Epoca, Flims

Restaurant manager Silke, preparing the Bloody Mary that accompanies an early course in the tasting menu

This restaurant is now closed.

The Swiss canton of Graubunden is famous for many things. The canton capital, Chur boasts a medieval centre claimed as the oldest town in Switzerland. Older readers of this blog may have grown up with the Heidi books by Johanna Spyri, set in some nearby peaks. It’s also one end of the amazing Bernina Express rail trip across the Alps into the north of Italy.

An equally delightful discovery for Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband, is that it’s home to a thriving food scene, driven largely by outstanding local produce (think cheese and sausages) and excellent boutique wineries. Hiking at altitude (around 2000 metres above sea level) gives one a very healthy appetite; there’s plenty of choice and in the summer it’s relatively easy to get around to sample the local fare.

Staying with dear friends in Chur, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were taken to the resort area of Flims (that’s not a typo, although auto-correct keeps trying to change it to ‘Films’), home to an extraordinary playground enjoyed year round. The upper Rhine River snakes through a stark valley (known locally as the Swiss ‘grand canyon’) and is a top spot for hiking, biking, swimming and picnicking in the summer. In the winter, well, it’s ski central and the restaurant we were sampling this particular evening has to be accessed via an underground passage (or on skis!). The Waldhaus mountain resort is home to Epoca, self-described as a ‘gourmet’ restaurant and headed by young gun chef Pascal Schmutz. This 29-year-old wunderkind has been wowing Swiss diners for a fair number of years already.

The restaurant is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass, offering panoramic views of the mountains and the resort’s grounds (complete with resident, grazing goats). On a particularly fine summer’s evening we were shown to the terrace for champagne (a delightful Veuve Clicquot) and nibbles. It was a lovely selection – small pieces of pork lurked beneath a mustard foam, a small gravlax tart with herbs and cheese, a local cheese infused with bergamot and a local sausage with fennel and lemon. Yum.

Shown to our table in the enormous dining room, we had another couple of pre-starters – an aubergine and finger lime concoction and a vermouth and strawberry gazpacho. It was then time for the bread barrel – literally. The small wine barrel sprung open to reveal silk-lined compartments (which looked a little too close to a coffin for comfort it had to be said) holding an incredible array of breads. Greedy Girl had to go for the turquoise-shaded roll which was infused with trout. Very interesting indeed.
Epoca is one of those places where the menu itself doesn’t really shed much light on what you’re about to receive. First course was economically described as ‘the beef – cherry, curry, ox muzzle’. Mmmm, ox muzzle, drool (with apologies to Homer Simpson). This was served in two parts – a piece of beef was cooked at the table on Himalayan salt stones. This was not the first time we’d seen this technique, having experienced wallaby slices cooked in the same way at Melbourne’s Vue de Monde.
The second part of the dish was rather more substantial. A very pretty presentation (pictured at the top of this blog) included cherries and curry chicory leaves on top of a cucumber puree and the selection of meats and liver. Texturally it was very good and the flavours were fresh, tangy and enjoyable.

Next up was ‘the tomato – Bloody Mary, whey, bruschetta’. The Bloody Mary was prepared at the table (see the picture of restaurant manager Silke above). It was essentially a fresh tomato and raspberry sorbet with basil-infused vodka and a tomato consomme. Very clever and slurped down with gusto. Alongside this was another attractive plate, the bruschetta. Local ham was served with tomato and mozzarella on a crouton of white bread. Delish.

We then moved to ‘the carabiniero – celeriac, carrot and shrimp’ although it was described as lobster upon presentation. It was a bit of a ‘spot the translation’ game – carabinieros being ‘King Prawn’ in Spanish. A dramatic-looking dish, the flavours were all well balanced. What the bare menu description didn’t include was soft-shell crab stuffing, lemon mayonnaise and a delicious bisque.
Another light dish followed – ‘the corn poulard – summer truffles, spruce wood and corn’. Again, the menu neglected to mention Greedy Girl’s dreaded pineapple. This was corn-fed chicken stuffed with summer truffles, pineapple with potato and tempura corn. The bonus in this dish is that the pineapple didn’t dominate but Greedy Girl has yet to be convinced of a reason to use it in a savoury context. The spruce wood gave the dish an interesting note.
Next up was a local cheese plate – ‘the viamala cheese, with flimser (i.e. from Flims) beer, fir bread and apricot. The beer was to be found in the sticky sauce and the apricots were a nice addition, if not particularly bursting with flavour. Viamala cheese is a local specialty, an organic semi-hard cow’s milk cheese made at 1600 metres. It’s also known as Bergkase.

Time for dessert. First up was a sweet bonus – pistachio and basil ice cream with kiwi fruit. It was relatively light (and exceedingly green). This was followed by the advertised dessert ‘the grill – strawberry, vanilla, cheesecake’. This was grilled strawberries with smoked raspberries and dollops of ice-cream, ‘cheesecake’ and dark chocolate mousse. The cheesecake was almost chewy and not an unwelcome texture.

A note about the wine we downed for the majority of the meal – it was called ‘Quattro Mani’ (four hands) and is a blend of varieties (most notably Montepulciano and Barbera) from four Italian winemakers, hence the name. It was very enjoyable and matched the lightness of the food.

Before we headed back onto the winding mountain roads to head back to Chur (about a 40 minute drive, made slightly longer on the way there because of road works – apparently there are two seasons in Switzerland, winter and road construction), we had a selection of petits fours, some madeleine lollipops and a selection of chocolate truffles infused with a local liqueur, ‘rotwein’. Enough!

This was a lovely treat and the scenery is beautiful – especially in summer where the days are long enough to be able to enjoy the panorama. There’s a lot to be said for local knowledge because there is almost zero chance for the average tourist to be able to find Epoca. The food was very good and the service personable and delightful. It’s just such a shame that it’s a long way to go for any repeat visit!

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