2017/10/18

Restaurant Einstein, Aarau/Switzerland in outline

Development & some thoughts on dining concept

Aarau, the town nearest to my home town of Olten, does not have as many recommended fine restaurants as its counterpart in the canton of Solothurn. That is why my family had been so fond of Restaurant Einstein for many years. When it opened in 2005, we instantly fell in love with this cool, urban place. Not only because we liked the modern, well prepared cuisine but
also because it was the first place in the region of Aarau where the concept of casual fine dining was realized. In the meantime, the era of the “old” Einstein found an end. A local restaurant group took over in August 2016 and introduced the concept of a sole dinner menu in May 2017. In the following, I want to examine Einstein’s development over the years and to have a closer look at the current situation.


“Old” Einstein: 2005 – August 2016

When visiting the restaurant in the first decade of its existence, I always felt like being in a cosmopolitan city and not in a provincial town! The place was so stylish and classy and I was much in favor of its contemporary European-Asian fusion cuisine. Although the crew changed quit a lot over the years, the ambiance and the food concept remained more or less the same, and the place was always very popular. For more details, have a look at my review of the “old” Einstein.

It could have lasted forever, but of course it did not … One day, the proprietor of the building decided that he did not fancy looking himself for a new manager and/or chef every now and then, but wanted to have a restaurant tenant, and this was Thommen Gastronomie AG – a family owned company running a couple of restaurants in the region of Aarau and Olten.

“New” Einstein with old concept: September 2016 – May 2017

The restaurant group Thommen had so far not been known for having upscale dining spots in its portfolio. The new addition was the first place belonging to this category.

When my husband and I visited the place the first time under the new management in March 2017, we made following observations. While the food concept was continued more or less in the same way, the predecessor’s expertise lacked under the new regime. I do not want to go into details – as it is no longer in use –, but the performance was not convincing as to food quality and preparation. Whereas I was not enthusiastic about the culinary experience at the “new Einstein”, I was fond of the slightly adapted interior design because the dining area is now more separated from the bar and lounge area than before. In this way, dinner guests are not disturbed any more by the “noise” of people drinking, talking and laughing in the adjoining area.

We had also the chance to get to know the new manager of Einstein, Martin Ries. He was present during the service and left a good impression. Upon our departure, he addressed us and apologized because of a slip by a waitress, an attentive touch!

“New” Einstein with new concept: May 2017 until now

On the occasion of our visit in September 2017, we had the chance to experience the place with its new concept introduced in May 2017. For the restaurant review in the proper sense have a look at my separate post. Here, I would like to have a closer look at the dining concept and everything in connection with it.

Dining concept

When Einstein was repositioned in May 2017, a new, daring concept was introduced. As a dinner guest here, you must love to let yourself be surprised. In case you want to check out the menu on the restaurant’s homepage there is neither an a la carte menu nor a fixed menu. If you expect the place now to provide the menu when taking a seat at the dinner table, I have to disappoint you, this will not happen. I am not sure whether the staff would inform you about it if you insist at that point of time, I did not try it out. The fact is that there is only a four-course surprise menu available, also in a vegetarian or vegan version when needed. The staff asks about possible intolerances and dislikes, but that is it!

You may be wondering how they react in case you do not want all the four courses. I did not give it a shot but according to what I read at TripAdvisor such requests are not well received with the staff. They are supposed to be granted but without price reduction.

Pricing

If you want to have dinner at Restaurant Einstein, then you have to spend 58.50 SFR for a four-course surprise menu with fish/meat resp. 52.50 SFR for a vegetarian/vegan meal; as it seems irrespective of the number of courses ordered. Provided that you have the whole menu and that you are not a picky eater, this is very good value indeed. Especially if you compare it to the level of quality you get. Of course you have to consider in this context that a sole menu does not cause as many costs as when offering a wide selection of food. Nevertheless, you will not find any other place in the area that offers such a good value for money!

Service

As you may imagine, such a concept is rather demanding for the staff. Various problems might arise such as guests being picky eaters or refusing to have all the courses. When you make a reservation at Einstein, the new concept is clearly communicated. Notwithstanding that, it may happen that not all the guests are informed about this regime. Definitely, it is a challenging task to handle every difficult situation that may occur with such an unusual concept!

A case in point was following one. My husband and I did not know what wine to order because we had no idea what we were going to be served. Therefore we asked the staff for advice. Our waitress was eager to help but caused a bit confusion by informing us that we were going to get red meat as a main course. We thought that this would be beef or lamb but in the end we were served duck. To the present day, I am not absolutely sure to which category (red or white meat) duck belongs …

A particularity of the “new” Einstein is it that the staff is supposed to address its guests on a first name basis (highly unusual in Switzerland) – so announced on the homepage. This was not done on our visit, probably because of our age (we are middle-aged). I would not have minded but I consider such a conduct also as a bit daring, especially when the staff is young and the guests are not so.

Final thoughts

After having described the details of Einstein’s daring dinner concept and its consequences for the service, I would like to express some thoughts on it.

On the positive side, you can experience here upscale cuisine at affordable prices. You can be sure that everything you get here is absolutely fresh – at least when the restaurant lives up to its promises.

On the negative side, this concept is not suitable for people who are picky eaters or do not like surprises. Furthermore, no knowledge what to expect may have further implications, for example causing difficulties to order matching wines.

To remedy certain shortcomings of the new dining concept I would propose that some modifications should be made.

First, the surprise effect of the menu should be somewhat cushioned. Although I personally like being surprised, I can understand that it is not everyone’s cup of tea of being served a surprise menu. My husband for example is no fan of this and also others with whom I discussed the subject thought so. Maybe this was also the reason that there were so many empty seats at Einstein on our visit, who knows? Anyway, I suggest that the menu should be announced upon arrival at the latest, maybe via a small black board on the table.

Second, an alternative to each course would be welcomed. These substitutions do not have to be sophisticated, somewhat simple dishes just as a salad, a soup, a steak and an ice cream would be sufficient.

Third, it should be possible to order only two or three courses. Not everyone wants to have a four-course dinner at all times. A price reduction – although not a significant one – has to be granted in this case.

Finally, I would reconsider the policy that staff and guests communicate on a first name basis. Such an approach may be appropriate if only younger guests are aimed but otherwise it seems inadequate.

I hope that the concept at Restaurant Einstein will be adapted slightly so that a broader approval can be reached. I like the idea of a sole multi-course menu but maybe with some cushioning. I want this dining spot to be successful, not only because I was fond of the culinary experience I had here (see my review), but because I think that the gastronomy needs such entrepreneurial spirit!

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