Eating out in Geneva restaurants is part of the fabric of the city and for local office workers and businesspeople a long lunch in a local restaurant is an essential part of their working day, forging fruitful partnerships over a filet de perch and a glass of local chasselas. Given the amount of money swirling around the shores of Lake Geneva, this isn’t a city with a dearth of high-end restaurants, and at the five-star hotels, such as the Four Seasons restaurant Izumi, you’ll find haute-cuisine of all flavours. Those with less fulsome budgets are better catered for in the Old Town where modern Swiss and European food is easy to come by and usually good quality. Likewise in Carouge, Geneva’s pretty Italianate suburb which is packed with classy restaurants like Café des Négociants and bars and sees fewer tourists than the Old Town. While little in Geneva is cheap, the city’s recent predilection for food trucks and burger joints means there are more budget options than ever.
Right in the middle of the Old Town next to the Town Hall, this café-restaurant seems to have a rather mythical status in Geneva thanks to its long history (it opened in 1808) and its status as the café of choice for Swiss politicians throughout the ages. But this isn’t a fusty, old-fashioned kind of place. Since its renovation and reopening in 2005 under the baton of two dynamic local chefs, Papon has complemented its historical roots – evident in the beautiful stone cellar in which it is located – with modern Swiss flair. The menus draw on local, seasonal produce and change every couple of weeks. A well-priced set menu of the day draws in local office workers, as does the quiet and sunny outdoor terrace which leads on to the leafy promenade overlooking pretty Bastions park. Book ahead to get a seat outside in summer.
Getting a decent, cheap meal in Geneva that’s not a salami and gherkin sandwich is difficult to come by, but this eternally popular place ticks that particular box with a pleasing simplicity. Chez Ma Cousine takes one rather tasty thing – spit-roasted chicken – and serves you half the bird with Provençal potatoes, dressed salad and a delicious gravy, for one extremely reasonable price. Salads and other variations also feature on the limited menu, but it’s essentially all chicken-based. It may not be the most imaginative of lunch options but if you want a satisfying meal on a budget in a pretty part of the Old Town then you can’t go wrong here. It’s not possible to book, so turn up out of peak times for a table – particularly if you’d like to sit outside. This, the original Cousine, has spawned two other cousins in St-Gervais and Petit-Saconnex.
You won’t find overloaded patties at this American-style burger joint in the Pâquis. The boys behind this recent addition to Geneva’s increasingly large burger scene like to keep things simple. There are just three options on the menu – hamburger, cheeseburger and bacon cheeseburger – and the focus is on the meat – juicy, succulent and cooked medium rare, unless you specify otherwise. A bit of ketchup, lettuce, tomato and pickles, with fries and coleslaw on the side, and that’s your lot – a burger, straight up. While it’s a contrast to the more elaborate approach of other burger restaurants in town, Hamburger Foundation’s focus on quality and taste is a wise move and keeps punters who know their patties coming back. Testament to its success is the fact that it actually started life as a roving food truck which still touts its burgers around town (locations change daily – see the website for details) before demand led to this permanent outlet which, pleasingly, has a satisfyingly-stocked bar.
There’s a buzz about this street corner in the Quartier des Bains, just down the road from busy Plainpalais, and Le Reservoir brings its own sophisticated contribution to the party. Attached to the Café de la Presse and under the same ownership, this smart brasserie and wine bar offers a menu of Mediterranean cuisine with an Italian bias. Tuck into melon and parma ham, tagliolini nero vongole and asparagus risotto, or fish and meat dishes with local flavour, such as fish from Lake Geneva and beef tartar. For dessert, dishes featuring local Gruyère cream crop up alongside Italian classics. Tables spill out of the modern, minimalist dining room on to a terrace the length of the building, while the attached wine bar works well for an informal night of tapas and Swiss wines. Unfortunately Le Reservoir doesn’t win any points for service and it’s a little overpriced, but the food hits the mark on the whole.
There’s not much not to love about Carouge, and this bistro established by Swiss celebrity chef Philippe Chevrier fits right in. Occupying a beautiful old building on the corner of one the area’s Italianate streets, its classy interior – with exposed stone window frames, wood floors and retro posters on the walls – and canopied, foliage-hemmed terrace provide a relaxed yet upmarket environment in which to dine. From frogs legs and snails to veal and venison filet, the stylishly presented dishes are influenced by France but draw on top quality Swiss seasonal produce. It’s not cheap, but you get a lot more for your money here than other similarly-priced restaurants about town, and a good value three-course daily menu puts it in reach of most of us. Downstairs there’s a cellar room where you can eat amid the bottles of grand cru and make your wine selection from those in front of you.
One of this bar-restaurant’s owners is from a family of contemporary art collectors, so it’s little wonder there’s a funky, modern edge to the decor of this renovated old café in the equally arty Bains neighbourhood. Creativity is evident in the food, too, which changes with the seasons and takes inspiration from all over the world to create dishes that are varied in flavour and colourful in presentation. That could mean a fish dish with ginger, pak choi and confit tomatoes, for example, or a Kashmiri chicken curry with mango chutney and raita. Pleasingly, there’s plenty of Swissness in the dessert menu, which includes a scrumptious meringue with raspberries and double cream, and rösti pops up from time to time on the mid-priced two-course daily set menu. In addition to the main restaurant space, the attached bar is an informal, youthful affair frequented by those after coffee and free wi-fi or a casual apéro with friends.
The newest restaurant from the luxury Four Seasons Hotel is this Japanese-fusion affair from the Nobu stable, and it’s a welcome addition to a country that isn’t exactly awash with quality Japanese food. Drawing on Nikkei cuisine, a selection of beautifully prepared sashimi, tuna tartar and tempura gives way to larger fusion dishes such as lobster and foie gras kadaifi with terriyaki and truffle, and a gorgeous black cod miso zuke, followed by a chocolate bento box with matcha ice cream. It’s an intimate, cosy kind of place, so in winter it’s best to book early to secure one of the few tables indoors. However the real draw – apart from the food – is the serene rooftop terrace that looks out on to Lake Geneva and the jet d’eau.
There can be fewer better spots in Geneva for getting the measure of the city than here. A bit of an institution, everyone knows Brasserie Lipp, a pocket of Paris tucked incongruously in a commercial centre on Geneva’s main shopping drag, and every kind of Genevois comes here. Its team of abruptly efficient waiters dressed in classic black and white know how to deal quickly with the hordes that descend on the large dining room for lunch or dinner every day. The vast menu focuses both on French brasserie classics and Swiss specialities, including choucroute, confit duck, cassoulet, steaks, moules frites and other seafood dishes. It’s consumed in a traditional Parisian setting – all chandeliers, brass fittings, ornate mirrors and ersatz foliage – while in summer the large outdoor terrace is an additional draw. If you’re at a loss as to where to eat in Geneva, Brasserie Lipp is a solid choice at any time – it’s open seven days a week til late.
This café-restaurant is part of Geneva’s Bains des Paquis, a 1930s-era public swimming baths and spa on Lake Geneva’s right bank. As such, it’s a great place to hang out in the sun right next to the lake, whether for coffee, drinks or a light bite. Open year round, it’s as popular in summer for breakfast on the spacious outdoor terrace as it is for a hearty fondue in the heated cabin in winter – and it attracts all types, from bankers to beach bums, self-employed to unemployed. The menu of salads, soups and charcuterie is simple and pretty cheap and there’s a set-price dish of the day. Mostly though, you come here for the laid-back atmosphere, the people-watching, the view of the lake and the opportunity to take a dip if you fancy it – even in winter.
The main reason to visit this rather slick bar is, as you might guess, its rooftop. Above a commercial building on Geneva’s posh Rue du Rhône (taking the lift up from the lobby feels like you’re going to a business meeting rather than embarking on a night out), this bar’s outdoor terrace sports a fantastic view over the city, lake and jet d’eau. Inside, it’s less remarkable – the contemporary decor is smart but characterless, but it attracts a steady stream of Geneva’s work-hard, party harder set nonetheless. They come for decent cocktails, a varied food menu (burgers, sushi and much in between) and regular DJ sets that continue into the small hours.