Bar L’Ouillette: Piste Madeleine, Val D’Isere, France
Situated above the fashionable and now-expensive ski resort of Val D’Isere and linked to the sister resort Tignes, Bar L’Ouillette is one of many mountain restaurants which not only compete with each other but with the more established restaurants in the resorts themselves. With a wider range of clientele restaurants are having to up their game and we’re seeing more mountain brasseries, outdoor discos, self-service zoos and sometimes, just sometimes, a traditional environment that does it all.
My first journey to Bar L’Ouillette was on a blisteringly cold morning when the then wooden shack offered a shaft of warmth and light in the freezing conditions. Then, the building was stuffed with sturdy oak tables, dim lamps and shuffling bodies stamping their feet to try and stimulate circulation. The drinks were hot, the cakes divine and the service homely and professional. So we decided to drop back four years later, for lunch.
Now, at Easter, the terrace is crammed with deck chairs and tassel-covered parasols and a barbecue sizzles away under a white-painted hut, offering marinated chicken, steaks and sausages. However, if -3 degrees Celsius, even with the blue skies and sunshine, isn’t quite your idea of sunbathing then you can head inside.
The dark tables remain though there are fewer of them and the food is now bar service and pay at the till straight away, a little like self-service except the food is prepared and stacked behind the wooden counter and the staff pass it to you to place on your tray, all heated appropriately, of course. There are no crowds armed with trays, wielding forks and plates of anaemic steak hache and frites. The menu is extensive so there’ll be something for everyone, from the blizzard days to the lazy sunnier afternoons one can have with Easter skiing. Hot dishes include the traditional (quiche, tartiflette), the expected (salads, fresh sandwiches) and the additional (the barbecue) but the range of each of these is staggering ranging from vegetarian, quiche lorraine, chicken, salmon and beef.
Curried pumpkin soup with cheese was fantastic; thick and warming with a full depth of taste, often unexpected in soups. The baguette was fresh and soft and was given to us for the soup and salad without asking. Chicken salad, though slightly unappetising when stacked in the refrigerated cabinet, was well worth the money. Thick slices of grilled chicken abed salad leaves, cornered by varying ingredients. In one corner, herbed couscous neighbouring cherry tomatoes on the vine while opposite there was homemade coleslaw. Finally, slices of cucumber and two slabs of pineapple for a tropical and sunny taste. Wholesome and filling! Quiche Lorraine was gorgeous; super fluffy and light and full of flavour. The pastry was wafer-like and it came served with a fresh side salad, though a bigger slice would have been appreciated.
Desserts, again self-service, come in all shapes, sizes, textures and flavours. This is really where Bar L’Ouillette specialises. From trifles to tortes and meringues to mille-feuilles, you can’t leave this mountain restaurant without trying one! An apple tartlet was a thick, buttery circle of pastry that melted in your mouth, topped with hunks of apple gently caramalised. Shreds of apple had also been twisted on top for decoration. Flaky and fruity and just right for one! A slice of the baked apple tart was done with a strudel-style topping, infused with cinnamon. The pastry bottom was light with a textured, tasty crust, the inside stuffed with whole pieces of apple (no sugary puree here!) and finished with a light dusting of sugar. It held together beautifully and the flavour was balanced.
The service behind the counter was slick, the queue simply a sign of this restaurant’s popularity. The staff are happy to take reservations and are smiles all round. You could never call a mountain restaurant good value but as far as a mountain restaurant in Val D’Isere goes you could pay a lot more for a lot worse. The outside terrace is a fantastic addition, especially in good weather: complete with music and a colourful, beachy atmoshpere, it’s perfect for drinks with friends (from beer to hot chocolate) or for a spot of altitude sunbathing. Inside is a different atmosphere, more traditional and homely (and much quieter!) though there is limited seating. Next time I’m here, you can count on me bagging one.