We just make it a few steps into the foyer of Zurich’s Kronenhalle restaurant, before a young man in a white dinner jacket and black bow tie welcomes us. From now on we are in the best possible hands, as always. He leads us through the dark corridor towards the dining rooms. The clinking of crockery and the murmur of dinner conversation makes for a fitting soundscape, just as it always has in this Zurich institution – for almost a century.
It was in 1924 that Hulda and Gottlieb Zumsteg opened their Kronenhalle restaurant in the former Hôtel de la Couronne, just around the corner form the town’s famous Bellevue Square. From then onwards, the house quickly became a popular hotspot – not just for locals in Zurich, but for artists and writers from all over the world. When Gottlieb Zumsteg died in 1957, his son Gustav, who in the meantime had made a name for himself as a fine draper in Paris, joined the management.
His contacts and connections in the fashion industry and the art world helped the restaurant achieve its legendary status. Gustav Zumsteg was a serious art collector and hung paintings from his own collection, including works by Miró, Braque and Matisse, in the restaurant, which created another irresistible draw. The likes of Coco Chanel, James Joyce, Richard Strauss, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Chagall, Federico Fellini as well as Swiss authors Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt were among the Zumstegs’ guests enjoying the kind of hospitality that made them feel right at home. Their entries in the guest books, full of real appreciation and friendship, provide ample evidence for how they felt about their visits at Kronenhalle.
La Patronne: Landlady Hulda
There is one name in particular that is mentioned in virtually every guest book entry and that is Hulda’s, the co-founder. For more than 60 years, until her death in 1984, she was ‘la patronne’, or the landlady of the house. A passionate hostess, the likes of which are rarely found today, she kept a keen eye on everything. Hulda Zumsteg made sure that everyone felt comfortable in the Kronenhalle. She gladly fed hungry students with a bowl of soup and a chunk of bread while every guest – celebrity or non-celebrity – enjoyed her open and cordial manner. Regulars affectionately called Hulda by her first name – rather than the more formal Frau Zumsteg – and she was there for everyone who needed her, all were received with the same, professional hospitality. It is still true today – and it is probably one of the reasons why guests keep returning, just like the fact that all kinds of celebrities still patronise the restaurant almost every day.
Today, however, you no longer find their entries in the guest book but on Instagram: actress Tilda Swinton had her picture taken here, as did chess legend Garry Kasparov; the Rolling Stones dined at the Kronenhalle after their last concert in Zurich in 2017. Of course, the current director, Dominique Godat, would never gossip about the celebrities – discretion is as much a part of the house as the priceless paintings and Geschnetzeltes, the famously creamy Swiss veal ragout.
Priceless works of art
When Gustav Zumsteg died in 2005, the future of the restaurant had been carefully planned. Nothing was left to chance. As early as 1985, the restaurant and art collection were transferred to a foundation to be held in trust. In his will, Gustav stipulated that the cuisine must maintain a high standard and that all his artworks must not only remain in the restaurant, but also remain in the exact spots he had designated.
The Kronenhalle is divided into three dining rooms. In the main and central part, the Brasserie, the portrait of the former patronne Hulda Zumsteg, created in 1967 by the Swiss artist Varlin commissioned by Gustav Zumsteg, watches over large and small tables. Right next door is the Chagall Room – with works by Pierre Bonnard and Marc Chagall. The third dining room on the first floor is entirely dedicated to Swiss art. In the legendary Kronenhalle Bar, works by Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee adorn the walls. “The paintings are an important part of the Kronenhalle,” explains director Dominique Godat. “But if you only want to see art, you can also go to the museum.”
He emphasises this because the Kronenhalle remains, first and foremost, a restaurant. The kitchen is famous for its repertoire of classics – above all the Kronenhalle Geschnetzeltes – and for its continuity. Many dishes date back to the Zumsteg era. Hulda Zumsteg knew what her guests liked, and Gustav Zumsteg, the globetrotter, brought in new influences. In his will, he not only defined the fate of the artworks, but also the direction the kitchen and menu would take. Change is absolutely to be permitted as long as some classics remain fixed – a balancing act. The latest change concerned coffee, Dominique Godat confides. After 40 years, its composition and roasting were adapted in cooperation with the long-time supplier. “That was not easy at all,” says Godat.
The greatest classic on the menu, the Geschnetzeltes mit Rösti – has not changed at all. For the Kronenhalle version of this Zurich speciality, the veal is seared on a high heat and the mushrooms are puréed in a creamy sauce. All this is served in silverware alongside Rösti, a sautéed potato cake that is crisp on the outside with a meltingly soft interior.
Recently, however, a vegetarian version of this dish has also been offered. Instead of veal, a meat substitute from a Zurich firm is added to the sauce. “People don’t eat meat every day anymore,” says Dominique Godat. “We have to react to that. At the same time, the classics should remain unchanged on the menu.” These are not predefined. The Geschnetzeltes is a classic, as are the Leberli, or calf’s liver, and the Entrecôte Café de Paris. But new classics have emerged as well, Godat reveals: avocado à la vinaigrette is just as much a hit as the sashimi of yellowfin tuna. “The reaction to the sashimi was mixed when we first put it on the menu. People thought it didn’t fit in with a place that served Bratwurst and Rösti. But now we couldn’t take it off the menu, the regulars would miss it.”
Chef Peter Schärer has headed the Kronenhalle kitchen for the past 30 years. He will retire in seven years’ time. But succession plans are already in place and a new head chef is being trained up carefully so that the transition will be as smooth as possible – and in the sprit of the restaurant. There is a kitchen staff alone of 30 people, so that a sudden rush of guests can be dealt with swiftly and smoothly.
A total of about 90 staff members ensure that each guest receives the impeccable service that is expected. Many have been employed for years. “It takes a lot of experience,” says Dominique Godat. “The guests have expectations – and our goal as a team is to exceed them. Then the guest is delighted.”
It is above all the classic hospitality, the warm, courteous manner that keeps guests coming back time and again to this venerable institution. The values once introduced by the founding Zumsteg family have endured to this day. The legend of the Kronenhalle lives on. And how.
FIND OUT MORE
Top 10: The Most Beautiful Terraces in LucerneWe reveal ten restaurants in the heart of Switzerland that offer particularly beautiful outdoor summer terraces and outdoor spaces.
UK Chef James Baron Takes Over Krone La Punt in SwitzerlandThe British star chef will be the new host of a 450-year-old hotel in eastern Switzerland - including the newly designed fine-dining...
Top Swiss Restaurant Magdalena Goes VegetarianTop chef Dominik Hartmann is now focusing on a purely vegetarian menu in his renowned Magdalena restaurant in Switzerland.
The Top Five Wine Hotels in SwitzerlandWe reveal five exceptional Swiss hotels that have devoted themselves to wine as well as food for the gourmet vinophile.
Say Cheese: The Real Cheese FondueCheese fondue belongs to Switzerland like schnitzel to Austria and roast beef to England. Our Swiss editorial team get to the bottom of the...
US writer Julie Powell, who became famous for writing about her quest to cook every recipe in Julia Child's cookbook, has died at the age of 49.
A one-liner about pasta by Masai Graham has been named the funniest joke of the Edinburgh Fringe.
Because Taiwan was referred to as a separate country in an advertising campaign, manufacturer Mars Wrigley has had to issue an apology.
Snow crabs are no longer found in the waters off Alaska – no one knows whether they will return.
The Michelin Guide Italy 2023 has awarded 38 new stars, crowning one new restaurant with the coveted three stars and four with two-Michelin stars.
From traditional purveyors of fine cheese to funky new arrivals, London’s artisan cheesemongers go into overdrive at Christmas time.
Here are 5 inspired Christmas gifts for anyone who loves good food, good writing or a nutritious combination of the two.
The La Liste classification is the result of ratings from hundreds of guides and millions of online votes for the world's best restaurants. Here are...
Upper Cut Media House presents the world's best steak restaurants in its 2022 ranking – and a London steakhouse has beaten Buenos Aires for the top...