One of Zurich’s two Michelin starred restaurant reflects the best of Swiss culture perfectly: it’s all very Swiss. Beena Nadeem and her ketchup and caviar-loving daughter check out Ecco’s non-starchy approach to contemporary fine dining.

Few places marry the ethereal eulogy of the esteemed Michelin star with such progressive playfulness as this Zurich restaurant. In fact, Ecco, housed within the second floor of luxury hotel Atlantis by Giardino, has done this so well – it has two of them.

Here you’ll find a menu which is playful, creative and interesting – carefully thought out and brought into fruition by a very consummate chef Stefan Heilemann – under the guidance of Ecco founder Rolf Fliegauf, the man behind two other Michelin starred Giardino restaurants in Switzerland.

Michelin with ketchup and kaviar?

Ecco reflects its surroundings: cool, contemporary and relaxed. It’s a wonderful place to spend a luxuriously lingering meal – we managed a good three and half hours in there, with Mr F, a seven-year-old and her stuffed rabbit, Hop. Staff are charming, attentive and effervescently professional – there are no surly waiters here – even when Little L dipped her cucumber batons into ketchup immediately after tasting the joys of high-grade caviar.

We are seated around a round table on clam shaped cream leather sofa seats. Lighting is candles and the truncated stalactites-like chandeliers, decent modern art adorns the walls and there’s a background of modern and inoffensive jazz. And what’s more, it’s fun.

Has anyone described Michelin starred restaurants as fun before? Well, this one is. It’s intimate – 35 covers maximum and the clink of glasses and the warm chat and laughter of guests make you feel like you’re wrapped in a warm hug. No serrated stares for bringing a child, or using the wrong silverware or for playing’eye spy’ for the thousandth time at the table – Mr F can get a little restless during these long meals.

Come hungry

Whatever you order, you’ll be presented with a dazzling array of virtuosic appetisers or amuse bouche to give them their ludicrous proper name, which thankfully Ecco doesn’t.

We try tuna and herb sauces, beef tartare, warm mountain potato bread served with meringues of smoked and salted butters and they are all playful, delicious and with a nod to the Swiss outdoors.

Sorry, pomposity is off

I particularly love the lack of over-the-top use of jus, foams and reductions usually of something preposterous like the ethereal spirits of cherubs or rainbow breath of the Gods. Presentation is intricate and refined, as are the taste, though it’s the down-to-earth quality I like.

Lots of appetisers

We’re brought more tasters of turbot and mild onion sauce, presented with homemade, volcanic-like black bread, while my partner indulges in an oyster with onion sauce and juniper.

This is followed by more appetisers of meltingly delicious tuna, cucumber and seaweed combination, served with a meadow-green herb sauce. It’s brought to the table along with a matchbox sized wooden tray of homegrown cress which Little L tucks into, along with her bread as well as a subtly tart and creamy goats’ cheese in a crisp potato cylinder.

Finally, a main is in sight … 

The first course of red Scottish salmon, is seared and keeps its body. It comes with the excellent Prunier Kavier, which is of excellent quality and not overpoweringly salty, It is served with a herb sauce while radishes to add playful element, and Little L approves this, alongside her veal schnitzel and fries.

We order prosecco and local white wine, which are playful and delicious, and move onto cod and rice – a sort of subtle Thai green curry, where the cod is delicate though able to carry a subtly stronger flavour of the curry. It’s creamy and playful, and comes with hidden depths brought from the sweetness of pointed cabbage a petit squid.

After a short break and enough time to scan and order from the extensive wine list, we have calf and aubergine, cream of cauliflower, and pan-fried cauliflower. This comes with veal bone marrow, ox tail sauce and smoked bone marrow, which is also with a creamy cauliflower dream, and is served with soft, pinky veal, alongside sweetbread of pork, which, I don’t eat though Mr F tells me it’s delicious.

Dessert, but not as we know it…

Dessert of apple, parsnip and yoghurt did not piqué my curiosity at first. Though when it came, it was a work of art: violet petals, sauce of red sunsets, tiny parsnips, the sweetness of apples with a spade of a green leaf, it seemed a travesty to eat it. But I survived the hardship stoically and we enjoyed it. 

Of course, before this came many intermezzos, including goose liver, along side a smooth taste of nougat and nut, which tingled on palate. Served with orange sauce for sweetness and luxurious melting texture from nuts,  it worked really well. By this point by the way, Little L is on her second main: Bolognese with spaghetti, which she combined with blackcurrant syrup form my newly delivered cassis Ã¢â‚¬â€œ made of blackcurrant liquor (perhaps a little too avant-garde for here, even).

This comes with’felchin opus blanc’ – a Cru of Swiss chocolate – made from white couverture (high-end chocolate, basically) and meadow milk from UNESCO protected areas. We also have cookies: with walnut and fig – and they’re homemade and warm, mildly syrupy with an oaty crunch.

We also have a petite pot muesli, mixed with the earthy foraged flavours of rosehip, sorrel. Ah, and there’s one more: quince, chestnut and milk chocolate. They are, like the rest of the menu, creative, well-received and witty foods.

Finally …

A few more treats arrive, though essentially, we’re finished. We started at 7pm and the meal stretched until 10.30pm and seemed like I walked a whole culinary journey of discovery which gives, for me, a new face to the Michelin starred fine dining.

If you’re in Zurich, take the chance to visit this clean, modern and playful approach to Michelin starred food. Go with or without a stuffed rabbit. You won’t regret it.