Fondue Essentials and the Best in Basel
Updated: Feb 3
Before I came to Switzerland I didn’t know much about fondue. My first cheese fondue was over a decade ago at Le Sommet restaurant at the top of the cable car to Moléson-sur-Gruyères and from that moment on I have never been the same! This article explains a bit about the different types of fondue and the best places to enjoy it in Basel.
A Short History of Fondue
Considered by many to be the national dish of our wonderful alpine nation, cheese fondue and its origins are somewhat disputed. The word fondue comes from the French fondre, meaning to melt. Legend has it that the dish originated in Switzerland in the 16th century in the midst of a fight between Protestant and Roman Catholic factions. A truce was declared after a day’s battle and the two sides shared a dish similar to today’s cheese fondue, with one side providing the bread and the other side the cheese.
Types of Fondue
When someone says fondue, the immediate assumption is cheese, right? Well fondue is more that just cheese and there are numerous versions that actually have no cheese in at all. There is also Raclette (melted cheese that is scraped), which although not technically fondue, also belongs with these hearty winter dishes. The following descriptions explain the distinctions.
Traditional Cheese Fondue: Traditional cheese fondue is a shared meal served in a small pot, or caquelon, which is warmed over a flame. Cubes of (usually day-old) bread are essential, but it is often accompanied by other side dishes such as cured meat, gherkins and pickled onions. Essential components of the fondue itself are cheese (of course!) white wine, kirsch, fresh garlic and cornflour to bind. The basic recipe is very simple, but the art of making a good fondue comes from the cheese combinations and the ratio of ingredients.
Fun Fact: Fondue etiquette is quite relaxed, however there is one important thing to remember: losing a piece of bread in the caquelon is considered a sin and there are consequences! Depending on the company you are with, you may have to buy a round of drinks, sing a song, or even run around in the snow naked!
Raclette: A centuries-old Swiss tradition, originating in Valais, raclette is cheese that is heated and then scraped off onto a side dish (usually potatoes, onions and gherkins). Traditionally, half of a cheese wheel is melted near an open fire. The next best thing (and much more convenient for the home) is a tabletop electric grill that melts a half-wheel of cheese or a raclette grill (electric or warmed with candles) with mini pans for melting individual slices. Most electric raclette grills also have an additional grill on top which can be used for sausages, bacon, other meats or vegetables.
Fondue Bourguignonne: This is a traditional dish where meat is cooked in hot oil. Despite its name, it is in fact Swiss in origin and was developed in 1948 by Georges Esenwein, owner of Café Bock in Lausanne. The dish was named Bourguignonne or Burgundian as it included Charolais meat accompanied by red wines from Burgundy. Raw meat is pre-cut into bite-sized chunks and cooked in oil heated in a stainless steel caquelon. The cooked pieces are then eaten with various sauces and side dishes.
Fondue Chinoise: This dish is considered a 'leaner' alternative to the traditional meat fondue. Instead of hot oil, meat and vegetables are cooked in bouillon or stock. After diners have cooked and eaten their desired amount of meat, the now well-flavoured broth can also be consumed as a soup, often combined with thin noodles.
Sauce is the Key! The most important part of all of the meaty winter fondues, is the sauce. Cocktail sauce, garlic sauce, tartar sauce, curry sauce, chilli sauce, herb sauce; the options are endless!
Fondue Bacchus: This is a fondue dish considered a compromise between Bourguignonne and Chinoise, in which red wine is used as the base for cooking the meat. As the name implies it is very decadent, paying tribute to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
Tatarenhut: This is a special fondue grill in the shape of a cone, said to resemble a traditional Tatar hat. Thin pieces of meat, fish or vegetables are hung on the steel prongs of the heated hat and a broth is poured into the juice channel (the ‘hat brim’) underneath. Finely sliced raw vegetables are often added to the juice channel, and this broth gets enriched with the dripping juices of the grilled food.
Fondue in Basel
Whether it’s an alpine chalet atmosphere, cruising on the Rhine or a traditional Swiss restaurant, there are an enormous range of options to choose from in Basel.
Baracca Zermatt (Binningerstrasse 14, 4051 Basel) For a piece of Zermatt right in the heart of Basel, head to the charming fondue hut Baracca Zermatt Basel. Tuck into cheese fondue, fondue chinoise and raclette in this charming fondue hut that makes you believe that the Matterhorn is right outside your chalet door. For you lovebirds out there, how about a romantic 'Chäsrühren à deux' in the love gondola (2-4 people). Be sure to book in advance as it is very popular.
Winterdorf at Sandoase (Westquaistrasse 75, 4057 Basel) In Winter, the Sandoase beach bar at Dreiländereck transforms into a magical Winterdorf. Imagine you are snowed-in somewhere high up in the Swiss mountains. Close your eyes, let yourself and your senses be beguiled by the scent of fir trees, liquid cheese and mulled wine. Choose between the rustic wood chalet, finnish kota (8-12 people) or the more intimate ski gondola (2-4 people). Winterdorf has all types of fondue including Tatar Hut, with many different side dishes and sauces.
Lodge 79 (Landauerstrasse 79, 4058 Basel) is definitely off the beaten track (located on the grounds of the Landauer dog training club), but it is absolutely worth the trip! The Lodge’s owners, two ladies in search of a new challenge away from their office chairs, enthusiastically renovated and transformed the lodge into a beautiful bijou (jewel), with an interior that transports you into a Swiss ski lodge.
Dandy Hütte - Das Viertel (Münchensteinerstrasse 81, 4052 Basel) For a trip back in time to the roaring 20’s, head to the Dandy Hütte, with its hip furnishings in the ‘dandy’ style. A pop-up restaurant of Viertel Dach, Dandy-Hütte specialises in more inventive combinations, offering a house mix with Ueli beer and champagne truffle, served with bread, pears, mushrooms, pickled butternut squash and pickled onions. If raclette is more your thing, try out the raclette house mix or ‘Dandy Style’, with numerous different cheese variations on offer – from smoked, wild herbs and pepper in port wine, to smoked bacon, sheep's cheese and truffle cheese.
Hafechäs (Uferstrasse 40, Holzpark Klybeck, 4057 Basel) How about trying something radically different and going out with a group of friends to make your own fondue! All ingredients are brought to the table and with guidance given by the staff you learn step by step how to make your own fondue. It only takes about 15 minutes and you can really enjoy your dinner after all that hard work!
Fondue under the Stars
Coop Tagungszentrum (Seminarstrasse 12-22, 4123 Muttenz) For the winter months this conference centre is transformed into a magical fondue paradise with five heated, transparent igloos that allow for a beautiful view of the night sky while you eat your dinner. You can even listen to your own playlist via the bluetooth box provided in each igloo. Each igloo seats up to 12 people.
Fondue on the Rhine
Rhystärn (Westquaistrasse 62, 4057, Basel) If you want to be Uff dem Rhyy then an evening on the Rystärn is just the ticket. Lean back, relax and enjoy stunning views of the city (particularly beautiful while illuminated at Christmas time). They have several fondue options to choose from as well as a vegetarian option with handmade dumplings from Peng Dumplings. Round the evening off with a session of ice curling on the deck.
Fondue on the Ferries
If you want to be even closer to the Rhine, enjoy a Fondue auf der Fähre on one of the Basler ferry boats - Wild Maa, Vogel Gryff or Ueli. By special arrangement with the Fährimaa you can actually rent the ferry and enjoy a river fondue ferry ride all to yourself! Each ferry is independently run, but the rental cost is generally 150chf for the first hour and 100chf for every further hour. Cheese fondue and drinks are additional. Visit the individual websites for more details.
St. Alban-Fähre (Wild Maa), https://www.wild-maa-faehri.ch
Klingental-Fähre (Vogel Gryff) https://www.vogel-gryff-faehri.ch
St Johann-Fähre (Ueli) https://www.ueli-faehri.ch
You can find fondue and other winter favourites on the menu in numerous establishments in Basel, but these are some of the traditional favourites:
Walliser Kanne (Gerbergasse 50, 4001 Basel) is a traditional Swiss restaurant which offers three different types of fondue – moité-moité (with two types of cheeses), porcini mushroom and champagne.
Brasserie Zum Braunen Mutz (Barfüsserplatz. 10, 4051 Basel) at Barfi offers no less than eight different kinds of cheese fondue. Choose from classic, tomato, herb, truffle, saffron, champagne, beer and ‘gletscherfondue’ with garlic and cherry brandy.
Löwenzorn (Gemsberg 2, 4051 Basel) offers a more romantic Hofgarten setting where gas heaters and fur throws keep you warm while you enjoy a lovely cheese fondue. For those who aren’t such a fan of winter outdoor dining, the fondue can of course also be enjoyed in their Saal inside.
Schafeck (Schafgässlein 7, 4058 Basel) also known as Das Schoofegg is one of the oldest restaurants in Basel, existing on the same site, since 1474! Their speciality is a cheese fondue using their own house mixture. A good friend of mine and local Baslerin goes here every time without fail when she is in the mood for a cheese fondue, and swears by it.
Safran Zunft (Gerbergasse11, 4001 Basel) has a different take on meat fondue and here you can to sample their famous Fondue Bacchus. Enjoy beef and veal with chips and various sauces. Must be reserved 24 hours in advance.
If you are vegan or on a dairy-free diet, there are a number of places that offer vegan fondue. Tibits (various locations) offers a tasty plant-based vegan fondue from the New Roots creamery. The fondue, which is made from a cashew base, tastes cheesy and is served with bread, vegetables and pears. Pre-booking is required. Alongside its many regular cheese options, Winterdorf also offers a vegan option, as does Fondue am Fluss.
Cheese Fondue For One
Most of the time cheese fondue is offered 'ab zwei Personen'. So what do you do when you are by yourself and still want to enjoy a fondue? You will be happy to hear that there are a few places in Basel where you can take yourself on a cheese-filled date!
Fondue am Fluss (Rheingasse 2, 4058 Basel) offers an individual portion with bread and potatoes, and at Rhyschänzli (Lichtstrasse 9, 4056 Basel) you can also enjoy a fondue menu for one, which includes a mixed green salad and dried meats. Café und Unverpackt (Neuweilerstrasse 2a, 4123 Allschwil) in Allschwil also has individual portions and everyone gets their own super cute caquelon with a set menu, including bread, nibbles, dessert and a hot drink (available only on selected Fridays and Saturdays in November and December).
Fondue at Home
If you are looking for a casual evening at home and want to make your own, there are numerous options of pre-shredded cheese available in all the supermarkets. For a more specialised selection of cheese make sure to try some of these establishments:
Wirth’s Huus - Colmarerstrasse 10, 4055 Basel
Glausi’s Käsespezialitäten - Spalenberg 12, 4051 Basel
Milchhüsli Beider Basel - Baslerstrasse 12, 4123 Allschwil
I hope that you enjoy exploring some of these options as much as I enjoyed doing my research for this article! En Guete!
Alison Waterfield is a Brit who has been in the Basel area for over a decade. She currently resides in Oberwil, where she enjoys having countryside on her doorstep as well as town being only a short tram ride away. She loves cooking, baking and anything food-related and is a beginner food stylist and photographer. She enjoys being in nature and relaxing doing anything wellness-related, as well as engaging in creative activities such as abstract and fluid art and crochet.