Fondue: say the word and immediately images of rich, thick, booze-spiked cheese spring to mind, simmering away in rustic cast iron pans over paraffin burners, dipped into by diners still wrapped in their woollens as the snow falls in thick flurries over the slopes outside. It’s quite the cliché, but if you can’t make the trip to the Alps, don’t worry – St. Moritz conjures up the ski resort atmosphere right in the heart of Soho. Stepping through the door into the small dining room on bustling Wardour Street is like stepping into an alpine lodge movie set – the roughly whitewashed walls are hung with antique wooden tools; the beams are bedecked with oversized brass cowbells; and the air is thick with an overwhelming aroma of cheese. When we arrived for our 7.30pm booking, the restaurant was almost empty, and oddly quiet, but by the time we rolled out of the door around 10pm, the place was packed.
To begin, two of our party chose the old classic, French onion soup. Warming and hearty, the steaming brown broth was filled with slivers of soft white onion, and topped with a toasted crouton covered in melted gruyere cheese. The third member of our group went for another classic dish, escargot cooked in garlic and parsley butter – the succulent snails had been removed from their shells and baked to perfection, to the point where I have to confess to having just a touch of food envy. My own starter, assiette de grisons, was a beautiful plate of thick sliced bresaola served with delicately pickled baby gherkins and shallots.
For main course, St. Moritz offers a broad array of Swiss dishes, but for us the clear choice was their speciality: fondue. The menu boasts several different kinds, all for sharing between two or more. In our party of four, we sampled two varieties – moitié-moitié, a classic blend of gruyere and vacherin cheeses, served with bread and boiled new potatoes, and forestière, the same blend of cheeses but peppered with tiny wild mushrooms and served just with bread. Both were rich, satisfying, and utterly delectable. As well as adding a fantastic nuttiness, the effect of the mushrooms was to temper the strength of the cheese, and for me that made the forestière the better dish – I love pungent cheeses, but I would have struggled to get through a serving of the moitié-moitié. Feeling like we ought to eat something vaguely healthy, we shared side dishes of fresh garden salad and cooked seasonal vegetables. Both were perfectly pleasant and brought a welcome dose of freshness to cut through the artery-clogging cheese, though the vegetables were perhaps a touch over-salted and the portion size was rather measly.
By the time we had worked our way through about three quarters of our fondue, we were utterly stuffed, so although the chocolate version looked like an immensely tempting dessert, we sadly had to give it a miss. As for drinks, St. Moritz has a rather unique offering – other than a couple of bottles of French champagne, every wine on the list is Swiss. Regular readers will know that we at Forks-Up are quite keen on our wine, but having had no idea until this evening that there was such a thing as Swiss wine, and knowing nothing at all about the different varieties, we decided to put our trust in the house selection. In fact, both the house red (pinot noir), and the house white (chasselas) were light, pleasant, and surprisingly quaffable. Service throughout the evening was competent and friendly, but when it came to settling up became almost unbelievably slow. From first asking for the bill to actually paying it took a good half hour. While speed doesn’t especially matter after the meal (it’s not as though anyone’s food is getting cold at that point) it does put a slight dampener on things. With two courses, wine and service coming in at around £40 per head, St. Moritz isn’t the cheapest dinner out, but then again it’s not every day you’ll get a proper Swiss fondue. As a thoroughly decadent winter treat, St. Moritz gets an impressive 4 Forks Up.St. Moritz 161 Wardour Street London W1F 8WJ T: 020 734 3324