Chalet Swiss Mini

Chalet Swiss Mini

Melt into a rustic fondue in Nishi-Nippori


Originally published on on February 2010

Photo by Keigo Moriyama

This might not be the coldest February on record, but it’s still chilly enough to seek out the warming embrace of a hot pot of fondue. And we recently found the perfect spot. Chalet Swiss Mini, set between Nippori and Nishi-Nippori stations and surrounded by shrines, a graveyard, pachinko parlors and love hotels, is a log cabin that houses a language school, shop and café.

The chalet was hand-built by its Swiss owner with timber imported from Finland, and decorated with wooden knickknacks, metal ornaments, postcards, Swiss flags, doilies and a cow-shaped clock that moos on the hour. The shop sells trinkets, teas and tableware, while jaunty accordion music trickles gently from the speakers. The café’s opening hours are far from sociable and, to ensure the freshness of the ingredients, fondue and other similar dishes like raclette are only available with an advance reservation of two days. Turn up unannounced and you’ll be handed just the sandwich menu. You have been warned.

We hadn’t been warned, and turned up unannounced, but a bit of gentle persuasion resulted in a bubbling earthenware pot of fondue, made with three cheeses—Emmental, Gruyere and brie—and white wine. This is usually served as a set with salad, dessert and tea or coffee at ¥3,500, though for some reason ours was more minimal and came in at half the price; a stronger Appenzell cheese fondue set is ¥4,000, and a Bourguignon meat fondue meal with three sauces is ¥4,800. Raclette with potatoes, meanwhile, chimes in at ¥3,800.

Our fondue was served with a basket of small bread cubes, which we ate according to the owner’s advice: grind some pepper onto a plate, spear a piece of bread with the hard crust on the outside, and stir it around the edge inside the cauldron of cheese. A final dip in the pepper, and down it goes.

The flavor was 100 percent authentic—just as good as the fondue we’ve eaten around Switzerland. Though a lack of side dishes made for a less-than-filling meal, the strong flavor and creamy texture were worth every penny, and the crispy layer of la religieuse—toasted cheese—scraped from the bottom of the finished pot by the chef was a delight unto itself.

Photo by Keigo Moriyama

The drinks menu features a large assortment of herbal teas, fruit juices and bottled beers, priced from ¥500. We had the sweet, hot spiced wine, served by the glass at ¥1,000, or ¥1,350 if accompanied by a minimal “set”: three thin sticks of garlic bread, a few potato chips and a slice each of mild camembert and crumbly monk’s head cheeses.

As the only customers on this frosty Tuesday night, we were asked for last orders 10 minutes before the advertised time and 40 minutes before closing. Since chocolate fondue (¥1,800) is also available only by advance order, we instead had the banana tart (¥350), a firm, chewy cake topped with crisp crumble and a heavy dose of icing sugar. We also took home a fluffy wholemeal baguette (¥360). Next time, we’ll call ahead for that raclette and chocolate fondue—hopefully, while it’s still cold out.