About Sue Style

Originally from Yorkshire I've lived and worked in Spain, France, Mexico and Switzerland, now based in southern Alsace. Author of 9 books, the latest about Switzerland's finest farmhouse cheeses. I freelance for anyone who'll buy my stuff (FT Weekend, Decanter, France Mag, Culture Cheese Mag et al) plus I give cooking workshops and lead bespoke vineyard tours in Alsace and Baden (just across the Rhine).

Bistrot de la Cave, Saint-Louis

1-2-IMG_9919It’s a well-established fact that you’re never going to go hungry – or thirsty – in Alsace. At one end of the scale there are good-to-great places (L’Auberge de l’Ill inter alia); at the other there are decent enough Winstubs (wine bars with a über-trad dishes of the choucroute, tarte a l’oignon school). But then in the squeezed middle, that bit where I’m always hoping to find interesting, fun food with a smidge of creativity, at sensible-not-silly prices and quirky wines by the glass, there’s a socking great hole.

There’s a scant handful of such places on my Eating Out page – d’Brendelstub in Riquewihr, Au Potin in Barr, Flamme & Co. in Mulhouse, Strasbourg and Kaysersberg all come to mind. Now, hooray, another one’s popped up, much closer to (my) home: Le Bistrot de la Cave on the main street of Saint-Louis (“meet me in Saint-Louis…”) For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, Saint-Louis is your typical, nondescript, mildly grungy little border town, in this case contiguous with Basel/Switzerland. To be fair, it’s cleaned up its act a lot of late: some dinky little trees have popped up all along said main street, the Saturday market goes from strength to strength and the shops (a handful of clothes boutiques, a nice deli, a wicked choccy and pastry shop and an excellent wine merchant, see below) are looking more and more like they actually believe in themselves. Best news of all for Basel-dwellers, the blue, border-hopping Regio bus that starts out life at Schifflande will deposit you just about outside the bistrot’s door.

4-1-IMG_9921Inside it’s light, bright and airy – think pale wood, white gloss paint, loads of mirrors reflecting sparkly lights inside wooden wine boxes suspended crazily from the ceiling. There’s a succinct menu featuring (depending on the season) home-conserved foie gras with a chaud-froid based on adolescent P[edro] X[imenez], ‘tagliatelles’ (i.e. slender strips) of fresh veggies with Bibbeleskäs/fromage blanc and hazelnut vinaigrette, an Italianate trio of gnocchi, risotto and bruschetta for starters. Mains range from sundry fishy offerings to steak, duck and always at least one spirited stand-alone veg. dish – rare in these parts to find anything vegetarian on the menu, let alone in the central part. Puds include classics like iles flottantes, a Toblerone millefeuilles and – always – a tart of the day. Besides the regular a la carte stuff there are fast-moving seasonal suggestions chalked up on a blackboard and a lunch menu on weekdays @ €22 for 3 courses.

Wines come from the admirable Au Monde du Vin the other side of the road and back towards Basel a bit. There’s a good selection by the glass (loved a meaty Mediterranean white from the Languedoc); or get a bottle, drink what you like and stick a cork in it if/when you’ve had enough; or buy one to take away at the same price charged by Au M du V (the shop’s worth a browse, since you’re here anyway). Service is smiley, attentive, light-hearted and informative.

2-1-IMG_9918My lunch companion went for the fish of the day (carpe diem), a whole sea bass with artichoke hearts. Here’s how it looked before she tackled it:


 

3-3-IMG_9920

 

 

and after (so you can tell she really, really didn’t like it)

 

 

 

A big step up for our close-to-the-border eating scene and a creditable crack at filling that hole in the middle. Give it a go, let me know how you get on.

Bistrot de la Cave
1, rue de Lectoure, 68300 Saint-Louis
Tel. 03 89 70 93 45
Open 7/7 (Sundays too) from 7 a.m. (great breakfasts too) till midnight. Lunch from 12h to 14h30, dinner from 19h30 to 22h45
 

Savouring Sicily

Chiesa San Giuseppe, Ragusa Ibla, SicilySeptember is the moment to savour Sicily. The skies are still deep azure (think Quink royal blue), which shows off to perfection the sparkling white of Baroque jewels like Scicli, Modica, Ragusa and Noto. The sea is reliably warm, the midday sun delicious but not impossibly dazzling, the evenings balmy, the nights agreeably cool. Best of all, the crowds have flown north again – to Rome, Milan, Paris, London – leaving you the pick of hotels, B&Bs and villas. And as in any place that’s annually steamrollered by summer crowds, the local people are learning to smile again, they’re more chilled in this back-season, whether in the mercato, trattoria, gelateria or cantina. Continue reading

Crown jewels: venison liver, kidneys AND heart

1-autumn walkIt’s dusk on a dying summer’s evening and the doorbell rings. Our local chasseur (hunter) is on the doorstep, wreathed in smiles. He’s just been out in the woods checking up on the deer and wild boar population (as he is contracted to do by our commune) and he’s shot a roe deer. It will take him a little while to butcher the beast, but would I like him to set aside the liver for me?

I love game and I’m very partial to the Fifth Quarter (aka offal or organ meats), but I’ve never tasted venison liver. What’s clear from his body language (he’s wriggling and grinning like a delighted spaniel with a prize bone) is that this is quite an honour, and that the liver constitutes something of a trophy. After the merest moment’s hesitation, I tell him yesssss, I’d love it. He disappears to do his butchery, giving me just enough time to pull down from the shelf my fave book on game, Nichola Fletcher’s Ultimate Venison Cookery. On page 199 I read: “Venison liver is one of life’s great gastronomic treats.” Continue reading

Weingut Dr Heger, Ihringen, Baden/Germany

1-IMG_6533

Vineyards around Durbach in the Ortenau region of Baden

One of the [many] perks of living here astride three borders (France, Germany, Switzerland) is that we’re within striking distance of some fine vineyards, each with their own distinctive grape varieties and winemaking styles.

When stocks of Riesling, Gewurz or Muscat dip below danger levels, we head up to Alsace’s Route des Vins. To top up on the Pinot family (Blanc, Gris and Noir, aka Weissburgunder, Graubunder and Spätburgunder) we cross the Rhine to Baden. And when we get homesick for Swiss wines (Petite Arvine, Cornalin, Humagne or even Chasselas), the lack of world-class vineyards in the Basel region is amply compensated by the trusty Coop, which has a good selection of all of the above (go armed with the latest ed. of Chandra Kurt’s Weinseller).

The best way to discover what makes a winery tick, how/where the wine’s grown and how it was made is – of course – to meet the wine maker and taste his/her wines sur place. This is easy around here. For some you can just fetch up on the doorstep; better still, ring to make an appointment. Others have open days when you can taste the full range. Continue reading

New Workshops for Autumn/Fall

1-1-capo2Time to get cooking together again! Bettlach workshops will start up again soon and I’ve scheduled four sessions, from Savouring Sicily in September to a full-on Middle East Vegetable Feast in October. In November we’re back closer to home with some New Tastes of Switzerland for a possible future re-edition of my book A Taste of Switzerland, in print continuously since 1992. And finally, December will bring a workshop entitled Christmas is for Sharing, a selection of snappy little holiday bites to tempt even the most jaded/overfed palates. Go to the Workshops page for the full schedule. Continue reading

A Different Kind of Tarte Tatin

1-5-IMG_0770Tarte tatin doesn’t have to be made of pommes (aka apples). It can also be made with pommes de terre (aka spuds). Here’s a wicked recipe from Geoffroy Vieljeux, erstwhile host at one of the world’s most stylish B&Bs, Mas Parasol near Uzés, now sadly no longer functioning.

We’re talking an upside-down potato tart here. For this you need a bunch of firm, waxy potatoes, a cake tin, olive oil and a salty dough a bit like Salzteig. You arrange said potatoes in said cake tin, drizzle with olive oil, cover with the salty dough and bake. And here’s where we veer away a bit from the real Tarte Tatin, for the crust is completely inedible. Its sole purpose is to imprison all the goodness and flavour of the potatoes beneath and to season them gently the while. When the tatin is ready, you turn it out to reveal the by-now-gently-golden spuds, sitting up and begging to be speared with a fork. Here’s how: Continue reading

Blackcurrant Ice Cream – The Business

1-1-IMG_0732Redcurrants have their uses but – full disclosure – blackcurrants are streets ahead on flavour. If you like sorbet cassis, you’re going to love this recipe. Store-bought sorbet (even from Picard) is fine, but home-made blackcurrant ice cream is the business. Here’s how to make your own (and you don’t even need an ice cream maker):

 

First you cook the fruit briefly, sieve it and let it cool. Next you make a sugar syrup, boil it to the thread stage (not nearly as scary as it sounds, see the recipe), pour it onto egg yolks and beat like crazy. Separately (OK, so you do use a few bowls for this recipe but it’s worth it, I promise) you whip up some cream. Finally you combine all three (purée, yolks + sugar and whipped cream) and chuck it in the freezer. Sorted. Continue reading

Swiss National Holiday Signals Brunch on the Farm

Every year in Switzerland on August 1st, Swiss National Day, there’s a big tradition of the farmhouse brunch. This year, 350 farms all around this pint-sized country are opening their doors and barns for the annual shindig. One of our favourites is held at Hof von Allmen in Beatenberg high above Lake Thun at the von Allmen farm. Continue reading

Redcurrants – No Jelly but a Jewel of a Coulis

1-03-IMG_9713If there’s one thing the Brits understand about, it’s redcurrants. Most people, when faced with a glut of these gem-like fruits, go all to pieces. Brits are known to calmly go about making a batch (or three) of redcurrant jelly, which they stash away, ready to serve with successive Sunday roasts of lamb. Continue reading

Basel’s Best Bars

 

1-IMG_5915-001Basel blooms in summer. The somewhat staid city on the Rhine perched astride the German and French borders comes to life when the temperature rises. A rash of tables and chairs breaks out on pavements downtown, people break into smiles more readily and dress more loosely – a familiar sight is of scantily clad people wandering through the streets fresh from a Rhine swim, clutching their clothes in a waterproof bag and heading for home. There are jazz festivals, open-air concerts and the famous Basel Tattoo, often with top billing from the town’s stunning home-grown Top Secret drummers. Continue reading