La Vallee Blanche360 Byres Road,
0141 334 3333
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
A little off piste
Review published on 23/09/2013 © Sunday Herald
It feels as though every street direction and yellow pages-type website these days wants to double up as a restaurant guide. On the whole, I find these reviews somewhere between unenlightening and useless. For the ones that give a rave review, youve got to wonder if they might possibly have some connection with the management. For the haters, you must allow for the fact that they could be embittered people who like a forum to vent their general frustration with life.
You cant move for food bloggers either. The latest blog to come to my attention is Girl around Glasgow, who writes a relatively neutral, blow-by-blow account of her meal. Girl around Glasgow not only reviews restaurants, but re-reviews them and then re-re-reviews them to check theyre maintaining standards. A wise move; it always worries me when people choose a restaurant on the basis of a review thats years old. Restaurants can, and do, go downhill overnight, so its smart to have some up-to-date intelligence.
She recently returned to La Vallée Blanche. She first visited it in 2008 after reading my positive review (she loved it) and has been back three times since, in 2011 (found it mediocre), 2012 (back on form) and earlier this month (looking forward to her next trip). Naturally, I had to do my own checking.
We didnt set out to have the prix fixe menu, but on a Sunday evening we were told that there was no à la carte. La Vallée Blanche is closed on a Monday, and as several dishes were declared off the menu as tables filled up, I couldnt help wondering if the kitchen was running down its larder for its day of closure.
Still, despite the restricted choice, there were appealing, if unexciting options. A small leek tart had a reasonable crust, smoky lardons and velvety custard centre, so not one of those firm ham-and-egg pies that so many people persist in calling quiches. But the starter salad was a rag-bag, as if the chef had looked at what was left in the fridge, scratched his head, and thought How can I use all this up? It had a few segments of roast figs, a cold blob of something referred to on the menu as smoked goats cheese ricotta but which tasted like a pretty standard white goats log, two halves of excessively sweet candied walnut, and strips of roasted red pepper. Needless to say, the pepper clashed with the fig and walnut; it was a combo that was doomed from the outset.
I couldnt be enthusiastic about the braised ox cheek, which was bullishly tough, like eating elastic bands. A working muscle such as this needs the long, slow cooking it clearly hadnt got. It came with tip-top mash, but dreadful carrots and pearl onions that were described as being roasted, but which tasted as if they were boiled. Boiled onions are very nasty indeed. Chefs night off? We began to wonder.
There was nothing wrong with the cooking of a whole plaice on the bone, but it was topped by mussels so densely chewy that they tasted twice-cooked. The accompanying sauce with chives was blandly creamy; it needed wine, lemon, saffron, tarragon or really anything that would pep it up. Its Parmentier potatoes (which ought to be roasted) had morphed into boiled cubes. This repeated straying from the menu description suggests that the chef isnt on the case.
For pudding, we wondered if someone had forgotten to add the sugar to the carrot cake, and its ice cream tasted not of orange yogurt as promised, but like vanilla. It was surrounded by fiddly mole hills: white ones that tasted like cream, and strange amber ones that might have been liquidised orange segments. The cream in the pannacotta, under its bouncy, noticeably flavourless fruit jelly layer, tasted ever so slightly of the fridge.
With complimentary good bread rolls and a little amuse-bouche of pork rillettes, the £15 lunch and pre-theatre menus at La Vallée Blanche are astonishingly good value. They use decent ingredients, so it seems churlish to strike a negative note. But when I ask myself if I really rated my meal, the answer was no. Ill wait for Girl around Glasgows next report before heading back.