Geneva 2019 Reflections – A Culinary Perspective

Your faithful reporter ate lots of nibbles and drank plenty of cappuccino so you don’t have to. 

Geneva’s favourite drink, served appropriately. (c) Christopher Butt

One could get seriously drunk at the Geneva Motor Show.

Whereas coffee enthusiasts would constantly remain on the hunt for a decent cup during the duration of the show out of sheer necessity, alcohol enthusiasts had it much easier. For champagne – and not just any champagne, but the most definitely above-average Perrier-Jouët – were free-flowing to the extent of ubiquity. And not just during the show, but under peripheral circumstances as well.

The phenomenon could be experienced on the eve of the show, at Automobili Pininfarina’s unveiling of its Battista hypercar. Held at the Hotel President Wilson by Lac Léman’s promenade (rather than the Beau Rivage down the street, which used to be Pininfarina’s Geneva base when Sergio still ran the place), this particular breed of champagne was an even more inescapable presence than guests of honour, former Formula 1 drivers, Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld.

Regrettably, the nibble-sized dishes turned out to be a bit of a disappointment: Crunchy (to the point of being gum-harming), dry Gyoza and greasy, yet gustatorily non-descript risotto most certainly don’t constitute the edible equivalent of Grand Brut champagne.

Breakfast at Daimler’s, still wobbly on the feet. Photo (c) Driven To Write

The show began in earnest the next morning – or, in other terms: an unpleasant encounter with a demanding drug enthusiast and a poor night’s sleep later. As Mercedes-Benz can usually be trusted to deliver not just on the Sensual Purity® front, but also as far as breakfast is concerned, the Swabian brand’s show stand was a shoe-in for the first break of the day.

Strangely, the quality served wasn’t what it used to be. The cappuccino, despite having been created using a proper espresso machine, was average at best (too hot, with flaky foam). The scrambled eggs served to accompany it were rather peculiar too, in that someone felt a ‘Mexican’ twist would be what’s needed to spice things up (literally and figuratively speaking).

Personally, I need neither ketchup-like tomato sauce nor a tortilla chip/crisp with my scrambled eggs. However, this breakfast did introduce me to the other culinary staple of the 2019 Geneva Motor Show (besides Perrier-Jouët): Avocado. Presumably to prove that one has better foothold on a bigger (CO2) footprint, the unmindful hipster’s favourite fruit was to be found almost everywhere.

But before the avocado’s reappearance, it was time to pass on yet another few glasses of Perrier-Jouët at Ferrari’s surprisingly grimy lounge. Office cubicle lighting, stuffy air, smudgy display cabinets (housing some rather exquisite scale car models though) and the show’s saddest biscuit tray made for an unexpectedly scruffy ambience. The cappuccino (courtesy of a Modenese catering outfit, using Lavazza beans) was decent Italian fare: Strong, hot and effective.

The rest of the first press day’s schedule allowed for short breaks only, so a decidedly unimpressive cappuccino at Rolls-Royce (where the floristics were rather more memorable – and Perrier-Jouët would’ve been available, as well) was only followed by a Belgian waffle on a stick at Audi. This snack turned out to leave an unexpectedly lasting impression, as it was covered in so much icing sugar that my jacket made me appear like some particularly committed Tony Montana impersonator.

The following morning started yet again with me being at the mercy of a Swabian brand. On the basis of favourable word-of-mouth, Porsche was chosen for the second press day’s breakfast venue, which turned out to be a wise decision indeed.

Truly delectable Onsen egg, served with spinach and sauce béarnaise, tangy goat cheese mousse with eggplant, buckwheat and pumpkin seeds (served with a slice of focaccia) and whole grain bread with avocado & apple (whose fruity acidity prevented this from being just greasy) made me forget that I actually dislike avocado bread for numerous reasons. It also almost made me not realise just how poor the accompanying cappuccino was.

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With the benchmark thus set, lunch duties were assigned to BMW, where food is typically provided by Munich’s respected purveyor of catering and delicatessen, Käfer.

On this occasion, the Bavarians once more didn’t disappoint, yet the bar as set by Porsche wasn’t quite met either.

Chicken breast with asparagus (in early March – presumably to take good care of that pesky CO2 footprint once more) in a creamy sauce, gnocchi in – again – creamy tomato sauce (somewhat irritatingly served with arugula, most likely for decorative purposes only) and salmon with dill, crème fraîche and pickled cucumbers were all perfectly serviceable dishes – apart from the salmon itself, which was of surprisingly dire quality (as most smoked salmon spotted elsewhere during the show appeared to be, incidentally).

The biggest surprise at BMW/Käfer arrived towards the end of lunchtime, in the shape of the finest cappuccino of the show thus far. Prepared by small German artisan coffee roasters outfit, Haseborg Kaffee, using their own beans, the Bavarian cappuccino was served at just the right (very warm, rather than hot) temperature, with silky soft, instead of the usual excessively frothy milk. The beans themselves were arguable the weakest link in this fine concoction, but that’s entirely forgivable, given the context.

Considering what terrible coffee Käfer had served at the previous Frankfurt show (sub-par beans, processed in a WMF automated coffee machine), Hasenborg’s very decent coffee came as unexpectedly as it was highly appreciated. It almost evoked warm memories of last year’s ‘home away from home’ at the Geneva show, da Matteo’s espresso bar at the Volvo show stand (which Polestar chose not to bring along this year).

Yet the marque that came closest to filling the void left by the Swedes at Palexpo this year was Toyota, where a large espresso bar was set up, courtesy of Swiss caffè specialists, Barrista Corrado. Given the prevalent Italian flavour of the offerings, Volvo’s Kaneelbullar were substituted with Pasta di Mandorle, just as da Matteo’s (moderately) light roasted beans gave way to Barrista Corrado’s come un pugnio in faccia dark traditional fare.

Still, personal preferences apart, Toyota unquestionably delivered the goods/coffee.


Before following EasyJet’s calling to very nearby Cointrin Airport, one final light snack was required, which was once more entrusted to Porsche, for obvious reasons.

While enjoying a fine glass of homemade lemonade (made of different citric fruits – tart, rather than sweet in its flavour) and a savoury waffle with pulled beef – albeit not at the same time -, the flair of Porsche’s lounge came to the forefront of my musings.

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For despite the delectability of the food, this wasn’t the most pleasant of environments. The outstanding efforts of caterers, Adler am Stein, who had taken such exemplary care of the gustatory pleasures, were somewhat offset by the design of the lounge itself. The somewhat barren tables and sparse-yet-cold lighting lent the place a rather frigid ambience. The generous distribution of Tobias Grau lamps also clashed markedly with the tacky printed walls. One can’t have it all.

Some hours later, high above Germany, squeezed between two EasyJet seatbacks, with two German businessmen next to me talking in usually smug terms (‘Dieselgate’ and all) about the cluelessness of everybody in the automotive industry, I spotted one of the children sitting in the row ahead opening the plastic wrapping of a hot sandwich for sale on board. The bread featured the most even grille marks imaginable. Soon, the obtrusive odour of molten cheese and ham penetrated the air surrounding row 18.

The Geneva Motor Show was definitely over.


The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

5 thoughts on “Geneva 2019 Reflections – A Culinary Perspective”

  1. It’s touching to see a concern for CO2 emissions related to avocados. Their poor reputation on this front is based on the figures of an organisation that furnishes the corporate media with content. The particular figure assumes they are grown in the Southern hemisphere, wrapped in plastic and kept refrigerated. No doubt the ingredients of your corporate hospitality nibbles were thus but they don’t have to be; organic, Spanish grown, unrefrigerated and unwrapped avocados are available – I buy them regularly. Their carbon footprint of course tiny compared to meat, Easyjet flights and cars.

    1. Mark,

      I’m delighted that somebody made it through the article in its entirety. Thank you.

      In response to your plea, I’d like to make a few points myself.

      In Germany (where the reviewed catering outfits are based and, in all likelihood, sourced their ingredients), it’s nigh on impossible to obtain avocados of non-African origin. Add the fruit’s significant irrigation requirements (avocados need a lot more water to grow than most vegetables) and you might agree it’s not quite so deserving of the status as figurehead of today’s ‘healthy & sustainable lifestyle’.

      Being a non-vegetarian myself who loves coffee and occasionally travels by plane, as you so astutely pointed out, I don’t see myself as a role model in any way. I don’t mind people eating their avocados, goji berries and chia seeds three times per day, should they choose to do so. What I do mind however is the supposed moral superiority associated with these so-called ‘superfoods’, which is highly likely to be among the reasons for certain ingredients finding their way onto the Geneva Show’s menus.

      For these reasons, I felt compelled to single out the avocado in my report.

  2. Dear Chris
    You’re Geneva adventure has been most enlightening, absorbing and to conclude with the food, inspirational.
    But are these kinds of culinary delights available to the paying public? I’m trying to persuade my wife into possibly going to next year’s show. If I can plonk her in a WiFi enabled coffee area whilst I go and leer at the cars for a few hours, we could be onto a winner. Do you even recommend going there?
    As for avocados, the supermarket doesn’t inform of their origin, although the spring onions we bought at the weekend came from the obviously bucolic area called Senegal.

    1. Andrew,
      thanks for the kind words.
      Unfortunately, most of the offerings described were reserved for the press. Mercedes is a notable exception in that they serve food & drink to everybody, just as Piëch’s cocktail bar was open to everybody – but only during press days. As far as your tentative plan is concerned, you’d have to secure press tickets (or an OEM’s VIP tickets) and count on Daimler AG to keep your dear lady fed/happy.

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