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Locanda Barbarossa – farm to table in Switzerland’s Castello del Sole restaurant

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A gourmet restaurant belongs in a luxury hotel. So far, so good. But what if the highly-decorated head chef retires and is replaced by a “young wild one“? The new man clued me in personally… 

Gourmet restaurant Locanda Barbarossa

It was in the Locanda Barbarossa, afore-said gourmet restaurant belonging to Ascona’s Castello del Sole luxury hotel, where the widely praised Othmar Schlegel cooked himself to 18 Gault Millau points.

Bravo, well played!

Long dining table in Locanda Barbarossa restaurant

Long dining table in Locanda Barbarossa

Set dining table in Locanda Barbarossa restaurant

Set dining table

Table decoration at Locanda Barbarossa restaurant

Table decoration by the house florist

But, when Schlegel retired to his well-earned pension in early 2017, a successor had to be found. A worthy one, naturally…Putting his wide-ranging contacts into play, hotel director Simon Jenny found at the St. Moritz Kempinski a young man going places by the name of Mattias Roock.

Local cuisine also means local suppliers

Many big-name chefs boast of a “local cuisine.” So what if it is gussied up by the obligatory French haute cuisine element.

But Roock, at all events, takes “local cuisine” a step further. Here in Switzerland’s sunbelt, in his “garden” on the fertile foothills of the Maggia Delta, the Terreni alla Maggia, just about everything grows: from white and red wine grapes to asparagus to corn for polenta, to homegrown rice (!) for the risotto. He sources everything from practically outside his front door. 

Besides other seasonings, the house garden is even supposed to yield lemons from the Japanese yuzu tree. Although it is totally sour, it is a rich-tasting addition for dishes and even the occasional dessert.

The wild garlic is also homegrown: Roock can pick it right there in the spacious hotel parklands.

Executive Chef Mattias Roock picking ramsons

Chef in his element: wild garlic growing on the hotel grounds
Photo © Mattias Roock

Decorated with 17 Gault Millau points himself, Roock is not above doing more than just checking the ingredients himself on the spot: from time to time, he will climb into the Maggia behind the hotel and collect stones on which to present his dishes!

You can’t get more local than that…

When Roock and his kitchen brigade put all the ingredients together, the result is a whole menu of locally-sourced cuisine.

“Sapori del Nostro Orto” or “Aromas from our vegetable garden”

Fittingly, even the gourmet local menu here begins with an amuse bouche. On his handpicked Maggia stones, Roock drapes a dry-cured ham from Alp Piora.

Amuse bouche in the Locanda Barbarossa

Amuse bouche on a Maggia stone

Fish for starters?

In the case of Castello del Sole, “locally sourced” also means “Lago Maggiore“: it can comfortably be freshly-caught trout from the lake practically right next door. Prepared with cucumber, yogurt, radish and a shot of yuzu from the front garden, it makes for an outstanding appetizer!

Lake trout from Lago Maggiore

Appetizer: Lake trout from Lago Maggiore with cucumber, yogurt, radish and yuzu

Essence of fine quail

Logic would have it that Roock needs quail for the entree of Magadino essence of quail with wild herbs, agnolotti and peas. Problem: the best supplier from the Magadino Plain abolutely refused to deliver any. He merely said:

Work with gourmet chefs and your grand kitchens is just too stressful!

Roock had to be his totally refreshing and convincing self to change the stubborn quail man‘s mind.

Am I glad!

Soup ingredients Locanda Barbarossa

Soup ingredients before adding the Magadino essence of quail: wild herbs, agnolotti, and peas. Love those peas!

The obligatory Risotto Ticinese

For the risotto with green asparagus, Roock is clearly playing on home turf: not only does green asparagus grow on the Terreni alla Maggia and just any rice variety, but the gourmet rice marketed under the Riso Nostrano Ticinese da Risotto Loto brand. This long-grain variety is ideally suited for risotto and easily holds its own against other popular rice strains like Carnaroli or Arborio.

Local Loto Risotto and asparagus

Local Loto Risotto, green asparagus, white Merlot, Alp Piora cheese. On a Maggia stone…

Main course from the Verzasca Valley

For his gitzi (kid) that is famous even north of the Gotthard Mountains, Roock puts on his big rubber boots and sets out on the difficult trek into the remotest part of the Verzasca Valley, looking for the best possible supplier. Because hiding in this remote valley are the Nera Verzasca, a goat breed with special qualities…

Mattias Roock with Gitzi farmer in Valle Verzasca

Executive Chef Mattias Roock (right) with gitzi farmer (middle) in Valle Verzasca
Photo © Mattias Roock

The main dish arrives on the plate looking like this:

Nera Verzasca goat from the Verzasca Valley

Gitzi from the Verzasca Valley on wild garlic, red polenta and onions

With it, the so-inclined reader imbibes a local wine from the Terreni alla Maggia. Goes without saying. We start with a “Castagneto,” a 2014 Chardonnay, then switch to a “Querceto,” a 2011 Merlot.

Dessert with an extra kick

After the amuse bouche had already served as a strong indicator of the fine-motor skills in the kitchen, they go to the next level with the dessert.

Conveniently, Roock brought his chef-patissier David Potier with him from the Kempinski St. Moritz. To some, he’s the second most-important actor in the kitchen…

David Potier and his troops give it their all, even with a shot of vinegar for the dessert! Of course, only in dribs and not just any vinegar, but a 20-year old found in an obscure Ticino attic: a passionate producer from Losone thought to accumulate vinegar as part of his daughters dowry. When things didn’t turn out with the wedding, he was left sitting on barrels of the excellent stuff. Roock followed his nose, tracked him down and convinced him to become his supplier…

That’s the way it’s done!

Chef Patissier David Potier prepping dishes of rhubarb dessert

Chef Patissier David Potier prepping dishes of rhubarb dessert. With a shot of 20-year old vinegar!

Dessert of rhubarb Locanda Barbarossa

Dessert of rhubarb with vinegar from Losone, tarte, glace and ragout

Just so no one spends too much time wondering: yes, the rhubarb, of course, comes from the garden…

Friandises with the coffee Locanda Barbarossa

Friandises with the coffee

Many thanks, Mattias Roock, for the informative kitchen tour and countless anecdotes :-)

Walter Schaerer and Executive Chef Mattias Roock

Walter Schaerer doing a taste test with Executive Chef Mattias Roock
Photo © Marina Cantafio of lovefoodish.com

And, for those who may find all this appealing, but would like STILL MORE local color: give the hotel’s remote mountain rustico cottage adventure a go. You will have nothing left to wish for!

 

Address

Castello del Sole Hotel
Via Muraccio 142
6612 Ascona
Switzerland

To the restaurant website.

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About Author

Walter Schaerer’s extensive background in the travel industry, passionate enthusiasm for photography and a firm belief that luxury destinations can also be affordable; were some of the main factors that motivated him to create the travel blog travelmemo.com. In his day job Walter is an online marketing manager based out of Zurich, Switzerland.

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