From choucroute and tarte flambée to Gewurztraminer and Riesling, Alsace has some of the most distinctive dishes and wines in France. Sue Style picks out best restaurants to visit…
10 top Alsace restaurants
Alsace is one of those reassuring places where you are unlikely ever to go hungry or thirsty. The very name is synonymous with foie gras, choucroute, pork pies in flaky pastry, wine-rich game stews, fruit tarts, ice cream studded with kirsch-soaked raisins, elegant Riesling and the powerful eau-de-vie Marc de Gewurztraminer.
Villa René Lalique
This year’s hot ticket is north of Strasbourg in Wingen-sur-Moder. The new restaurant is a luminous glass pavilion designed by star architect Mario Botta, juxtaposed with René Lalique’s 1920s timbered and gabled family home that was recently restored by Silvio Denz, entrepreneur, vineyard owner and the CEO of Lalique.
It’s a glittering showcase not only for Lalique crystal and glassware but also for some jaw-dropping kitchen fireworks by chef Jean-Georges Klein, lured here by Denz from the (then) three-starred L’Arnsbourg in Baerenthal. The tasting menu is a magical succession of tiny surprises that combine and contrast crunchy with silky-smooth, spicy with sweet-sour, piping hot with ice cold.
The wine list is a hefty bible that dovetails Denz’s own formidable cellar (big on Bordeaux and the US) with award-winning sommelier Romain Iltis’ handpicked Alsace selection. Rieslings are writ large, from headline grabbing new wines from old-established names (Trimbach’s Grand Cru Geisberg, Hugel’s Grossi Laüe) to grand crus from relative newcomers Paul Ginglinger and Henry Fuchs. A revelation for those unwilling to believe in Alsace’s potential for decent red wine is the page devoted to Pinot Noir, where Iltis ventures beyond the territory once monopolised by Albert Mann, Muré and Zusslin to reveal budding Pinot craftsmen such as Jean-Paul Schmitt and Schoenheitz. www.villarenelalique.com
Heading south to Marlenheim, at the top end of the Route des Vins, Le Cerf ticks all the Alsace boxes with its timbers, geraniums, wood panelling and Spindler marquetry. Yet this family affair, founded by chef Michel Husser’s great-grandfather, is constantly renewing itself. It’s reasonable to expect choucroute in a country inn, but Husser’s version, surmounted with bite-sized chunks of crackly-crusted, melt-in-mouth suckling pig and seared foie gras, is a contemporary triumph. A civet of local venison is par for the course too in game-rich Alsace, but the chef slips in a crisp samosa of morello cherries as accompaniment. Even that Alsace classic, vacherin glacé, gets a makeover, with a gossamer layer of meringue enclosing multicoloured sorbet nuggets.
The wine list has a special place in its heart for top drops from the Bas-Rhin, including from Domaine Pfister, Mochel and Anne- Marie Schmitt. www.lecerf.com
The fact that Marc Haeberlin of the legendary Auberge de l’Ill is the consultant chef for Strasbourg’s Les Haras is apt to set pulses racing and raise expectations which, when it comes to the food, are not always met.
The point here is the place, not what’s on your plate. You climb up the swirling spiral staircase to the first floor where, suspended beneath the rafters of what were once the stables of the national stud, designer Patrick Jouin has conjured an award-winning contemporary dining space. There’s a buzz of happy, shiny people tucking into French brasserie fare of the sweetbreads/magret de canard school, with occasional Asian and Latin American intrusions, washed down with Meteor draft beer and wines from all the usual suspects (Hugel, Josmeyer, Zind-Humbrecht). www.les-haras-brasserie.com
Back on the Route des Vins at Au Potin in Barr, owner and antiques collector Hervé Duhamel has created a Parisian-style Alsatian bistro complete with mirrors, brass hatstands and copies of today’s Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace hanging from wooden newspaper holders.
From the kitchen comes a pleasing mix of old-school favourites (tarte flambée, choucroute, foie gras) and daily-changing specials (fresh pasta, juicy low- and slowcooked meat), plus creative all-vegetable main dishes – a rarity in carnivorous Alsace. Open wines come from Duhamel’s winegrowing friends and neighbours, including André Ostertag, Lucas Rieffel and Patrick Meyer. www.aupotin.com
Hotel-Restaurant La Cheneaudière
A side-step up into the Vosges takes you to Hotel-Restaurant La Cheneaudière in Colroyla-Roche. Chef Roger Bouhassoun is one of a dying breed who sources everything possible from within about a 20km radius of his kitchen. He also butchers, fillets, cooks or preserves it all from scratch, simply because he can’t conceive of doing things any other way. The result is food with attitude and a real sense of place (soft-boiled eggs with Vosges chanterelles and home-cured ham, local snails bathed in a herby foam, slow-cooked pigeon breast with the legs parcelled in crisp pastry).
Sommelier Rodrigue Palvadeau is brimming with good suggestions on what to choose from his extensive list and is well attuned to what’s new in Alsace, including a seductive Pinot Noir from Vignoble des Deux Lunes. www.cheneaudiere.com
Wistub du Sommelier
Down in the vineyards in the ravishing village of Bergheim (as good as Riquewihr but with fewer tourist buses) is Wistub du Sommelier (pictured top), a classic wine bar/bistro that’s a haunt of local vignerons and a favourite with visitors in search of l’Alsace authentique. Owned by Patrick and Antje Schneider, it’s the place to tuck into home-made foie gras or presskopf (brawn) followed by ox cheeks braised in Pinot Noir and an iced soufflé laced with Marc de Gewurztraminer. Antje’s list is an Alsace anthology, ranging from near-neighbours Deiss, Lorentz and Sylvie Spielmann to others she would like you to discover such as Beck- Hartweg, Gérard Neumeyer and Clément Klur. www.wistub-du-sommelier.com
L’Atelier du Peintre
At L’Atelier du Peintre in Colmar’s stunning town centre, Michelinstarred Loïc Lefebvre is one of France’s young chefs who has the perfect riposte to anyone who claims French food is passé.
Come here for handsome, contemporary, intensely flavoured food based on local seasonal ingredients served at eye-rubbing prices (the midweek lunch menu is a snip). Lefebvre’s partner Caroline gives a warm welcome and their sommelier is a fund of vinous knowledge. www.atelier-peintre.fr
L’Un des Sens
A two-minute walk away is L’Un des Sens, a wine bar and shop whose sommelier-owner is an evangelist for quirky, leftfield wines – chiefly organic, biodynamic and/or natural, mainly French with a strong showing from Alsace. Explain your interests and tastes, a bottle will be offered for sampling (at any given moment there may be 20 whites and 20 reds open, always fresh thanks to a brisk turnover) and if not to your liking, an alternative is proposed.
There’s no kitchen but they serve top-notch charcuterie, cheeses from fromager Jacky Quesnot and excellent bread from Au Pain de Mon Grand-Père. www.cave-lun-des-sens.fr
La Taverne Alsacienne
La Taverne Alsacienne in Ingersheim is owned and run by the formidable Guggenbuhl family. It is a favourite of local winegrowers and the venue for celebrated wine-pairing dinners hosted by Decanter World Wine Awards Alsace Regional Chair Thierry Meyer. Chef Jean-Philippe Guggenbuhl is famous for his skilled fish cookery (throughout the year shoals of monkfish, brill, skrei, pike-perch, lobster and crabs land in his kitchen), his brimming mushroom basket (days off are spent foraging in the Vosges), his wine list (drawing on top domaines from Alsace to Burgundy, Rhône to Bordeaux) and his winning lunch menu, outstanding value for money. www.tavernealsacienne-familleguggenbuhl.com
La Nouvelle Auberge
La Nouvelle Auberge in Wihr-au-Val on the main road from Colmar to the Munster Valley is not just any old roadside inn. Breton-born chef Bernard Leray is in the kitchen and his wife Martine is out front (or down in her wine cellar).
The ground-floor bistro is packed with locals who come for their lunchtime fix of home-made terrines, steaming plates of choucroute or bread-and-butter pudding (made from kugelhopf) with wild bilberries and ice cream. Upstairs in the Michelinstarred restaurant there are hints of both the chef’s Breton heritage and his adoptive Alsatian identity: a brilliant green snail fricassée, sweetly dressed crab with fine shreds of pickled turnips, chunky ceps from the Vosges with a foaming sabayon or sweetbreads with a mini spring onion tart.
The all-French wine list leans heavily (but not exclusively) towards Alsace, notably the fine Domaine Schoenheitz, whose vineyards rise up above the village and with whom they stage superb wine-pairing dinners. www.nauberge.com
Sue Style is a freelance wine, food and travel writer based in Alsace.