The Peripatetic Epicurean

This piece by food and travel writer Ayesha Quatermain was first published by The Essential Edge on 6 June, 2011. 

As with many of us living in the Lake Geneva region, finding a decent but affordable restaurant where they take cuisine seriously is a challenge. Many of the Swiss-side restaurants are often mediocre with steep prices and quite frankly, not worth what you pay. It is always a pleasure – albeit an all too rare one – to find a place that you can rave about as “good to excellent” and that will not destroy your wallet. One option, which visitors to Geneva do not immediately think about, is the French side. Here, we have found disappointment – but also satisfaction.

Last week, we decided to return to one of our favourites: the Auberge des Chasseurs in Echenevex. It was last minute with the kids at a party, so at least we could go out. The Auberge des Chasseurs is – or was at least – a delightful restaurant at the foot of the Jura mountains about 20 minutes drive from Geneva airport with a wonderful view of the Mont Blanc and the Alps. It was Saturday evening and the weather superb although a bit too chilly to sit outside. It has always been a great lunch venue, too. We were last there in the fall of 2010, but the food had not been as good as we had remembered. We wanted to give it another chance.

We booked for 8.30 but were warned by a rather snooty maitre d’hotel (the restaurant appeared to be under new management) to be on time as last orders were at 8.45. For a restaurant with aspirations at haute cuisine in such an international region (the Pays de Gex is certainly not the provinces), this seemed indecently early. Nevertheless, we headed over only to arrive at 8.50 according to our watches. The maitre d’hotel informed us that it was too late as – under French law – they were not allowed to serve any later.

“We have been visited by the police so we cannot take the risk,” he explained. He absolutely refused to make an exception.

“You can’t be serious?” we responded. But yes he was.

“Well, tant pis for you,” we said and left, thoroughly disappointed. Of course, it was not French law (although social  legislation and bureaucracy are still doing their best to destroy any sort of entrepreneurial initiative in France)  but rather the restaurant which was shooting itself in the foot by refusing to engage more staff. How can you be serious about being in the restaurant business and expect your customers to eat early?  9.45 or 9.30 even, but not 8.45. We were willing to be fair and faithful.
But if that’s how they treat old and potentially ongoing customers, then forget it!

We then tried the Sur L’Ardoise in Versonnex, further down the road toward Divonne. This is a rather good restaurant at decent prices (also a good lunch menu). We figured we could have a nice dinner. We were there by 9.00 pm. But they were chock full and the owner said that he could not take any more. At least that was a good argument. So we charged off to Divonne, another six or seven minutes’ drive.

We were getting a bit worried now. There was always the Div, a great little restaurant opposite the Casino, but at this hour it would be packed and we might have to wait 30 or 40 minutes for a table. So we decided to try the Divonne Golf Club restaurant, the Pavillon du Golfe. We had been there before and had been pleasantly surprised. It was now about 9.15 and the restaurant was bustling but not overcrowded. A table? Biensur, no problem.

We had the Menu Gormand (36 Euros) with a choice of three amuses bouches, three entrees, three main dishes and three deserts. It was a good deal. The food was excellent with grilled lamb and an omble chevalier (a salmon-like lake fish) and a pleasant red Burgundy. We also started off with two kirs royals.  All for less than 50 Euros each. Definitely to be recommended. Had it been warmer (like the previous occasion) we would have sat outside under the plane trees with the other side of the lake twinkling in the dusk.

So don’t despair. There are still some restaurants that take their craft seriously and are willing to ensure that their customers come away feeling content. And who know that word of mouth will get them more customers if they perform well.

Auberge des Chasseurs
711 route de Naz-Dessus
01170 Echenevex – Pays de Gex
Tel: +33 (0)4 50 41 54 07
Fax: +33 (0)4 50 41 90 61

Sur l ‘Ardoise – Café, Restaurant
38 route de Maconnex, 01210 Versonnex

Tel: 33-(0)4 50 42 09 91

Pavillon du Golfe
Divonne Golf Club
Divonne-les-Bains, France
Tel.+33 (0)4 50 40 34 13

Le Div’ Cafe

114, rue Fontaine
01220 Divonne-les-Bains

Tel: : 33 (0) 450 20 03 83

Ayesha Quatermain is a travel writer and food critic based in the Lake Geneva Region.