In the immortal words of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
And so it was for my hosts, David Donneaud and chef Rafael Rodriguez, who braved municipal retribution and public scorn (no small thing in Switzerland) by setting aflame an otherwise innocent Weber grill in the middle of Place de la Palud in Lausanne.
They even had the temerity to cook some of my lunch in it.
The occasion was the annual pop-up, À Table, in which 30 restaurants each set a table for four lucky guests in the parks, squares and empty spaces of Lausanne. That’s 120 free lunches for the lucky invited guests. My venue, manned by the aforementioned arsonist-owners of the Auberge de l’Abbaye de Montheron, was otherwise discreetly located within the market stalls that normally surround the square’s colorful fountain. I could have chosen any number of other worthy spots but I loved the strategic placement of this one next to the Famille Hess farmstand, regular purveyors to the auberge.
The lunch began with a Chasselas-based aperitif infused with alpine botanicals, sweet spices and garnished with a pickled dandelion. It was brilliant in its fresh, herbal earthiness.
A panier of charcuterie fait maison followed which included small cubes of porky saucisson vaudoise, a cube of smooth, mildly flavored foie de veau, strips of chewy air-dried hanger steak, and a lovely tartlet of Valais asparagus topped with a loose, roughly chopped “sauce” of almonds. Stellar charcutier skills are always appreciated in a small restaurant and they were delivered here with confidence.
An impeccably fresh, nordic-style marinated lake trout from Lac de Neuchâtel was the only fish course of the afternoon, but it did provide sashimi gravitas to the occasion. The plump filet, despite being sliced into thick chunks, was meltingly tender with a mild and sweet flavor from its sugar-salt curing. Alongside was a deliciously crunchy pickled zucchini.
Next up was an homage to Rafael’s Spanish roots: a silky, feathery-light espuma of mashed potato which was just elastic enough to cradle a perfectly poached farm egg. Sautéed ramps and basil along with a few other seasonal garnishes framed this magnificent but simple take on family breakfast. The Spanish are really good at this kind of comfort food.
In the next of Rafael’s “Swiss Classics — International Interpretations” theme was a very clever Sino-Swiss mash-up. Two beloved Fribourg specialities — the brioche-like, saffron-scented bread cachaule and the sweet-and-sour, mostardo-like Bénichon mustard — were paired with tender, slow-cooked pork belly. The Asian riff was a bit of trompe-l’oeil: the cachaule was steamed and presented to resemble the pork bun at your favorite dim sum palace. It was an incredibly delicious, sweet and savory sandwich that floated above its ingredients into some kind of æther of flavor and texture. It left me wanting more.
As a nod to the house philosophy of using economical cuts of meat to lower the cost of dining out, a thick bone-in chuck steak was leisurely grilled over wood on the illicit Weber. It was done nicely rare and the beefiness of this local product was on full display. The duo were proud to share that the supplier in nearby Sévery not only raises his herd organically but slaughters the animals himself; a key component in the humane treatment of animals destined for human consumption. Grilled hearts of romaine, leeks and alioli were fine side-kicks.
Dessert included two chocolate espumas: one of milk chocolate and the other a divine swirl of white chocolate and double crème de gruyère; ingredients my cardiologist is dead set against.
In the end there was génepi (see header photo): lovingly house-made by David with neutral spirits (vodka) infused with foraged mountain botanicals (including an illegal to forage artemisia species of wormwood) and sugar. Fairy green in color, broodingly fragrant like all the classic bitters, it was perfectly balanced and infinitely compelling. A perfect end to an enjoyable al fresco lunch, pouring rain and the threat of imminent arrest notwithstanding.
I can’t wait to visit the boys at their restaurant to relive the moments of fun, humor and good cooking. There was just enough whimsy and inventiveness in their ideas to keep me and my three companions fully engaged. Their techniques were classically rooted and skillfully implemented and their generosity came directly from the heart. I recommend you visit them soon.
Thanks as well to the organizers of this wonderful event lausanneatable.ch and their social media maven Noémi aka @MlleFunambuline.
Auberge de l'Abbaye de Montheron
Route de l'Abbaye 2
021 731 73 73