Alexander Kühn is the food writer for Tages-Anzeiger, one of Zurich’s biggest newspapers. In our interview, he tells us about his favourite restaurants, who are the city’s best chefs and why food writers are still relevant in the modern age of TripAdvisor and Co.
Alex, food writer sounds like a dream job. What do you like best about it and is there anything you don’t like? The best is that I get to meet lots of really interesting people, famous chefs like Italy’s Massimo Bottura. I get a real insight into their work and can sometimes spend time with them in the kitchen. And reviews are my preferred type of texts. I can develop my own style and I’m allowed to be mean if necessary. And with a good review I can reward someone who has done a good job. The only time I don’t like the job is when I have to review let’s say a new Asian restaurant, when I’d much rather eat some traditional fare.
What skills are necessary to be a food writer? Besides some good writing skills you need to eat out often, in all kinds of restaurants, on holidays and so on. Only this can put things in perspective. You can only get a sense of the difference between one, two or three Michelin stars when you’ve eaten at many Michelin-starred restaurants.
Is there still a need for traditional food writers in this age of blogs and collective intelligence? Good food writers will always have an audience, our click rates prove that. Unlike rating websites like TripAdvisor, we food writers do much more than just tell you if we like a place or not. I precisely describe why something is done well or why it is bad, personal preferences aside. It requires accuracy and I think a food writer can really help you judge better if a restaurant is of high quality.
So you don’t use TripAdvisor when you go abroad? God forbid, no!
Why not? Well, you only need to check Zurich’s top 10 restaurants on TripAdvisor, it’s a horror! There are so many better places than those listed. I rely on the recommendations of friends and the Guide Michelin. Or I simply go where it’s busy.
Speaking of Zurich, what do you like best about the city? I love Zurich. I especially like the mix of cultures here. And I love the small distances, the proximity of the lake. Really, I love Zurich. Is there anything you don’t like about Zurich? Zurich people don’t appreciate their city enough. They often don’t realise what an awesome city they live in. Instead, they prefer to complain. If a bus is three minutes late, it’s a catastrophe!
And how would you compare Zurich’s restaurant scene to cities abroad? Zurich caught up in the last couple of years. In terms of quality and variety, the cuisine can really keep up with other major cities now. There’s still a lack of restaurants at the very top of the scale and I sometimes wonder why, given the city’s economic power. But there are some places that can compete internationally. Ecco with chef Stefan Heilemann, for example. Other remarkable chefs include Fabian Fuchs at EquiTable, Sebastian Rösch at Mesa or Fabian Spiquel at Maison Manesse, just to name a few.
Can you reveal your favourite restaurants in town to us? Sure. My top-notch favourite is definitely Ecco, where chef Heilemann, sous-chef Peter Lauterbach und patissier André Siedl do a fantastic job. On an upmarket level it’s Gustav. I love the soulful creations of chef Antonio Colaianni. At a moderate price level I like Zum Alten Löwen best, where Robert Burri prepares a delightful tavolata at an affordable price. Of the cheaper restaurants my favourite is Pergola, where they serve genuine Italian and Spanish cuisine.
Do you have a recommendation for Swiss fare? For traditional local food your best bet is Zeughauskeller or Kropf. They prepare their dishes themselves from scratch, serve great sausages and so on. Wirtschaft Neumarkt is also great, where they cook very good Swiss cuisine with a modern twist.
Where would you go for a romantic dinner for two? Mesa is the perfect place for a tète-à-tète. Chef Sebastian Rösch knows how to surprise you with dishes full of flavour. The place is elegant, but not pretentious and the head of service Christian Gujan is the best host in town.
Is there a place that really surprised you recently? Yes, Restaurant Schnupf in the Langstrasse district was a really positive surprise. It’s basically steaks and fries, but the steaks are done perfectly. And I think those handmade fries are probably the best fries in town.
Are there any bars you can recommend? I like the Tales cocktail bar. Wolfgang Bogner is essentially the perfect barkeeper. Something totally different, but very enjoyable is Playbar. It’s like a cabinet of curiosities with all kinds of guests and it has a jukebox.