A recent day trip to La Chaux-de-Fonds for Festin Neuchâtelois led me to discover one of its hidden gems, a must-see destination for when you visit this Swiss city.
Known for its watchmaking history, La Chaux-de-Fonds—the largest city in the canton of Neuchâtel (pop. 38,955)—was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. I had visited the city several times before, but had never been to the Ancien Manège—a building whose magnificent interior courtyard belies its understated exterior.
The Ancien Manège is also home to Mö Restaurant, one of 12 sites throughout the canton that hosted the fifth edition of Festin Neuchâtelois, a massive feast of local culinary specialties that had nearly 850 participants on March 12, 2017.
Mö Restaurant and the Ancien Manège
For the first time, Mö Restaurant in La Chaux-de-Fonds served as a site for Festin Neuchâtelois. Owner Johanna Florey, who also has restaurants in Neuchâtel and Biel/Bienne, teamed up with Chef Michel Stangl of the Hôtel de Commune de Dombresson. Together, they prepared a 5-course meal, with multiple dishes served at each stage. In all, I spent about 4.5 hours at the restaurant, taking advantage of one exceptional dish after another.
Ms. Florey opened her restaurant in January 2015 in the Ancien Manège, conveniently located within a 10-minute walk from La Chaux-de-Fond’s main train station and near three of the city’s landmark museums—Musée des Beaux-Arts, Musée International d’Horlogerie and Musée d’Histoire.
With a name like “Mö” (pronounced like a cow’s “moo”), it’s not hard to make the connection to the restaurant’s focus on beef. The menu features hamburgers, like the “Burger BIG MÖ,” made with Raclette cheese, a fried egg and bacon, or the “Burger DE LUXE,” with foie gras and fig chutney. You’ll also find beef tartare, steaks and meat fondues, such as Chinoise (broth) and Bacchus (red wine), along with a few vegetarian options, like Macaroni d’Alpage (cheese, potatoes, onions and cream).
And, you cannot talk about Mö Restaurant in La Chaux-de-Fonds without mentioning its incredible location, the Ancien Manège. Opened in 1857 as a riding school, its condition and use has changed over the years. While it did not remain a riding school for many years, the name has stuck. Today, it is known for its beautiful courtyard adorned with colorful murals. Along with the restaurant, there is also residential and office space, as well as a child care center.
During the meal, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Laurent Duvanel, the president of the association that manages the Ancien Manège. He told me about the history of this special building, which was completely renovated in 1983 after a period in which it was almost razed due to its derelict condition and the need for extra parking in the neighborhood. Over the years, Mr. Duvanel told me this building has had its “ups and downs,” but it’s almost fully occupied these days. In addition, he had very positive things to say about his tenant, Ms. Florey and Mö Restaurant, which he said is drawing in a new, younger clientele to the Ancien Manège.
Festin Neuchâtelois – The Menu
The menu for Festin Neuchâtelois highlights local foods from the canton, and each restaurant uses these traditional ingredients and puts their own spin on these classic dishes. I attended this feast several years ago, and the menu at Mö Restaurant, in collaboration with Chef Michel Stangl of the Hôtel de Commune de Dombresson, resembled the dishes I had before, but many had different interpretations. The platters of food were served family style, with wine provided by Boris Keller. Here’s the tremendous menu that was prepared for us that day (cost: CHF 80 per person, not including beverages):
Absinthe à l’Azote, Non filtré, Moût et bricelets salés
Absinthe with liquid nitrogen, Non-filtered white wine, grape juice and savory crackers
FIRST COURSE – ENTRÉES FROIDES
Bondelles du lac fumées au raifort
Smoked bondelle (a local freshwater fish) with horseradish
Mousse de chèvre frais du Val-de-Ruz
Fresh goat cheese mousse from Val-de-Ruz
Confit de canard de la plaine d’Areuse, Œufs de caille des Vieux Prés
Duck confit of the Areuse plain, quail eggs of the Vieux Prés
Gelée de pieds et jarrets de veau à la lie d’Auvernier
Jelly of veal shanks and feet of Auvernier
Salades et garnitures hivernales
Winter lettuces and garnishes
SECOND COURSE – ENTRÉES CHAUDES
Bouillon de bœuf corsé, os à moelle
Full-bodied beef broth, bone marrow
Palée du lac au vin blanc, Quiche au lard et poireaux
Palée (a local lake fish) with white wine, Quiche with bacon and leeks
Saucisson IGP et haricots secs
Neuchatel sausage (Protected Geographical Indication) with dried green beans
MAIN DISHES – PLATS PRINCIPAUX
Pot-au-Feu, légumes de cuisson, Rôti d’agneau du Pays
Pot-au-Feu, cooked vegetables, roasted lamb of the countryside
Blanquette de veau à l’ancienne,Tripes à la vinaigrette
Blanquette of veal in the old style (in a white sauce), tripe with vinaigrette dressing
Potée de céréales et lentilles de la plaine d’Areuse
Hotpot of lentils and grains from the Areuse plain
CHEESE COURSE – ASSORTIMENTS DE FROMAGES
Joux de Plâne, Montagnard, Vieux Gruyère, Bleuchâtel, Reblochaux
Crème bachique au non-filtré, Parfait glacé à l’Absinthe, Cornets à la crème double,
et Gâteau au chocolat Suchard
Crème bachique with non-filtered wine, absinthe ice cream, double cream cones,
and Suchard chocolate cake
If I had to pick my favorites? It would be the smoked bondelle and trout from the first course with the fresh, creamy cheese and crisp radishes. The “Blanquette” of veal in a white sauce with morels, a dish I had for the first time, was such delicious comfort food. I think tripe may be an acquired taste, but I finally tried it, and the flavorful vinaigrette with fresh herbs and homemade mayonnaise certainly helped. I loved everything about the cheese course, and the desserts were wonderful too, and particularly the frozen absinthe parfait. I also tried some classic Neuchâtel wines from Boris Keller, including Non-Filtré (white) and Œil-de-Perdrix (rosé), as well as the Libertin (red, an assemblage of Cabernet and Merlot)—all were very good and paired nicely with the various courses.
You need patience and perseverance to get through a meal like this, and an empty stomach. I definitely recommend skipping breakfast! Honestly though, the time passed rather quickly because I had a lovely group of people to talk with at my table, and platter after platter of delicious food to try. Also, the service at Mö Restaurant was great—Joanna Florey and her staff were very helpful and friendly. The jovial Chef Stangl came around to our table several times to check on us and to answer our questions about the food.
If you’re unfamiliar with Neuchâtel’s culinary specialties, or if these dishes are some of your favorites, Festin Neuchâtelois is a great way to taste many of the most traditional dishes from the canton, all in one spectacular meal.
For more information:
- Mö Restaurant Bar, Rue du Manège 19, CH-2300 La Chaux-de-Fonds
- Festin Neuchâtelois – Save the Date! March 11, 2018
- L’Ancien Menage
Please note: I attended Festin Neuchâtelois as a guest of GastroNeuchâtel in order to provide an honest review, and the thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are purely my own.