By Emma Marshall
When a friend suggested meeting for brunch in Haus Hiltl, the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant in Zurich, I thought I would be eating in a small cosy room with plates full of hearty traditional Swiss Alpine fare. Food such as fondue, raclette and potato rosti (all of which I love).
I was, after all, in a city nestled in a mountainous landscape and with a glacial lake just a few minutes’ walk away.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Haus Hiltl is an impressively lavish and somewhat larger establishment than I had envisaged. Nor is it cosy or traditional and there wasn’t a whiff of fondue to be had.
But if that sounds slightly negative, believe me it’s really not. Although I enjoy savouring local specialities in small charming tavern-style eateries, the Haus Hiltl is nothing short of amazing.
The range of food on offer is impressive. It is an eclectic mix of traditional recipes and more modern gastronomic inventions, as well as local and international flavours.
The Hiltl chain of restaurants
Haus Hiltl was founded in 1898 and in one of a chain of seven Hiltl restaurants in Zurich. It is regarded as its flagship restaurant, and has been denoted the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant by the Guinness World Records. It is open every day of the year.
It also has its own books of vegetarian recipes and was rated number 3 in the Zurich Restaurant Guide 2019 and Zurich Restaurant Guide 2020.
Please note that in reviewing Haus Hiltl, I did not receive any payment or any payment in kind. All views are entirely my own
Brunch in Zurich on Sihlstrasse
For our brunch in Zurich, we visited Haus Hiltl, the flagship Silhtsrasse restaurant. It is a stone’s throw from Bahnhofstrasse (station street), the main shopping thoroughfare in Zurich. It’s also only about a ten-minute walk from the main train station.
For such a long-established business, the building’s interior is surprisingly light, airy and modern.
One side of the ground floor houses a café serving cakes and coffees.
From here you can marvel at an impressively stocked buffet area. There is a mouth-watering array of vegetarian trays laid out for diners to treat themselves to. Many of these are also vegan.
For a more fine dining experience, the establishment also houses a restaurant on the other side of the buffet and on the upper floor.
Towards the rear of the first floor, there is an area decorated in a literary style, with images of books and low level lighting. There are long tables for group dining.
There is also a club on the Sihlstrasse site. This is open until the early hours of the morning on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. You can access the club for free if you’ve spent a certain amount on food beforehand.
The food in Haus Hiltl
The choice and quality of food on offer for brunch is phenomenal. Even though it is completely meat-free, this does not limit the variety.
My meat-eating partner admitted afterwards that going all vegetarian was not something he was particularly looking forward to. But he’s since said he wants to go back the next time we’re in Zurich!
According to the Hiltl website, apparently only 20% of visitors are vegetarian – so he’s not the only one who thinks this.
Hiltl can offer a wide choice because it is really a buffet. The food is laid out in large trays for you to help yourself from.
I’ll be honest, under most circumstances, buffet food in a restaurant wouldn’t be my preference. It conjures up too many images of dried up processed school dinners for me….
But dining at Haus Hiltl is a completely different experience. Everything that I ate was delicious and it all tasted really fresh.
Preparing fresh food is something the business clearly prides itself on, along with – as highlighted in the menu – the use of local and regional products. It also states how all its wines are vegan.
And the beauty of the buffet is that you can dip in and taste so many different foods. This includes dishes that you normally wouldn’t give a go.
The dining options in Haus Hiltl
We opted for the all-you-can eat brunch buffet which is available from 9.30am until 2.30pm on Sundays.
This is 59 CHF (currently around £46, 54 euros or 60 US dollars). There is also a breakfast buffet which is available Monday to Saturday and is 39 CHF. It’s not cheap at first sight.
However, the brunch menu includes two hot drinks, unlimited fresh juices and a glass of prosecco (including a non-alcoholic prosecco option). So when you consider what you get for the price, it is really good value.
Plus, brunch in Zurich is never cheap. Zurich is not a cheap place per se to eat out in and we definitely didn’t need to splash out on anything else for the rest of the day!
Another bonus is that you can stay for several hours if you have the time.
Doing it this way means you can enjoy multiple servings, choosing a starter, main course and dessert and allow plenty of time between courses. There’s so much you’ll want to tuck into, that I wouldn’t advise rushing.
Alternatively, you can still eat from the buffet but only pay for a single serving (there are scales to weigh your plate). Or you can order individual dishes in the standard way from the main menu.
The dishes in Haus Hiltl
The food is presented in roughly divided sections in the buffet: cold salads, hot dishes (which includes breakfast type dishes), fruit and dessert, cheeses, bread and pastries, juices etc.
I started with cold salads. I filled my plate with items such as artichokes, grated carrots, green beans, and roasted Brussel sprouts. All had been marinated in wonderful herbs and spices.
I had some falafel, as well as cream cheese stuffed jalapeno peppers, with hummus, guacamole, a fresh mint cream dip and potato salad with mustard seeds.
There were probably about 20 other salad items to choose from, as well as more bite-size snacks such as samosas, battered onions, and tofu cutlets.
Fortunately, I was wise enough to stop myself overloading (I had already seen some of the things I wanted to eat for the main part of my meal!)
After eating our first serving at a relaxing pace and then taking a break, I checked out the hot food.
There was the more standard type buffet food here: eggs, vegetarian lasagne, mashed potato, cheese quiche, dauphinoise potatoes.
But there were also some more traditional Swiss specialities on offer.
This included Zuri Geschnetzeltes, a mushroom dish that I was told is usually cooked with veal or chicken. Here, the protein was provided by organic seitan, a vegan substitute made from wheat gluten.
There was also potato rosti (thank goodness – I can’t go to Zurich without having some of this!) and homemade spaetzle, a type of pasta served in (amongst other places) Switzerland and Germany.
There was also a section with curries, rice and poppadoms. I tried the palak paneer curry which was light and beautifully flavoured.
You could also try out vegetarian takes on dishes that might more commonly be made with chicken – e.g. tandoori tofu, celeriac fritters, and tofu cutlets.
For dessert, I tried a variation on tiramisu (a little strangely, it did not seem to be coffee flavoured), a small square of a nutty cake, some chia seed coconut pudding and some fresh fruit. There was also chocolate mousse, chocolate brownies, bread and butter pudding and apple crumble.
You could also supplement all of this with a cheese plate. I didn’t partake myself, despite my love of cheese – after all of this, I was beaten!
What did I like about this brunch in Zurich?
Obviously, it has to be the food. That goes without saying.
We definitely got our money’s worth and everything was utterly delicious. I felt really well fed but not bloated.
The wide choice on offer
The rich variety of food served up is really impressive. I lost count of the number of things I was able to try. You’ll certainly get your daily portions of fruit and vegetables here!
I also think that for some people it might open their eyes and make them realise that there is a wealth of non-meat dishes you can eat.
Although I don’t eat a great deal of meat myself, I rarely go to a purely vegetarian restaurant. And for some people (my partner, for example) I don’t think this type of restaurant would be top of their list when flipping through the guide book.
But in this case, that would definitely be a mistake. Having now savoured the culinary delights here, I won’t be so hasty and overlook vegetarian restaurants in the future.
The dining options
You don’t have to partake in the all-you-can-eat option. If you don’t want to eat too much, or want something a bit cheaper, you can still choose food from buffet, but pay by weight.
There are scales at the top of the stairs: you weigh your food and then keep your ticket for payment later. Each 100g of food costs 5.30 CHF.
Alternatively, you can order in the traditional way from the menu. Starters range from 9.50 to 18.50 CHF and salads are around the 25 CHF mark.
The pasta based main courses also average out at around 25 CHF. Indian and Asian dishes cost from 28.50 to 37.50 CHF.
Haus Hiltl also has a “veggie butcher” section – essentially vegetarian versions of meat-based dishes.
As you can see from this part of the menu, below, this includes burgers, meat loaf and stroganoff. The dishes average out around 32 CHF.
You can also buy takeouts from Hitlt. Alongside the plates are boxes that can be used for takeaways if you don’t have time to stop.
The little things
I also really liked that fact that Hiltl has thought carefully about its patrons’ needs.
For instance, when my friend said she wouldn’t take the prosecco as part of the deal because she doesn’t drink, Haus Hiltl were able to offer her non-alcoholic prosecco.
Now I know that there has been a recent growth in the choice of non-alcoholic drinks, but my experience is that this tends to be limited to 0% beers and some non-alcoholic gins. I rarely see an alcohol-free prosecco on a menu.
There’s also a sink and tap where you can help yourself to filtered water. No need to request this or wait for someone to bring you a jug: it’s freely available.
The fact that we were never rushed was also appreciated. We arrived just before 11am and stayed for well over three hours. But there was never a sense that we should give our table up – something that I have experienced in a lot of busy and popular eateries (as Hiltl clearly is).
This meant that we could eat a leisurely pace and sample lots of different things. And as a spot to catch-up with friends it was a perfect place to spend some relaxing time chatting.
I also loved what they’ve done for children here.
Even though the upstairs of Haus Hiltl is beautifully laid out with table cloths and wine glasses and neatly folded napkins, there is also a bucket of crayons hanging from the glass panels at the railings at the top of the stairs.
Children can use these to scrawl on the glass and enjoy themselves while their parents sit and talk or sometimes join in. This is definitely something I’ve not seen elsewhere.
Hiltl has also produced a cook book specifically for children if you want to get the little ones creating healthy vegetarian dishes from an early age.
My summary of Haus Hiltl as a venue for brunch in Zurich
In summary, I would definitely recommend this great eatery if you’re looking to have brunch in Zurich.
You shouldn’t be put off by the fact it’s vegetarian – the food here is absolutely top notch – or that on face value it seems rather pricey.
But when you include drinks, and the fact that you’re getting a three-course meal, you’re getting a really great deal, especially as Zurich goes.
All advice on travel writing says that you should never ever end an article with the words “I’ll be back”. It’s apparently too much of a cliché.
But I really can’t say anything more than this about Zurich’s Haus Hiltl. I love Zurich and will be booking my next flight back soon. And when I am back, I’ll be reserving a table at Haus Hiltl for my brunch in Zurich.
I hope to post more about Zurich in 2020.
In the meantime, if you are visiting the city and would like to experience some rest and relaxation in a spa – which gives you fantastic views over the city from its rooftop pool – see my recent post on the Thermalbad and Spa (image courtesy of Thermalbad and Spa).
If Switzerland is a place you enjoy visiting, you might find my post on a trip on the Bernina Express (a panoramic train trip through the Swiss mountains) interesting.
I have also written about reasons why Switzerland is a perfect travel on a time budget destination.
For ideas on things to do for an afternoon in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, click here. Or for my thoughts on an afternoon’s coach trip in Austria learning about the Sound of Music film, click here.