La Vallée Blanche
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