ST MORITZ – THE GRAND FROMAGE OF ALPINE KITSCH
Latest in a series of adventures in the oldie underbelly of London. Over many years of infesting Soho, how many times must I have walked past St Moritz without venturing in? Me especially, whose desert island food would probably be cheese? (Oh, and bread. And sausage. All the major food groups.)
The time has come. Past the dark wooded exterior into the, er, dark wooded interior, a kitsch explosion of Alpine scenes, cowbells of various sizes from tiny to improbable, wooden beams and sticky, plastic-padded menus. A couple of unsmiling girl servers and a middle-aged couple – plonked directly beside us so they can cheerily join in our conversation – are the only occupants of the otherwise empty restaurant. Which, it has to be said, is on the whiffy side. I’m hoping it’s just the cheese.
The all-Austrian winelist is a surprise, but everything else is exactly how you’d imagine. Pink, spammy sausage served with slices of waxy potato and Gruyère in a thin, mustardy mayo; raclette, melted at the moment of ordering from an elaborate device but served as an uninspiring pool of melted cheese on a smeary plate.
Then the fondue. Sure, you can order the likes of grilled veal escalope or pork fillet with Calvados and caramelised apple or beef strogonoff, but we’re here for the cheese: the classic Nuechateloise of Emmental and Gruyère, bubbling in its petrol-fuelled burner, plop, plop, plop, like lava. It’s an intimidatingly vast cauldron-full, with a basket of cubed French bread and nothing else for dunking. Somehow, I and the infuriatingly slender pal manage to get to the bottom of it, scraping the rust-coloured burnt bits at the last. We also order vast, squidge-centred rosti potatoes; these, with a dollop of the fondue spooned over, must be the unhealthiest thing currently served in the capital. Delicious? Hell, yes.
We skip puddings. ‘We could always have cheese,’ says the pal, insanely. That night, we both have tortured, sweat-ridden dreams. As the pal puts it the next day, ‘The cheese hardened into a plug, at what, in body terms, might be considered midtown, and stayed with me all day, despite all efforts to dislodge it later.’ This isn’t a once-a-week kind of thing, more like once a year. But as far as old-school is concerned, St Moritz is an utterly first class Proustian fondez-vous.