You’d be surprised if you skipped out on this ‘3’ star hotel. One night was not enough to embrace this diamond in the snow. Originally a home, built in 1763, Florhof was converted to a hotel in 1925, has been run for 3 generations to date and their wood fire oven has come along the journey. Their fire-oven dates back to 1771 and almost 250 years later, in 2014, it became operational once again. More recently, it is run by a charismatic host, Isabelle, whom is also the front of house, marking manager, accountant, quality controller, directrice, a mother (for the guests), dog lover and for us, our home away home.
As we entered the guest house, the smell of sunlight on wood earthed me. We had been traveling for 2 weeks now and I was completely exhausted. I didn’t want big open spaces, squeaky-clean tiles and formal staff, I wanted home. As our holiday went on, Hummy a more experienced traveller got stronger, I didn’t and I certainly didn’t expect Florhof to be everything I needed.
The vintage hotel is complimented by the relaxed staff members, not that they felt like staff. The exceptional ‘meant to be’ story between Isabelle and Chef Ludo will be below – we recommend you scan over it. We elevated to the second floor, where our room was for the night. A large bed, a wooden writing desk, ‘ornament’ trimmed ceilings (known as: Stukkatur Decke) and Kiehl’s toiletries, maintained simplicity. It didn’t want to over-achieve, more rather aimed to relieve fussiness. We stayed in ‘Room Midi (number 22)’, which faced onto the streets of Zurich Old Town. The streets are quiet, only the sound of light snow pattering against the window and the sound of soft music, provided by Zurich’s Music School, in the opposing building, was heard. The modern aspect of Florhof was highlighted by their restaurant, Gastronomy.
Gastronomy is headed by Chef Ludovic Pitrel, whose imagination is larger than his warm-hearted personality. (I’m sure by now you can see we aren’t only in love with Florhof, but the people too). The restaurant acts as a time portal, taking you back to their origins of what 18th century fine dining would be. Men in relaxed sport jackets, women leaving their over-sized coats at the door and you wouldn’t dare rest your elbows. The dining experience? Very casual. This, however, doesn’t dim their explicit flavours, which will leave you biting your tongue each round, so as not to disturb the guests around you.
We asked Chef to create his favourite dishes. A menu was created for us, involving ordinary meats and garnishes. As the food arrived, I was terrified. I immediately thought of how I was going to write a blog post on their food. What separated Florfhof was their ingenuity of flavours created from these ordinary ingredients and the depth of variety within each item served. Hummy reckoned their plating was nostalgic of Wolfgang Puck’s five-sixty restaurants he visited in Dallas, Texas.
For starters: pulled pork croquettes, with lobster BBQ sauce (1), Duck liver terrine with figs and Brioche (2) and Pan-friend pulpo (Octopus) (3). Mains included: Roasted cauliflower with what seemed to be caviar, but was in-fact Truflle juice pearls – Chef’s clever little trick (1) and a Pan-fried Austrian-venison fillet with celery Dauphines. To drink, sparkling water. Pronouncing the menu items was as much of a mouthful as the meals; their portions are hearty. We could not believe that such a restaurant existed in this retired 17th century home and now guest house since.
Of their other secretes is their cellar – a fine-dining experience that can seat up to 24 guests in the heart of the hotel, away from high-rise Zurich Old Town. Private events will receive their own menu and service.Yearly, Isabelle hosts a group of construction workers belonging to one of Zurich’s businesses; no expense is spared. Full turkeys, wine and candle lights flood the room and enchant the guests every year. Isabelle’s right hand lady/manager of Gastronomy, Susana, whom has been working a long side Isabelle for the past 3 years, ensures the smooth running of the special cellar.
With only the restaurants covered, it is very easy to see why Florhof was my home away from home. Rich in heritage and on-going culture, not hampered by tourism and the modern era, Florhof takes you back to a much simpler, vintage time, without the dust settling.
Isabelle and Ludo – the ‘meant to be’ duo of Florhof
Late evening, Hummy and I went downstairs to relax in the lounge area. Isabelle offered us some of the local cheeses, her family Crémant d’Alsace Brut – produced in Alsace region of France and their version of a chocolate and orange cake. In true Florhof style, everything was ‘quickly thrown together’, once the items reach the table, they consistently looked magnificent. For that evening the lounge area only hosted us: Hummy, Isabelle and myself. Isabelle led the conversation with ‘her Florhof story’:
Ludovic and Isabelle first met in 1992. Growing up, Isabelle, walked past Florhof ‘one of her favourite little hotels’ en-route to school. She then went on to complete her internship years at a restaurant, in Zurich, where Ludovic was chef de partie. They kept in contact for a short while after, until Isabelle left for several foreign experiences, for 16 years. They lost contact during this time; Facebook didn’t exist. In 2010, Isabelle returned to Zurich and bumped into Ludovic, where they re-established contact.
During the 16 year period, Isabelle had: completed her hotel management schooling and worked at various high-end hotel groups, while Ludo continued to serve at various gourmet restaurants. He too, had always envisaged what Florhof could be.
Four years after returning to Zurich, Isabelle was able to fulfill her life-long dream, becoming the new Directrice at Florhof!
However, the dream-team was not complete. After 18 months of Florhof activity, Isabelle was in search of a new chef. She turned to none other than chef Ludo, asking if he knew of any suitable candidates to fill the position. His response was simple: “Why don’t you ask me if I want to be your head chef?’’ … And the rest is history!
The short: the 3 star rating of Florhof should not send you looking the other way. Instead, I dare you to visit Florhof and experience its charming demeanour, uncategorizable warmth and its hidden haute status. Whether you’re in for tea or the dining experience, please give Isabelle a hug from us.
P.S. They’ll even pack in breakfast if you’re leaving very early! (Croissants, yogurt, fruit and coffee)
Photographs by Hummy and I.