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Food Hotel: Kulm Hotel, St. Moritz

Kulm Hotel
, St Moritz, 75000
Cuisine: European
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Martin Guttridge-Hewitt: Service that invoked Downton Abbey delivered chef Nussbaumer’s exclusive 19th Century-inspired menu to celebrate the hotel’s sesquicentennial.

There was a time when skiing and snow sports meant rich and fortunate. As anyone with an eye on the world will know, though, times always change.
 
In Eastern Europe, resorts began offering on piste breaks at half the price well over a decade ago. Recently, a weak Yen has drawn record numbers to the slopes of Japan, many of whom would never have dreamed of visiting the country a few years back. And, even in France and Italy, the likes of Les Carroz and Cervinia, just over the border from Zermatt, have long since positioned themselves at the affordable end of the market.
 
But one particular Alpine enclave continues to focus on the old money set. A town awash with designer homes, many owned by the same fashion designers whose stores line the illustrious streets, Saint Moritz stands at the summit of glamour and opulence in a world which, despite those changes, remains synonymous with glamour and opulence. It’s also the destination that kick started the trend for vacationing at this point in the calendar, with the current season marking 150-years of winter tourism in the area.
 
Of course, things started out much more understated than this.
 
Standing in the foyer of the 5* superior Kulm Hotel, and whilst Italian darlings pirouette in catwalk-ski wares, there’s a unique air of homeliness betraying the residence’s history. As we’re told on arrival, this is where it all began, when the entrepreneurial Johannes Badrutt persuaded a bunch of skeptical Britons on their summer holidays to come back in the bleak midwinter. With an emphasis on traditional hospitality and heartfelt welcomes, he wagered they would be amazed at the near-daily sunshine this corner of Switzerland enjoys, even in December, and claimed the sheer beauty of the place, when enveloped in white, would leave them speechless.
 
He was right.
 
As the winter arrived, when Saint Moritz was nothing more than a remote outpost in the Engadin valley, they returned, and never looked back. Their view then would have been somewhat different to what we see from our balcony suite now; one of 176 individually appointed rooms, with marble-clad bathroom and solid pine fixtures throughout. Today the town is awash with high end accommodations, and the vista across the lake makes it hard to imagine much more development is feasible without overcrowding. Yet it’s still impossible not to feel enchanted, as those first guests obviously were.
 
The steep, narrow lanes of the upper town. Hanselmann’s chocolate and pastry emporium, and its delightfully charming facade (a must for those with a sweet tooth). The abundant forests acting as a natural perimeter fence, separating bustling settlement from seemingly infinite countryside. Just a few reasons why the kind of clientele who could opt to descend on anywhere in the world descend here, this is before we come to the most important factor in our eyes (and bellies). Because cuisine is of paramount importance to locals and guests alike, and we’re staying in arguably the cream of the crop.
 
“My role is to give to the client a good feeling, so they go home and know they have had food to match the surroundings. If they want something particular they can request it, and tomorrow it could be served. Our guests are our livelihood, so their satisfaction is everything to me,” explains Hans Nussbaumer, the Kulm’s Executive Chef. Taking up his first post here in the mid-1970s, following spells working everywhere from Singapore to London he returned to take full control of the kitchen, epitomising the close-knit family ethos that has been the backbone of this hotel since its inception.
 
“When I took over the kitchen, I was told; ‘Mr. Nussbaumer, our guests are paying a lot of money, so do me a favour, remember that only the best food will ever be good enough’. This also goes for the children. We will sit down with parents and discuss menus for their children, because there’s no reason a children’s menu should mean lower quality.
 
“For example, my daughter, when she was ten years old, went to her mother and said ‘Listen, mama, please ask papa why I always have to have the children’s menu when we eat out? I like the food you like’. That always stuck with me; you don’t know what they are eating at home. We once had a boy here, maybe 13-years-old, who ordered 100 grams of caviar for his dinner. Never underestimate children.”
 
Although tempted by the thought of kobe cheeseburgers or gold leaf fish fingers, this weekend we’re maintaining an air of adulthood. 24-hours earlier, and having been seated at a huge banqueting table in an events room so ornate jaws had to drop, service that invoked Downton Abbey delivered Nussbaumer’s exclusive 19th Century-inspired menu to celebrate the hotel’s sesquicentennial. Consisting of, amongst other things, the most impossibly tender beef wellington to ever grace our palette, and an innovative crème brulee in reverse (hard caramel at its base), infused with coffee, the standards had been set impossibly high.
 
This evening’s meal promises something very different, mind, at the most unique table available to guests. Following the lavish 150th anniversary celebrations of Saint Moritz itself, we take our place in the Kulm’s kitchen, with courses prepared in full view just a few steps away. Opening with a healthy serving of black forest and Parma ham alongside melon and prawn, bolognese and fresh flat pasta follows, as does veal topped with prosciutto, and, finally, a raspberry panna cotta that could convince the most avid desert fan they had never tasted panna cotta before. There can be no complaints.
 
To say tasting is only part of the joy seems woefully unfair on the ingredients and craftsmanship involved in their preparation. Yet it’s also true. This working foodie paradise affords sight of the expert epicures toiling tirelessly over their creations. As such there’s professionalism to every seasoning, but more than that, there’s proof, if it were needed, that fine dining does not start and stop with a good recipe and formal training. Germans may call it the zeitgeist of exceptional cooking. We’re not sure- we’re not German. But, either way, the flair and passion evident leave lasting memories.
 
And this situation is far from the only way to indulge in exquisite flavours at the Kulm, to put it mildly. The Grand Restaurant, logically, defines grandeur, with its six course menus and strict black tie dress, whilst The K boasts 16 Gault Millau points. Elsewhere, and where most eateries outside Italy struggle to master its namesake dish, The Pizzeria offers an opportunity to dine informally on mouthwatering carpaccio of beef, rare tuna loin and lemon cheesecake delivered on a bed of oranges. That’s if you don’t want pizza. Meanwhile, the legendary Sunny Bar, a fixture here since before any living soul can remember and regular haunt for the diehard tobogganists of the nearby Cresta Club, provides yet another alternative option of international repute.
 
Coupled with a wine cellar hand-picked by Benjamin Wolf, one of 186 worldwide graduates from The Court of Master Sommeliers, boasting no less than 100 Swiss wines (a must try, considering their rarity outside the nation’s borders), and one thought comes to mind. Although the term ‘food hotel’ can legitimately be applied to many, after three days gorging ourselves between visits to the lavish spa, which features a stunning outdoor Jacuzzi deck offering majestic views over the Alps, it seems abundantly clear that few other residences could ever fit the title quite so well.
 
Martin travelled to St Moritz with the Kulm Hotel St Moritz www.kulm.com
 
A “150 years of winter tourism” package is available for the 2014/15 season only with 3 nights’ half-board accommodation, including an exclusive four-course dinner in the Stüva complete with beverages, a behind the scenes tour, a bottle of Champagne in the room, a traditional Engadin walnut cake, a sleigh ride to Lej da Staz, a 50-minute body massage per person, unlimited access to the Kulm Spa St Moritz and a daily-changing Fit & Fun sports programme. Prices start from CHF1,420 (approx £930) per person sharing the Badrutt bedroom (unless this is already booked, in which case guests will automatically be upgraded to a Junior Suite). The package is only bookable from Sunday to Thursday.
 
The Kulm Hotel St Moritz is open from 5 December to 5 April
 
Travel to St Moritz from the airport using a Swiss transfer pass, from £92 per person (second class), book online at www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk
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8 January 2015
By: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
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