One of the most delicious foods I sampled in Switzerland was a chewy honey spice biscuit called Basler Leckerli. My friend Viv who I stayed with in Zurich was good enough to send me a recipe and with some exploring online I decided to try to make it. How hard could it be? Well you can see the results for yourself below, and general consensus of the tasting panel was, when compared to the original, that with less candied peel and less sugar and a little more honey I might be getting close. So here is the first attempt, made with Kirsch and all, and another batch will need to follow.
Big thanks go to Viv for sending a packet of the original biscuits for scientific comparisons only. Vielen Dank.
Did you ever hear about that restaurant where you eat in the dark? No candles, no faint glow of shapes, this is to experience total blindness first hand. Blind Cow or ‘blindekuh’ is in the Seefeld area of Zurich and is a fantastic experience for anyone wanting to take their culinary experience a step further.
My friend Viv has booked us a table for two, as trying to have a conversation with more people can be disorienting, especially when you don’t speak Swiss German. The waiters here are all blind. They are also friendly, confident, in control and speak a range of languages so if you only speak English you will still have the full experience. In a strange role reversal, here sight is not an advantage but a hindrance and those who are already accustomed to using their other senses are now our guides.
When we enter there is a foyer where a host explains the proceedings and asks us to look at the menu so we have an idea of what we’d like when we enter the pitch black of the restaurant where we will place our order. Our bags are left in a locker and coats hung up as they would only be in the way once inside. The menu, of which they helpfully have an English version as well is projected onto a large wall. We are reassured that if we want to use the bathroom or leave the restaurant at any time it is just a matter of calling out our waitress’ name.
Once I have attempted to memorise the German (I am trying to use as much German as possible, but everyone in Zurich speaks English) for I’ll have the veal please with a glass of red wine our waitress Lisa arrives smiling and asks us to put our hands on her shoulders and form a congo line as she takes us into the inner chamber before we enter the restaurant. We move through a heavy black curtain and are then explained the proceedings. All these steps may seem overkill, but are actually very reassuring for a first timer. The thrill of not knowing what to expect and the vague memory of a childhood fear of nightime darkness combine to produce a small case of butterflies.
We then move through two more dark curtains and are inside the restaurant. I don’t remember ever being in such pitch black. The first thing I notice is the aroma of savoury dinner time. On the menu is Monkfish with pesto, sugar snaps, carrots and wild rice; veal steak with balsamic jus, pepperonata and new potatoes; there is also a vegetarian option of polenta slices with a morel cream sauce with French beans and artichoke stew.
A small menu makes the kitchen efficient and soon after we place our order an amuse bouche arrives. A palm-size crisp pastry with a savoury mousse with hint of mustard. I’m not sure exactly what is in it, but it is delicious and easy to eat.
Our meals arrive in five or ten minutes, it is hard to know how much time is passing with no visual reference and so the time passes like in a dream. We have managed to find each others’ wine glasses to toast without shattering any glass and then we begin to explore our food. Clean hands are essential, as one must also test the shape of things on the plate. The new potatoes are the easiest to find and spear as they are halved and bite size already. The pepperonata is a smooth and slippery combination of capsicum that is easy to find but not so easy to stay on the fork. The aroma of them is enticing. The veal is tender and at a guess I would say medium as it is so juicy. It is still hot when it arrives which is just as well as this type of eating takes longer than usual. It forces you to slow down and concentrate on what you are putting in your mouth, if indeed you get there. I am convinced by now that I have chin dotted with balsamic jus.
We decide to try and share a morsel or two and a speared artichoke heart makes it’s way across the middle of the table until I can find the fork and taste the tender vegetable in it’s creamy sauce. Delicious. Fork returned, I try to pass a potato which is quite easy, but then cutting a small piece of veal is not so simple. With no idea if the plate is clean yet I poke around on the plate trying to discover a last piece of meltingly soft potato and finally determine that I am done.
With the Spanish Nevarra polished off I move on to sipping the last of my sparkling water as my friend tries to catch up on her wine. Another thing one takes for granted, how to judge if your friend has nearly finished their wine and might like another, or indeed if one is being a thirsty little soak and needs to slow down.
The most interesting part of the experience is the effect the darkness has on the mind and the eyes. It is a new type of relaxation and alertness. The body becomes relaxed, with no concerns over how you or anyone else looks- all attention is focused on your thoughts and your invisible friend across the table which you lean on as a focal point. The place that joins you together. The mind feels light and awake and the tiring day is forgotten. What a wonderful therapy this would be for the overworked.
The insulation in the room must be deep as there is a softness of sound, with no echo of voices. Voices surround you and with no faces to focus on a direction must be chosen to try and pick out the distance of the nearest tables.
At the end of the meal we call out Lisa’s name who magically knows exactly where we are and she leads us back out into the in-between room to say goodbye and to break the dreamlike state and gently bring us back to reality. It is still harsh moving into the light of the foyer, and I cover my eyes against the light. Luckily it is dark outside so as we make our way home our eyes slowly adjust and seem to take in our surroundings afresh.