13.07.2021 – Food & Drinks | Food column

Two-star humiliation – for the author

Against the backdrop of one of the greatest views of the city of Zurich, culinary columnist HG Hildebrandt had to endure a dressing down at the hands of chef Heiko Nieder. A lesson in humility.

Now and then, guests or family members praise my ability to identify the complex flavours in a sauce. I always invest a bit of effort in my meals and enjoy a good flavour profile. When I was invited recently to the Dolder Grand by a well-known premium champagne brand for a cookery course, I therefore hoped that I would garner some praise from head chef Heiko Nieder for my skills. Unfortunately, there was instead rather a lack of it…

Even when I was chopping chives, I almost lost the tip of my finger because I (1966 vintage) wanted to copy the grip of Heiko (1972 vintage), something that can’t be done at the drop of a hat; you need to spend years letting that sink in through muscle memory. Just try chopping chives in such a way that ‘can’t be heard’! At the same time, try to make sure each tiny roll is cut to exactly the same length, all while holding the knife like a pro (which you’re not): holding the handle, but at the same time holding the handle end of the blade, because that way you simply have more control. It was a sobering experience. I even messed up filleting a seabream. The poor creature looked like it had done twelve rounds with a barracuda when I’d finished.

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If you push your luck too far, you’re only going to get hurt.

I sighed, grabbed a glass of champagne and withdrew to the back rows, and decided to be more humble in future. After all, if you push your luck too far, you’re only going to get hurt.

But none of that really matters – you don’t need to be able to cook like Heiko Nieder, who every now and then is the subject of rumours that he’ll soon receive his third Michelin star. Together with his team, he has released a cookbook that was three years in the making – a massive doorstop of a book weighing around four kilos, with photos by Fabian Häfeli and written/devised by colleague David Schnapp. As Heiko Nieder said at the launch (once again, there was champagne, and the food was prepared by much more qualified people than myself), this book ‘isn’t intended for home use’. The processes are too complex and require too much time, but most of all they require too many pairs of hands to get everything done in a reasonable time frame.

So I take on board combinations, such as white chocolate with green olives and cherry. Goodness me!

But you can of course look to it for inspiration – and you really should if you’re like me and enjoy cooking and have the motivation to go through it. So I have a bit of a flick through Heiko Nieder’s book in quiet moments and take on board the somewhat surprising combinations, such as peach with Pimentón de la Vera and sea urchin or white chocolate with green olives and cherry, skimmed milk foam and rosemary crumble. Goodness me! But if I learned anything from Heiko Nieder, it’s this: hake is an underrated fish. I’ve mentioned this before elsewhere, and here is the proof. Hake features regularly on the menu at The Restaurant at the Dolder Grand. Of course, it’s not a simple hake dish like you get on the Atlantic coast in Galicia – but it’s worth just pointing out again that this fish doesn’t get the respect it deserves. But to hell with writing out a complex recipe here. I’d be doing you a far better service by publishing the recipe for a dashi stock from the book Heiko Nieder – The Restaurant for any readers who would be inclined to try it. It’s a luxury you can bring out for any fish dish.

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Recipe for a dashi stock from the book Heiko Nieder – The Restaurant

This is what you’ll need:

  • 1.4 kg scallops
  • 180 g white fish fillet, e.g. hake ;-)
  • 1 kg ice cubes
  • 70 ml white soy sauce
  • 4 ml fish sauce (Nam Pla)
  • 30 ml mirin
  • 10 ml 5-year aged mirin
  • 75 ml sake
  • 2 g bonito flakes (Katsuobushi)
  • 5 g kombu algae
  • 2 g dried scallops
  • 1 g coriander seeds
  • 15 g flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ bay leaf
  • 50 g shiitake mushrooms

This is how to make it:

Roughly blitz the scallops and fish meat, combine with the remaining ingredients, cover and chill for 12 hours with the ice cubes. Slowly bring the pulp to the boil in a wide pan while stirring constantly. Leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes. Pass through a fine straining cloth. Freeze in small portions what you won’t use straight away.

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Restaurant tip of the month: Blaue Ente at the Mühle Tiefenbrunnen

Many years ago, the Blaue Ente was a favourite destination among a generation of creative freelancers who today have virtually said farewell to their social lives. After witnessing one or two false starts, I think it’s about time to be able to recommend this restaurant again. For a reasonable price (by Zurich standards) you can enjoy regional delicacies and a wine list that has been put together with great finesse. The courtyard in the former mill is an unspoilt space where, in the summer that is hopefully still to come, you can still sense the proximity of the lake. The Mühlerama round the corner radiates with culinary expertise. We enjoyed a treat of duck liver followed by a bouillabaisse made of freshwater fish, some of which came from Lake Zurich. That was paired with an exquisite white wine from the traditional yet almost forgotten Elbling grape. Seefeld is no longer a cool neighbourhood, which is why you’re more likely to get a space here than in the overcrowded hotspots in Albisrieden.

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Blaue Ente
Kulturareal Mühle Tiefenbrunnen
Seefeldstrasse 223
8008 Zurich
+41 44 388 68 40
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