2019/03/12

Review of Restaurant Steinhalle, Bern/Switzerland

Location

Culinary magic in a casual ambiance

Bern, Switzerland’s capital and one of the country’s most beautiful cities, is always worth a visit. Not for nothing it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old town is a real gem, with many well-preserved medieval buildings. Though the main goal of my recent trip to Bern together with my husband and friends was to explore further its vibrant dining scene. This time, dining with one of the city’s most accomplished chefs, Markus Arnold, was on the agenda at his Restaurant Steinhalle.

Location

For this purpose, you have to leave behind the picturesque old town with its unique arcades offering shelter or shade when strolling through the streets
and its stunning historic buildings just as the Clock Tower.
After crossing the Aare River that encircles the city core on three sides and looking back one last time to the old town with its prominent cathedral,
you reach the “museum square”. In one of the museums, the Bern Historical Museum, or more accurately, in its addition, you find Restaurant Steinhalle.

Facilities

The setting is impressive, in a historic building with huge arched windows, surrounded with landscaped gardens. The way to the entrance leads through a nice outdoor area.
When entering, your eyes immediately catch sight of an open kitchen, which is not separated from the dining room but in the core of it.
It is encircled on three sides by a bar with stools where you can have your meal. Another unusual option to eat is on the gallery with view of the kitchen and the dining room. The décor is trendy and no-frills, with high ceilings and a large painting on one wall picturing the very popular local "Raketenglace" (skyrocket ice-cream).
Our party of four had opted in the run-up of the dinner to be seated in the dining room. Our table was located right adjacent to the kitchen, so we had the chance to observe the happenings in there if we wished, but it was far enough from the kitchen's activity to ensure a undisturbed conversation amongst the four of us.

Ambiance/Service

The restaurant’s ambiance is modern, casual and easy-going. I never witnessed any signs of hectic although I was sitting next to the open kitchen. The same can be said for the staff. Everyone seemed to be relaxed and to have things under control. In addition, service was gracious, informative and professional. Chantal Ladrière, the maître d’ – here the dinner manager – made sure that we felt at ease and had always the wine ready that best suited to our food.

The only thing that gave cause of (slight) criticism was the fact that the time elapsing between two courses was sometimes a bit long. We did not mind it too much as were a party of four and had many topics to talk about. If it had been just my husband and me, I would have judged the service as a bit too slow.

A particularity here is that you are addressed on a first name basis by some members of the staff – above all the chef, Markus Arnold –, which is a bit unusual in the Swiss-German language area, but it suits the character of the place.

Food concept/Pricing

The chef, Markus Arnold is a known personality in Bern when it comes to top cuisine. After being chef at Restaurant Meridiano/Kursaal Bern (one-star Michelin and 17 Points Gault Millau) for a couple of years, he earned a reputation as pop up restaurateur before taking over as chef at Restaurant Steinhalle as from September 2017.

He implemented quite an extraordinary concept here. At lunchtime, you get a so-called Easy Lunch. You make your choice at the counter from their signature dishes just as Steinhalle Burger or Hokkaido Ramen or from changing daily specials, and when the ordered dishes are ready, they will be served to your table. Food is prepared by another team than in the evening and it is very reasonably priced. I cannot judge its quality as I have not tried it yet, but our friends told us that they liked what they got.

In the evening, it is the moment to expect elaborate cuisine, however also in an informal ambiance, here it is called Steinhalle Casual Dining. In my view, it is a casual fine dining approach as high-end food is served in a relaxed atmosphere, but never mind. As mentioned, a team different from the one at lunchtime is in charge under the lead of Markus Arnold.

A themed multi-course surprise menu – when I dined here, it was “on fire” – is on offer, from which you choose four to six courses. A specialty here is that you are encouraged to book your table as well as your choice of menu online and pay your dinner in advance and get a reduction when doing so. On this occasion, you can also indicate whether you want to have your meal at the chef’s table (bar encircling the kitchen), at the gallery or in the dining room.

In terms of cost for the dinner, it is pricey but aligned with the quality provided (4 courses amount to 92 SFR, 5 to 112 SFR and 6 to 122 when booked online, otherwise 10 SFR more).

The chef celebrates haute cuisine using modern cooking techniques at the same time. Food is sophisticated yet down to earth. It is locally sourced and comprises market-fresh ingredients. The restaurant was awarded 16 Points Gault-Millau and is Michelin listed. There was some speculation recently about receiving a one-star Michelin award, but that has not become reality (yet).

5-course menu “on fire”

We had ordered the menu without meat but with fish in the run-up to our dinner and were served the following dishes.

The amuse-bouche comprised of potato with trout and cauliflower sauce, which was a delicious start to our meal.
The first course was my personal favorite, carrot tartare with a warm 60-degree Celsius egg, pickled mustard seed, horse radish, peanuts, beef marrow and carrot vinaigrette. The dish was prepared tableside
and sensitive ingredients just as beef marrow were put on the table to be left away by those who did not like them. The carrot tartare was accompanied by extremely tasty brioche bread. As I read in the Gault-Millau review of Steinhalle, it was soaked in a bisque before grilling, a truly new taste sensation indeed!
Next was a piece of monkfish, angled in small boats, paired with tomato pickles, which burst with intense flavor.
The dinner proceeded with a dish where we were asked to help out. We had to make our own roll out of a rice dough sheet, grilled eggplant, chicory, mango and cucumber.
While this was a fun thing to do, I did not manage to do the roll properly, so I got my hands dirty. Anyway, the result was satisfactory, at least taste wise!

Then it was time for the main course. As I observed at tables next to us, they were served a piece of red meat. As we had ordered a dinner with fish only, we got an alternative, a vegetarian dish. It looked similar to the meat dish at our neighbors’ table, kohlrabi, soaked in a beetroot juice married with Jerusalem artichoke, both as puree and as a whole, and with wild-type broccoli.This composition was escorted by a bowl of airy, though rich mashed potatoes to share for two persons.
After these exciting savory courses, we were keen to see what the chef had in mind for dessert. It started with a sole chocolate, white chocolate filled with a liquid made of mandarin and kalamansi,
which worked extremely well together.

The main dessert comprised of grilled apple blended with caramelized apple sorbet.
This was a complex taste experience and an amazing end to a successful dinner!

All the food we had at Restaurant Steinhalle was of great quality and expertly prepared. Every dish was well composed, with unexpected elements in each that made it a truly memorable dining experience.

However, I found that some serving sizes were a bit skimpy. This is especially true for the main course, where the star of the dish, the soaked kohlrabi, could be eaten in three bites. Merely two small stems of broccoli did not help to improve this impression. Also the so-called pre dessert, comprised of a sole chocolate, was a humble portion. It would have been a perfect escort to coffee or tea, which we had to drink without a treat!

Overall

Markus Arnold, the chef, is nothing short of a consummate master in his field. Food at his restaurant stood out as intriguing, delicious and inventive. And he has been making waves on Bern’s culinary scene over the last years! I am a fan of the so-called casual fine dining, and he was able to realize the perfect expression of this concept with Restaurant Steinhalle, an undisputedly cool place! Though I would have liked to taste his mind-blowing cooking in more generous servings ...

Date of visit: February 2019

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