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THE scene has been set for more outside fondue fun overlooking the bright lights of the Seef district in an annual craze that continues to grow in popularity.
The Swiss-Café on the 10th floor of the award-winning Swiss-Belhotel has always been one of my favourite dining destinations, but despite visiting it frequently, I had never before enjoyed a meal on its delightful outside terrace for various climatically-fraught reasons, either it’s been too hot or too windy.
Last weekend the weather was perfect and sitting outside also proved to be a superb setting to indulge in a fabulous Fondue Bourguignonne with the good lady wife, Kathryn, and my workplace colleague, Jalal.
The fondue is regarded as a ‘moment of conviviality’ shared with friends and family and it became highly-fashionable for small dinner-party settings in the 1970s. Its history, however, dates back centuries and, to this day, fondue remains a regular part of the cultural scene in Switzerland, Italy and Germany in particular.
The Swiss-Café is a particularly popular haunt for the thriving German expat community in the kingdom and their local friends. The atmosphere generated is very similar to that enjoyed by people tucking into and sharing dishes over a Bahraini breakfast.
Fondue Bourguignonne features select cubes of beef tenderloin, which are deep fried in hot oil at the table, accompanied by mushrooms and slices of courgette, aubergine, onion and peppers.
Chef Jomar Dolovito carefully brought the already hot oil to the table and it was placed on a heater to continue bubbling away. He called by regularly to check all was in order and to adjust the heat.
The charming waiting staff team arrived promptly to fill up our glasses throughout the evening with good humour and politeness in true Swiss-Belhotel style that never fails to impress.
The idea is to pierce the meat with a fondue fork (each with numbered handles, I suppose so that you know which one is yours) and place it carefully into the oil.
The trick, however, is to ensure that the meat doesn’t slip off the utensil and languish forever more disintegrating at the pit of the pot.
You guessed it, at the first attempt we all failed miserably. It was like one of those sad moments on your first angling adventure when you catch a bite and in the excitement pull up your rod only to find the fiendish fish has fled after eating all the bait.
In fact, I’ve heard dining parties in the Alps punish such misdemeanour. The dippy dipper who lets the meat fall off the spike has to leave the table and walk outside around the hotel before returning … which is little fun in sub-zero temperatures.
It’s all about technique and by the next go we had mastered the ‘dip, leave and remove’ method without a morsel escaping.
I cannily squeezed my meat between two mushrooms and the occasional piece of pepper. Then it’s all about the timing. The tender Argus cuts need just a few seconds to reach cooked perfection.
The taste is tremendous and there’s a real sense of achievement when you’ve mastered the moment.
It’s surprisingly filling too, especially as its comes with a choice of French fries or fried rice and pickles, plus sauces and dips such as horseradish, grain mustard, chili sauce, curry, yoghurt and tomato ketchup.
Alternatively, guests of Swiss-Café can choose the Chinese Fondue, which not only includes slices of beef tenderloin, but also veal fillet, chicken breast, prawns and salmon.
And, then, of course, there is the venue’s most popular fondue offering which we have savoured in the past on several occasions and focuses on cheese. Executive Chef Holger Lang’s famous calcium-boosting cheese fondue is the fare of legend. This warming dish consists of at least two varieties of cheeses that are melted with fermented grape juice with a bit of flour and served in a sharing pot.
My tip from last time should be remembered. To eat cheese fondue, dip a speared piece of bread into the pot. Twirl it gently in the cheese to coat it. You’ll want to let the bread drip a bit before you put it in your mouth. This will allow any excess to drip back in the pot and also allow time for cooling.
The fondue can be ordered every day, at least 24-hours in advance, until March 2018 and is priced at BD14.500 net per person, including limited selected beverages. To book a table, call 66310000.