is open until 5 March and is available for private events seating up to 54 people, with a private salon for 12
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