A Guide To Strasbourg

Strasbourg is a beautiful town in which to wander in the summer, with its waterways circling and punctuating the centre of the old town.

The River Ill and its canals, locks and barrages provide the sight and sound of running water which soothes and delights. The old half-timbered, jettied and korbelled houses and narrow pedestrian streets dating from the 1500s are a charming reminder of the past and pots of colourful flowers are everywhere. The weather was warm to mild and sunny interspersed with regular downpours, but assuming you carry a brolly, that’s OK. I’m sure it’s fearfully cold in winter, however.

If you are driving, stay out of the old town: you will rapidly get horribly lost as the place is mostly one-way streets, pedestrian-only areas and there are no straight lines. The city is clean and neat, with a friendly atmosphere, and I’m not surprised it was named France’s most liveable city not long ago. I was rather surprised that the hotels systematically double their tariffs while the European Parliament is sitting, though. What can you do but shrug in true Gallic style and put it down to the laws of supply and demand.

Strasbourg is not famous for its gastronomy, however. Perhaps it’s the proximity to Germany, where meat and sausages, potatoes, sauerkraut and schnitzel are ubiquitous – and the fact that, like all of Alsace, it was German territory up to the end of World War 1.

I sought out what seemed to be the town’s best eatery for my last night in Europe: Chez Yvonne, in the pretty Rue du Sanglier. It has a decent Alsace wine list and the food was excellent, while the atmosphere was outstanding. It’s in a very old, cosy, timber-panelled building, very much in keeping with the fairytale ambience of old Strasbourg.

The great food and wine, the sense of occasion and atmosphere were sadly let down by the staff, who were a bunch of giggling schoolgirls with no idea about how to behave, let alone serve, in a top restaurant. They knew nothing about the wines or the food, or the chef for that matter, and seemed to think any interest from a diner in such matters peculiar. On top of that, they were rude and curt, and treated one prospective diner who wanted to see the menu disgracefully. He’s guaranteed to give Chez Yvonne a bad rap without even eating there.

The stand-out dish was a small, one-plate degustation of foie gras. It was served five ways: the customary slice of demi-cuit was excellent; then followed tastes of smoked foie gras, delicately spiced foie gras, foie gras crème brulée and a foie gras macaron. Toasts on the side, and a glass of chilled, off-dry Barmes Buecher (tastings) Gewurztraminer 2011 proved the perfect match.

A more conventional smoked salmon entrée was straightforward but faultless, and my main course of pike-perch on sauerkraut with steamed potatoes and a creamy sauce was excellent, as was hers, of poached chicken with spaetzle and mushrooms.

Unhappily I have to report that most times I ordered wine by the glass in France and Germany this trip, the wine was stale, and I had to ask for a fresh bottle (on the plus side, they usually opened one without complaint). Chez Yvonne was an exception: we had a sparkling Crémant d’Alsace by Roland Schmitt, a pinot blanc from Kientzler (tastings), and a Muscat d’Alsace by Vincent Stoeffler which were not only fresh, but excellent wines. And great with the food.

We also drank a half-bottle of Domaine Weinbach Clos des Capucins Pinot Noir 2012, which was one of two eye-opening Alsace pinot noir experiences. The other will be the topic of a future post. Yes, excellent Alsace pinot noir may be rare, but it’s no longer a tautology.

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