In one of the oldest, stunningly facade-painted farm houses in the Engadine valley Talvo by Dalsass offers the most consistent fine meal in the summer and winter around St Moritz. Only a five minute drive from St Moritz in a quaint village of Champfér, the family restaurant creates pleasure with Mediterranean pure olive oil to emphasise the highest quality of the ingredients sourced locally like lake fish, game, and globally, like seafood. The signature Atlantic turbot in two servings is always on the menu or occasionally wagyu beef. Italian olives, tomatoes, a wide changing variety of olive oils, herbs, fish and seafood all flown daily from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic ocean. Using between 10-12 varieties of annually harvested extra virgin olive oil distinguishes Martin Dalsass’s food in the mountains the most from other restaurants in the Swiss Alps.
We dined on countless snowy occasions in this 1658-built “chesa” as they call a chalet in Romantch, the ancient local language still in use in the Engadine. This was our first summer in the blooming Alpine valley, and after learning that most gastronomic restaurants are closed past the winter season, we returned twice within the sun-filled week to Talvo by Dalsass. The menu constantly changes slightly, yet the core and the signature plates remain the same. If you seek familiar, reliable flavours this is your realm. Based on protein-centric plates in tune with the season, luxurious truffles, game and fish rotate on the generously sized and Swiss mountain priced menu.
The perhaps hardest trying service in the Engadine is overseen by the caring chef Martin Dalsass conducting the synchrony between the dining room and his son Andrea in the kitchen. The South Tyrolean chef took over Talvo in 2011. Greeting you and with a genuine smile, he also receives your thanks before you shut the massive wooden door of this splendidly renovated farmhouse. A fine meal to be dressed for accordingly smart.
Fine French culinary techniques in Italy meets Alpine cuisine at Talvo by Dalsass yielded fast a Michelin star. As you sit to one of the tables decorated with a colorful sculpture of a cow, a board of homemade salami lands with your aperitif, a superb green olive oil (sign of freshness), grissini, plum red tomatoes and matching theirs size — green olives land at your table with compliments from the chef. Further, a generous bread basket with my beloved ultra thin-crisp Sardinian Pane Carasau, focaccia, and varied bread buns entertain you until your starters arrive. Meanwhile, the kitchen sends a treat of a cream soup (carrot, pumpkin, celeriac, topinambur velouté, …), plus a veal or fish tartar, a game terrine or other complimentary amouse-bouche.
The wine list spans the greats and more affordable producers from Italy, Switzerland and France, but also the Americas. One day a glass of the Washington State Riesling or California Chardonnay may colour up the Euro-centric table. We often order a bottle of Graubunden Swiss Pinot like Monolith by Obrecht with some age on it or other local reds like from the highly prized Gantenbein. On the lean side, the complex, Southern Italian Biodynamic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo by the ladies at Emidio Pepe, occasionally a “super Tuscan” Sassicaia or reasonably priced Bordeaux accompany our meal in winter.
As the St Moritz has been for over a century drawing in wealthy jet setters, the customer-base is very international. One winter, three Japanese ladies sniffed in a nirvana-like gasps the dining room intoxicating truffles. When in season, next to the superb al-dente risotto and pasta, the aromatic fungi can be shaved on any dish with a “*” for an extra charge. As the waiter piped out grappa from a large glass container into the visitors’ schnapps flutes their smartphones were snapping as if they were in a ski race.
During her appearance at the annual St Moritz Gourmet Festival two years ago, ANA ROŠ, the self-taught Slovenian chef, a former skier turned overnight a celebrity chef though the Netflix Chef’s Table series, contemplated over the excellent flavours at Talvo. Notably, the Talvo’s food was so much more satisfying and more harmonious than her nose-to-tail locavorism we, unimpressed, dined on the previous night.
The Gault Millau 18 Points for a quarter of a century nod to Talvo’s highest quality of ingredients and execution in the Engadine, that Martin Dalsass also consistently achieved in his previous restaurant Santabbondio in Sorengo.
Still, vegetables, even on the summer menu, remain sadly in the background. The old school French fine dining focus on animal protein and “luxury” ingredients such as truffles, girolles, beef, veal and turbot are supposed to intrigue, yet if you dine out often, more humble ingredients prepared perfectly is all we crave. To the the chef’s credit though, each time I requested a meat- and fish-free starter, something utterly delectable came out from the kitchen. In summer, sautéed chanterelles, so generous in their reduced wine sauce that I devoured three slices of bread with the treat. In winter, I landed a Crispy artichoke, poached egg, topinambur topped with black truffles. A superb, dairy-free risotto, so wonderful left me wondering why one cannot just skip the cow’s milk for good? The trick is that the chef uses often the savory veal jus reduction for his base sauces. I had also his decadent, normal cream, cheese, butter and white truffle version in winter, but I found his lactose-and daity-free version more elegant.
Herbed gnocchi may have truffles and crispy artichoke coating or as potato-free, doughy smooth Pumpkin gnocchi filled with Taleggio cheese in winter, while summer ushers lighter seafood like shelled prawns to accompany the pea-green buns. The signature Orecchiette though never change. These tiny pasta shells are served with sautéed shelled clams and thin noodles made of calamari. An intensely sea-salty dish that some sensitive palates may find too seasoned, but this is how the Mediterranean tastes if you have ever dipped in and slurped a bit of it.
Another signature starter at Talvo by Dalsass is the Lobster with granny smith apple sauce always delicately prepared. I love the meaty-texture of the octopus tentacles in the form of Octopus, fennel, pickled onion, sprouts at Talvo by Dalsass.
Some of the menu’s stalwarts like tooth fish from Chile, Turbot from the Atlantic and steak are not Mediterranean staples. On their website, the chef’s approach is illuminated: “dishes are created like spontaneous, sensual paintings in his head. He also wants to feel the genuine power of nature in his culinary creations.” The elegantly grilled Turbot or whole-roasted Guinea fowl in two servings are the highlights of his pure, no frills focused cuisine.
Still, the main courses are not tiny and a light fare. With an abundant the mountain activities, the appetite rises so leaving the restaurant sated is desirable. A trio of lake fish or Veal with foraged chanterelles and vegetables on the summer menu recently was a perfect refill after half day hiking. In hunting season, local Saddle of baby deer with pine nut crust and cranberries or Rack of beef either served with a side of mashed potatoes hit the carnivorous tooth rewardingly at Talvo.
Olive oil chocolate mousse is the signature dessert, yet the occasionally added sweet free cakes (like banana & chocolate, lemon tart), fruit jellies, and staple frozen ice cream stones, physalis dipped in chocolate and chunks of flavoured white, milk and dark chocolates (custom-made by the Swiss chocolatier Läderlach with a branch in St Moritz) fix the sweet finale and balance the high prices of the a la carte dishes. The cheese trolley is excellent too, and your choice is served with boiled potatoes in their skins, fruit and nut bread, jams and fruit.
Across two floors, the open plan central dining space, split into about six tables in each offers plenty of distance. A large private room hosts closed circle celebrations, in the Covid times, a welcome amenity. What we love about Talvo by Dalsass that a caring family business can still thrive even in the glitzy area of Switzerland such as St Moritz, and with every meal from at least two dozen being superb, we will always be back.
+41 81 833 44 55