From the heights of gastronomic excellence to good old fashioned traditional chalet restaurants, Robert Harneis, restaurant critic for Dk Eyewitness Travel Guides, selects his 10 favourite mountain restaurants in France.
They said it couldn't be done but a youthful Jean Sulpice has created one of France's finest restaurants at 2,300m. L'Oxalys has two Michelin stars and four Gault et Millau toques. It is the highest starred restaurant in France, but is not the most expensive. For 10 years Jean Sulpice has pushed the standards of Savoyard cuisine to a higher level, all the time emphasising the quality of local produce. After winning the first star aged 26 and the second at 31, he is a prodigy of the haute cuisine scene with a passion for conveying the tastes and flavours through his cooking. He is also the only starred chef in the world who does the meals at his local village kindergarten in Val Thorens. If you have the good fortune to eat there try the shoulder of lamb with caramelised coriander or trout in a cress dressing. From this year he and his wife are holding cookery classes in the restaurant and you get to eat what you create.
Le Chabichou in Courchevel: Authentic alpine restaurant
Rue des Chenus, Courchevel 1850
Tel: 0479 080055
Amidst the glitter of Courchevel's finest this remains a genuine establishment. Le Chabichou is another luxury alpine restaurant, which has kept its authenticity, its popularity and its two stars for 22 years now. The 2012 Gault et Millau makes a graphic comparison with other restaurants of similar standing, "We see numerous grand establishments struggle, particularly at lunchtime, with their dining rooms resembling the abandoned saloons of ocean going liners. Meanwhile at the Chabichou the party continues . . . " It is typical of the restaurant that you can still order a simple stuffed cabbage or a pot au feu . . . with truffles and foie gras of course. Adult visitors can sit at the chefs table d'hôte with is right next to the kitchen and watch the chefs as they prepare their dishes.
Michel Rochedy also offers cookery lessons on Thursday mornings for a modest €65 for groups of at least five and you eat what you prepare. In December 2011 he opened a bistro Le Chabotté. The general opinion - ‘It's the place that was missing in Courchevel', the experience and know how of a starred restaurant at a price we can all afford. It is already extremely popular with holiday makers and residents.
Best mountain restaurant: Le Chabichou - grand exterior
Le Bouchon in Tignes: Scrambled eggs and bacon at dawn
Hameau de Tovière, Le Lavachet 73320 - Tignes
Tel : 0479 09291
A personal favorite run by a veteran of the mountain culinary scene. Scrambled eggs and bacon are served at 7:30 a.m. every morning. At lunch and dinner time, savour Arnaud Faure's homemade foie gras and scallops with bacon, snails, frogs legs in a parsley butter sauce, entrecote steak, Savoyard specialities and naturally generous fondues.
La Bouitte in St. Martin de Belleville: Father and son team
Hameau de St Marcel, 73440 St Martin de Belleville
Tel : 0479 089603
In St. Martin de Belleville, a father and son team that have maintained the highest standards for a quarter of a century. René Meilleur has run this two-star establishment for 25 years, now with his son Maxime he has completely refurbished both restaurant and kitchens adding a table d'hôte. It is 1.5 kilometres from St Martine de Belleville, part of the Three Valleys network of resorts, on the road to Val Thorens. Their Menu Carte Blanche remains extremely popular. Three dishes from €89 or eight for €199. If you don't like a particular item, you can choose something else. For wine, with the assistance of the wine waiter, if you need it, you can select wine by the glass, to suit the different dishes.
Flocons Village in Megève: High-end dining, low-end prices
75 rue Saint-François-de-Salle - Megève
This is maestro chef Emmanuel Renaut's bistro version of his mighty Flocons de Sel. The same quality cuisine and staff at prices mere mortals can afford without taking out a second mortgage. Set right in the centre of one of France's really pretty winter sports resorts it has been an instant sucess. You can select a three course menu for just €29 as opposed to €115 or so, before you have consulted the wine waiter, at the parent restaurant up the road. You can even choose the dish of the day for €17and there is a childrens' menu at €14.
Best mountain restaurant: Flocons Village - Savory millefeuille with roasted bream and mushrooms
Le Cow Club in Isola 2000: Friendly Franco-Italian institution
Départ piste Belvédère
A Franco-Italian institution that attracts the same customers year after year. Paul Gallo, originally from Sicily, immigrated to France after the war. In 1977 he came across an old cow barn, bought it and turned it into the Cow Club. 25 years later it goes from strength to strength and son Roland is in charge. The atmosphere is genuinely friendly and the cuisine and service is personally supervised by the ‘patron'. You can choose mountain specialities like reblochonnade, braserade, pela or fondues and there are a number of Italian specialities as well including the famous Gallo pizzas with salads and home made desserts - lemon or apple tart made to a special house recipe.
Le Chalet d'Avoriaz in Avoriaz: Family-friendly joint
Le Plateau, 74110 - Avoriaz
Tel : 04.50.74.01.30
Joseph Lenvers continues a great family tradition - excellent value as well. Long before the winter sports resort was built in 1962 there was a farm that belonged to the Lenvers family on the plateau of Avoriaz. The business started with skiers banging on the door of the farm and asking for something to eat or drink and became Chez Lenvers. Today the fourth generation are serving the fondues, omelettes and Savoyard specialities still all cooked in the traditional way with the good local ingredients.
Traditional mountain formula but with a touch of family orginality in a superb location. A chalet restaurant at 2,200m in a great setting on the slopes that claims to be the highest bakery in the Alps. Well known for its atmosphere and for its position, the restaurant offers traditional French cuisine, Savoyard specialities and original dishes based around the restaurant's home made bread. Les Chalets was founded by Claudie and Robert Falco, formerly carpenter, ski instructor and baker. Today it is their children who have taken over the reins. Great hospitality, tasty cooking, tables in front of an open fire or out in the sun on the terrace, a superb all round view of the mountains and lockable ski lockers.
Best mountain restaurant: Les Chalets de l'arc - fresh bread from the highest bakery in the Alps. Courtesy of Anne Boulliot
Le Diable au Cœur in Deux Alpes: Great views and open fires
Télécabine du diable - 38860 Les Deux Alpes
Tel: 0476 799950
Great views, an open fire, excellent service and good food - hard to beat. A chalet restaurant at 2,400m, run by the same family that owns the well known P'tit Polyte. Regional dishes combined with a more gastronomic menu all carefully prepared with quick cheerful service. Try the vin chaud by the original open fire place. If you are in a hurry there is a wide choice of takeaway dishes. As they say ‘there isn't a minute of skiing time to waste'. Open from December to April from 9 a.m to 5 p.m.
Le Chalet des Verdons Sud in La Plagne: Popular stop for ski journalists
Les Verdons Sud; 73350 Champagny-en-Vanoise
This is a great place favoured by winter sports journalists. Set on the slopes where ski-in/ski-out is compulsory, there is no access for cars, the chalet is in the Champagny La Plagne ski area with a fine south-facing terrace. The relatively high-end service and the agreeably decorated interior come as something of a surprise. The menu offers a plat du jour, local dishes and an otherwise wide choice including fish, meat, pasta and salads. There is also an extensive wine list. A nice touch is the slippers provided for you when you take off your ski boots. An accordionist is sometimes in attendance.
Access is via the Funiplage at Grande Rochette, the télésiège de Blanchets, la télécabine Col de Forcle and the télésiège des Verdons sud. For snowshoers and langlaufers you can get there from the col du Forcle via the emergency service road. Ask the way on the slopes or at the lifts - everybody knows where it is.
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