Stylist contributor Daisy Buchanan checks into a hip new Swiss hotel and explores the lively district of Zurich West
It’s a Saturday night in Zurich and I’ve just arrived at the bank. The largest city in Switzerland is renowned for being a global financial centre, so it seems right that I should be sitting in an economic institution, perhaps readying myself for an adult conversation about Brexit and what it means for my ISA. But I can’t hear any discussion about money and the markets – just clinking glasses and gales of laughter. The only person wearing anything approaching a suit is the über-hip maître d’ in a vintage tailored jacket and trousers. And the only serious debate here concerns whether it’s too early to have an aperol spritz.
Restaurant Bank, in Zurich’s District 4, has only been open for a few months, but it’s already packed with seriously pretty people. Some boast blowdries that would be the envy of the Made In Chelsea cast others look like they’ve just spilled out of Dalston Superstore. I’m seated at a long table, under a glass ceiling, finding it hard to pay attention to anything but the mountain of food in front of me.
A perfectly cooked poussin, succulent and surrounded by fresh salad. Foccacia drizzled with garlic oil and topped with mozzarella. Organic veal sausage. I have never felt greedier or more excited.
Zurich is definitely a destination for grown-ups but they sure know how to play. As a European city break, it might not yet have the cache of Berlin or Tallinn, but I’d heard excited whispers about its artsy, up-and-coming western side, and I was keen to see just how this supposedly straight-laced city lets its hair down. And with Zurich preparing to celebrate 100 years of Dadaism – its homegrown, fiercely avant-garde art movement – with a whole summer of cultural events and festivals, it felt like an opportune time to visit.
I’m staying at the Marktgasse Hotel, a brand new concept hotel in Zurich’s Old Town. It’s formed from two older buildings, and every single one of its 39 rooms is unique and individually furnished. At first, the vibe is deceptively Scandi-cool, with pale wood, recessed lighting and a mainly monochrome colour palette – completed with heavenly scented Aesop products. But there’s a decidedly Swiss elegance, too. My room has its own staircase leading up to a roof terrace, with breathtaking views of the Old Town.
The Marktgasse has two restaurants – buzzy Baltho, with locally sourced, classic dishes (around £50 per person for two courses with wine), and the less formal Delish, a neighbourhood cafe that has already become a beloved spot for laptop-toting locals. The Baltho Bar is also a highlight – a cosy, intimately lit space where we sample Baltho spritzes, a punchy combination of prosecco and Swiss vermouth.
Nearby is the historic club and art space Cabaret Voltaire. The club has been associated with the Dada movement ever since founder Hugo Ball read out the surreal Dada Manifesto on the premises, and it maintains a strong link with modern art museum Kunsthaus Zürich. The Cabaret is a small space that can only show a fraction of its collection at a time – I’m lucky enough to catch some unfamiliar Chagall paintings.
I’d suggest skipping the generic city centre shops and instead heading to Zurich West, often described as Switzerland’s answer to Shoreditch – a ten minute tram ride from the city centre. Originally a run-down area full of decaying warehouses, it’s now home to some of Zurich’s hippest bars, restaurants and shops. Cult label Freitag is worth hitting up for its upcycled tote bags and for lovers of mid-century furniture, a trip to the splendidly quirky Frau Gerolds Garten will feel as though all your Pinterest boards just came to life.
At the moment, Zurich feels like an undiscovered secret. It’s artsy and hip, yet also grand; easily navigable but surprising. It’s surprisingly romantic, but also makes for a great, grown-up party city – you could dance until dawn or have just as much fun with a couple of cocktails over dinner. You’ll only notice one real nod to its financial heritage: Zurich is on the expensive side. But it’s worth investing in for the chance to experience this wildly underrated city before the tourist crowds catch on.
Zurich: An Eat-Inerary
This informal restaurant in the Hochschulen area is where to come for serious Swiss cuisine. Locals all agree that it’s home to Zurich’s – if not Europe’s – best sausage. The bratwurst is definitely the star of the show but the wienerschnitzel and chässpätzli mit Brösmeli – dumplings with baked cheese – are also worth saving space for. And for those wanting one last bratwurst fix before flying home, a Sternen Grill food truck has now set up shop at Zurich airport. (sternengrill.ch)
A Zurich institution that has been around since 1859 – think high tea in the sitting room of your oldest, poshest, slightly bohemian auntie. This is cafe society reimagined by a city of artists and if you want to follow in their refined – yet risqué – footsteps, order the hot chocolate with a shot of fiery pear brandy. Local folklore has it that single young men who attend the cafe alone may signal their availability by turning over the spoons in their coffee cups. (spruengli.ch)
LaSalle Restaurant & Bar
If you want a dining experience that really evokes the spirit of Zurich West, this is where to go. The steel beams and bare brick walls remind you of the area’s industrial origins, while the food is elegant and focused on flavour. The menu changes constantly but expect modern European dishes such as scallops with mango and avocado, and braised beef in a red wine sauce. Two courses with wine costs around £50 person. (lasalle-restaurant.ch)