Friday 16 May 2008

La Valle Blanche

In the blink of an eye the antiques auction house that used to inhabit this first floor location, next to Fopp on Byres Road, was replaced by La Valle Blanche. The chef/proprietor is Neil Clark who took over as head chef at Etain when Geoffery Smeddle left. If you have read my Glenapp Castle post you will know that I had a very good duck dish once upon a time at Etain. La Valle Blanche therefore had a good chance of having what it takes..

We had a table booked for 7.30 pm on a Friday and climbed up that stairs wondering what to expect. What we found was a very well executed interpretation of chalet-chic. This along with the St Germain/ Thievery Corporation-esque sound track gave the room a very cool vibe. Interestingly enough though most of the other diners were in their 40-50's.

Greeting us at the door were the French maitre-de and a gracious woman whom I correctly assumed to be the wife of the chef. She took our jackets and we were shown to our table. This was located to the middle of the room and some would say in a good position but I made a mental note to request one of the corner booths if I were to come again. The first thing that I noticed was that the place is incredibly well staffed. Not only do they have a sommelier, a female one at that, but they had levels of staffing normally seen at Michelin starred restaurants. One for water, bread, to sweep up the crumbs, you get the idea. It made me wonder what level they were pitching this place at. So, reception good, room good, music/ambience good, staffing attentive (maybe too attentive). The other thing I noticed, and maybe I am imagining it, was that the staff, most of whom seemed quite young, had an air of nervousness about them. As it turned out, they had nothing to worry about.

Annoyingly enough it was at this point I realised that, not only had I forgotten my camera but also my mobile, hence the lack of visuals.

So, to the food. Now this may be a churlish thing to say but most of the starters seemed to be pre-prepared ie rabbit rillette and duck with chicken terrine. Now, from a chef's point of view this is a clever thing as it allows most of the prep to be done before service, leaving only the plating up to be done. However, I don't think it is possible to gauge what a kitchen is really capable of with starters like these. I did notice a scallop dish, but did not order it, this would have been a good way of judging things but, as it was my first time I chose not to take the risk.
Having said that the rabbit rillette was luxurious and tasty and the terrine, although succumbing to the fate of most terrines (being dry), was served with a very fresh 'relish' of boiled egg and capers which worked very well with it.

My main of lamb was meant to be medium rare but was almost well done and not particularly memorable and the duck dish was similarly over cooked. In no way reminiscent of the dish from Etain.

The standout course were the puddings. I had a peanut parfait with caramelised bananas, which was excellent and moreish, which the best indicator of a good pudding. It came with a shot glass of what seemed to be milk, and nothing more. Was it meant to be something else? If it had been a milk sorbet, that would have been interesting. The apple souffle was fluffy and perfectly cooked and served with a very light and refreshing calvados ice-cream. The ice-cream itself was note-worthy.

We had a glass of white each, one a chablis, the other a viognier. I had been slightly worried after reading a couple of reviews, that they only had bottles, but that fear was unfounded. I then had a glass of pudding wine which was more expensive that either of the whites.

For three courses for two people plus the 3 glasses of wine the bill was £90.
I could see that I was paying for the setting and the staff but the food felt slightly under par. I think this place has a lot of potential. Maybe once they have found their feet and a client base they will feel able to show the same flair with the mains that they do with the puddings. And I really hope that it does because I could see this as a place I would come back to repeatedly as Glasgow is in need of some fine-dining contenders.

The only other gripe I have is that thier web site is not up and running, in this day and age they are missing out on valuable advertising not having an up to date site with the menu,wine list and information about the Chef. But then you would already know that if you had tried to follow the link above!

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