LUX check in to a spectacularly remastered resort hotel on the edge of Zurich, with a rich rock music history and a deliciously gastronomic and partying present
Sometimes first impressions are wrong. I arrived at the FIVE hotel and resort in Zurich, and walked into the brightly lit, modernist lobby with brown pillars and a wooden island of sofas and magazines in the middle of its white floor, with young black clad staff behind the desk. I sensed I had arrived at a US-style designer hotel, where cool matters more than function, and staff are more interested in their next screen test or modelling job than guests.
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But this is Switzerland, not LA, and I was wrong – in the best possible way. The reception staff were young and informal, but also highly efficient, trained and motivated. That extended to everyone, from the spa receptionist to the bar staff and brilliant teams in the restaurants, who were swift, helpful, chatty, and remembered requests and ideas the next day, without being formal or tiring.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The FIVE is a new iteration of a historic hotel, in 20th century terms anyway, the Atlantis, which hosted most of the 20th century’s major names in pop and rock. Behind the Reception desk is a tribute in the form of album covers: ABBA, Grace Jones, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson.
The latest reimagination of this hotel, on a hillside on the very edge of Zurich (to one side there is deep woodland, with the city starting below a public park on the other side) blends funky, contemporary vibes with a thick dash of 70s and 80s nostalgia.
Our room had a huge view over the city, to the lake on one side, and forested hills beyond. The hotel brands itself as the hottest hotel and nightlife destination in Zurich, which could be a mixed blessing; thankfully some bass thumping from a rooftop party, during the day on the Sunday we arrived, stopped in the early evening and never reoccurred. There was a small balcony, a huge bed, more than 2 metres across, a big contemporary bathroom and a generally very relaxed vibe – there is not a car or street sound to be heard at the FIVE.
One of the hotel’s showcases is its outdoor pool, 25 metres long with a huge jacuzzi to match; apparently there is quite a party scene there every weekend, but unusually rainy weather for the duration of our stay meant we couldn’t experience it. There is a chic indoor pool, with a water feature outside the picture window the lines it, and a smaller jacuzzi.
An undoubted, and slightly unexpected, highlight, of the FIVE is its cuisine. There are four restaurants, most of them situated on a single mezzanine floor with a picture window view across the city and a vast terrace outside. Inside, the decor for each is quite different even though they are effectively in one big open plan space; outside the huge terrace area was sadly out of bounds during the rainstorms of our visit.
I tried the Chinese restaurant, Maiden Shanghai, on my first night,. The decor was a bit bright – Chinese restaurants should be dark, but this is the same place they serve breakfast, and dual-use always leads to compromises. I was a little sceptical about Chinese food on the edge of Zurich but – wow. The hot and sour chicken soup was vivid, vibrating with flavour, no glutinousness, the chicken pure, the spicing zingy. Over many years of travelling Hong Kong and neighbouring provinces of China, this is possibly the best example of this soup I have tasted – perhaps a bit Europeanised in terms of leanness and no fat, but brilliant.
The “hand folded mushroom dim sum” had a sweetness to its parcel, and an intensity and umami to its fungi, that again suggested a detail and quality freak was in charge of the kitchen. Meanwhile the quality of ingredients in the sea bass broth main course, including the fleshy and firm fish and wonderful trumpet mushrooms, was superb, as was the flavouring, but there was a layer of oil (perhaps from the fish itself) that slightly marred the purity.
On my second night, over to the Vault Wine Bar, just a few metres along the same floor, which has better (darker) lighting and comfortable armchair seating. From the iPad based menu I chose a minestrone, an “insalata” (salad) and the grilled baby chicken main course, Straightforward comfort food to accompany some cocktails, or so I thought, The minestrone was a light, intense tomato broth into which there had been infused some beautifully diced and cooked vegetables: once again, the flavour was beautiful, intense. The “insalata” could have been a standard mixed salad, again, the quality of ingredients – avocado of wondrous flavour, herbs from a nearby hillside, black Italian tomatoes and a splash of balsamic vinaigrette – made it superb. The chicken was as good as the poulet de bresse in a three Michelin starred restaurant I visited recently.
FIVE Zurich is a rare place, where the food far exceeds the expectations set by the descriptions on the menus.
My bar meal was accompanied by some Moscow Mules with intense fresh ginger, served in the correct copper mug, and highly flavoursome limes. It’s as if no average ingredient can make it through the door of the FIVE.
All of this, and FIVE is on the edge of one of Europe’s premier art cities (and Zurich also has an excellent array of bars and clubs); a 20 minute Uber from the centre of town (it’s too far to walk), yet on the edge of a forest. You could go during a business trip or for a holiday – and my superb experience even excluded all the extensive outdoor areas because of the weather. Quite special.
Find out more: zurich.fivehotelsandresorts.com