A bistro or bistrot is a small restaurant serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting. Bistros are defined mostly by the food served; typically French home-style cooking and slow-cooked foods like cassoulet are the fare.
The etymology is unclear, and is presumed to derive from a regional word: bistro, bistrot, bistingo, bistraud, bistouille or bistrouille. The first recorded use of the word appears in 1884, which discredits folklore that the name originated from Russian troops who occupied Paris following the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), shouting “Bystro! Bystro!” in Russian when ordering their food, meaning “Quickly! Quickly!”
The 69-year gap between the War and the first attestation of the word clearly refutes the myth. It is likely that it is related to ‘bistouille’, a colloquial term meaning ‘bad alcohol’.
Le Bistro restaurant
The hotel belongs to the Manotel Group, which has six hotels in Geneva.
The primary objective is to feed the clientele quickly at lunchtime. The short time-frame forces the creation of a “quick gourmet break”, while meeting time constraints.
For Le Bistro, Chef Armel Bedouet has concocted a gourmet moment based on respecting the generosity of artisan-style produce. Tasty and original interpretations of classic French brasserie dishes accompanied by Geneva and Swiss wines, form the menu.
It is notable that the same chef offers an intimate 15-seat dining room next door, L’Aparté, rated as ’16-points’ by Gault & Millau. You could enjoy an experience both memorable and pleasant with 3-course lunch menu for CHF 49 at L’Aparté.
I visited in mid-November, which is the autumnal hunting season in Switzerland. Nearly every restaurant offers ‘sanglier’ (wild boar), ‘chevreuil’ (roe deer), ‘lapin’ (rabbit), ‘truffe’ (truffle) mushroom and ‘sandre’ (pike perch) in season.
The bread selection was served with cured meat, cheese, young olives and a good butter. I’m afraid that I “pigged out” on the bread and snacks before the meal.
A glass of local Lavaux region white wine made from the Chasselas grape: light, crisp, with pleasant minerality and a hint of salt was perfect easy drinking. Locally, such wines are known as a “wine of thirst.”
Starter: Velouté crémeux de champignons, Croûtons, huile de noisette
Creamy veloute of mushrooms, Coutons, hazelnut oil.
That day, pike-perch fillet from Lake Leman “fished by Mr Christinat” was available but I chose the mushroom soup as wild mushrooms were in season.
The soup was a spectacular, colourful visage upon arrival, like a painting by Leonid Afremov. They say that “First, you eat with your eyes,” but I am pleased to report that the taste was up to standards here. It was soft, creamy and unctuous with deep mushroom flavour. It gave me confidence with its technique and aesthetic for surely the adage “technique in the service of aesthetic” proved true.
Main: Ragoût de Chevreuil, Pommes Purée, Pétales de Choux de Bruxelles
Roe deer ragout, potato puree, Brussel sprout petals.
I’m not a fan of game but in the interest of keeping to seasonal fare, I went with the ‘Plat du Jour’. Venison is an extremely lean meat and requires skill or time to tenderise and infuse flavour. From the rich sheen of the gravy, you could already tell that it had been painstakingly reduced for hours and packed full of umami flavour.
Despite that, the meat was still a touch ‘dry’ in the middle of each cube but that was easily alleviated by the buttery potato puree. With the French-style, when they say ‘Purée’, they really mean it – the puree was smooth as silk and buttery.
I may even venture that the demi-glace was a touch too rich and salty without the potato and Brussel sprouts. As a combination, all the elements balanced out the dish. I had to leave room for dessert by sending back the last two morsels of venison!
I chose the red House wine – Pinot noir Les Perrières – that proved perfect with the Dish-of-the-Day. From Geneva, this light, easy to drink red wine was chosen well by the House for its soft tannins, aromas of red fruits and liquorice to complement that salty rich sauce.
Swiss wines range from good to excellent but only 1 to 2% of production is exported. Outside Switzerland, you are unlikely to have tried them. The only time I sampled Swiss wines outside the country was at a dinner in the Swiss Ambassador’s Residence in Japan!
Dessert: Mousse aux marrons et agrumes confits
Chestnut mousse and candied citrus
Although I usually forego dessert, I had to select another autumnal product – chestnut – for the sweet ending, in the interest of AlphaLuxe readers, of course!
I was amused by the chestnut mousse piped in the shape of chestnuts on top of a soft tart base and decorated with candied citrus and chopped nuts. The fruit jelly triangle and compote were actually vital components to balance the creamy texture of the mousse and crumbly pastry.
I have to say that the whole mélange represented Autumn very well and the candied fruits evoked the Christmas season to come.
Three-course lunch with two glasses of wine and a Diet Coke came to CHF 72 after taxes, which is reasonable for Geneva.
Le Bistro is a natural destination for friendly meals and business lunches, offering a wealth of reassuring culinary references. It may not be a “destination restaurant” but deserves an AlphaLuxe Three-Tongue rating as a bistro.
For more ‘swellegant’ evening dining, you may adjourn to the adjacent dining room L’Aparté for the top-dollar or Swiss Franc experience!
Rue de Lausanne 41-43, Geneva, CH-1201, Switzerland.
City Centre (Tram No.15, Môle stop)
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).