EYES rolling back, my core temperature rises and I feel a waxy sweat prickle my forehead. I loosen another notch on my belt and spear my bread-laden fork back into the bubbling cheesy goo. It’s my first fondue of the season and it will not defeat me. As the latest meme trend goes: yeah, skiing is cool, but have you ever had the cheese sweats from a gallon of fondue?
Forget fresh powder slopes, adrenaline-fuelled moguls or heli-skiing down the glaciers, for me ski holidays are 70 per cent about the après and 30 per cent about the skiing.
It was my first visit to the French Alps about ten years ago that unleashed a relentless obsession with cheese-related dishes. It seems I’m not the only one: fondue and its sexy counterparts, the fancy machine-grilled raclette and the 8,000-calorie tartiflette, have made a massive comeback in recent years. Once found only on the slopes or at a 1970s dinner party, alpine cuisine is now leaving a great big greasy footprint on London’s gastronomic map.
Innovative pop-up and self-proclaimed ‘Alpine artisans’ the Raclette Brothers opened Alpes (alpes.london), their first permanent restaurant, in Pop Brixton last spring, while the White Haus (thewhitehaus.co.uk) is a new ski-themed bar and restaurant in Farringdon. Decked out like a Val d’Isère ski lodge with timber walls, vintage skis and a retro ski-lift photo booth, it knocks out fabulous fondue, tartiflette and vin chaud for that true alpine experience.
There are, of course, rules when it comes to eating fondue. Double dipping is highly frowned upon and if you drop your bread into the bubbling cheese, you must down a shot of kirsch. It’s also not the done thing to stab your dining companions with the fork when fighting for the crusty bits off the bottom of the pot.
Of course, there’s only one way to cut through the richness of such a heavy, lactose-laden dish and that’s with a traditional digestif like Jägermeister — commonly imbibed as Jägerbombs — the kingpin of après-ski. While I admit I’m an unremarkable skier on the slopes, I will always, always throw myself down the black run of après. Which is how I found myself last year on a cowhide-covered dentist’s chair, ski boots and all, having Jägermeister poured directly into my mouth.
Although I didn’t master skis until my early thirties, my dedicated bar training for nigh on two decades prior meant I was a dab hand at the old après-ski from the outset. And whether it’s tabletop dancing with steins of 1664 or cosying up in a snow-draped mountain refuge with a bubbling crock of cheese, I’d say that what happens off the slopes is the true highlight of a ski holiday.