La Vallée Blanche

La Vallée Blanche

Haute Hillhead

Jan Zeschky uncovers a serious fine-dining player arriving in an unexpected location

When rationalising business-speak began to creep into the way things were run at étain restaurant in Princes Square a couple of years back, chef Neil Clark knew it was time to pack up his pans. Not one to compromise on his creativity, he left the award-winning French-Scottish restaurant to its fate of corporate rebranding. Now, almost two years after its closure, he has resurfaced – together with most of his original team – in the West End, in a little brick building at the top of Byres Road that’s better known for housing the local branch of Fopp.

With fine French cuisine a scarce commodity beyond the city centre, Clark spotted an opportunity in Hillhead and, if La Vallée Blanche’s early form is anything to go by, his judgement is spot on. Formerly a collection of fusty antique stalls, the room has been transformed into something that suggests the Alpine lodge hinted at in the name, its calm interior heavy with dark wood panelling and red furnishings, and low-lit by a clutch of stag-antler lamps and flickering candles lining the long window. What’s more immediately noticeable, however, is the honest welcome and infectious warmth of the staff: effortlessly professional, always concerned, elaborate (and passionate) in their descriptions of the locally sourced produce and assembled dishes; yet at the same time almost invisible, with glasses magically filling themselves, empty plates disappearing. Clearly a keen understanding of the whole operation runs throughout the entire team, and this contributes a great deal to the relaxed atmosphere within.

Menus range from a lunch list offering year-round classics such as onion soup and steak frites, to a concise, seasonal à la carte that boasts more inventive Gallic dishes and barely puts a foot wrong. (The all-French wine list is also short and undoubtedly well chosen, but, starting at £22.50 a bottle, a little on the dear side). Starters might include a tartlet with a light, almost mousse-like morel filling, the subtle earthy flavours of which slowly intensify across the palate. Seared scallops may be becoming something of a ubiquitous seafood option in middle to upper market restaurants, but teaming these fresh, delicate morsels with astringent apple and black pudding puree gives them new vibrancy.

The mains see Clark’s kitchen hit full stride. Standouts include an exquisite assiette of pork sourced from Ramsay’s of Carluke: firm loin, tender, shredding belly and flaky, moist cheek, served with wilted savoy cabbage and the simple meaty flavours of the pan juices. Another attractively presented plate is scattered with roasted chestnuts, garlic cloves and baby onions, marinated olives and crispy-fried bay leaves, all brought together by a stack of tender, ruby red slices of gamey wood pigeon breast – a feast of flavours. The pastry chef maintains this sense of playfulness with a moist-but-firm poached pear teamed with delicate panacotta and an extraordinary ice-cream flavoured with ground tonka bean, which reveals woody complexities that would have sommeliers gushing.

It’s these subtle, innovative details and the superlative service that marks La Vallée Blanche as one to watch in the fine-dining stakes.

360 Byres Road, Glasgow, 0141 334 3333
Traditional yet innovative French restaurant
Average two-course evening meal £26

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4. Cat in a hat27 Apr 2008, 10:22am Report

We popped in to see what all the fuss was about and we were not disappointed. We opted for twinkles (orange juice and soda) instead of wine and it didn't cost the earth. The risotto starter I could have had as a main. The mains which we tried were open beetroot ravioli, didn't really get it....large squares of pasta, bits of beetroot and goats cheese and some nice spring veg oh and horseradish, great flavours, just why not closed ravioli as we know and love? The sea bass tasted fab but came balanced on potato which was in a sea of oil unfortunately, less is more for that ingredient. The desserts were amazing, I was convinced that my rhubarb crumble was IT until I tried the banana dish OMG indecision - one was better than granny made and the other was amazingly tasty like bannoffee but looked like an art installation.
All in all I'd recommend it and very affordable with the pre-theatre options.

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6. Cara25 May 2008, 6:37pm Report

I was not impressed. I had lunch there recently and felt it was unremarkable and overpriced. I ordered smoked haddock which comes with mashed potato and a poached egg. When the waitress served it we laughed at how mean the portion was; without exaggeration - 2 pieces of haddock the size of my index finger and a tablespoon of mash. It would have been fine as a starter but it was listed as a main course. Those are not expensive ingredients so I would expect more for £9.95. Oddly enough the dish my husband ordered, steak frites was quite generous although he said it was 'pretty average'.
I really had high hopes of finding a decent french place that gets it right with the small details, such as bringing a basket of bread to the table and leaving it there. Disappointingly La Vallee Blanche does what all Glaswegian restaurants do, they put a roll the size of a golf ball on your side plate and that's your lot.
I've eaten in many restaurants at different price ranges both at home and abroad and I am baffled that so few places in Glasgow get it right.

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13. Iliana31 Mar 2012, 10:41am Report

The restaurant has a lovely ambience but this is just about it. Opted for the a la carte menu, where choices were very limited. If you are a vegetarian, don't even bother going there. Order was taken promptly and wine was brought to the table on time. It took 40 minutes for the starter (rabbit terrine) to arrive on the table. It's a terrine after all, which is usually cooked beforehand, and all a chef needs to do is plate it!! The main course took even longer and arrived an hour after the starter was cleared away. No apology for the delay, which I would have understood has the restaurant been busy at the time but it wasn't. Overall, it was a very disappointing dining experience. Service was a shambles and turn around time for food the worst I have ever encountered. The food was just pretentious.

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