Run-To-Eat Vacation – A Culinary Guide to Chamonix

Chamonix-Mont Blanc is a paradise that combine French Alps food with adventure outdoor. The foodie scene is strong and exciting as the mountain ranges surrounding it. So my recent trip in late August was a run-to-eat vacation, beside to race in UTMB CCC (more on the latter in next post).

The culinary guide provides a well-balanced recommendation to cater for number of dietary requirement (vegetarian, gluten-free, health conscious alike) and for diverse type of vacation makers’ style (active and passive, self-catering and eating-out, cooking lesson and catering, gourmet and simple).

French Alps is famous for the three staple: cheese, meat, and potatoe. The basic yet comforting country cooking called Savoyard/Savoie has survived well in the region, both in homes and in restaurants. Thanks to natural playground of rugged, highland mountain, ski slopes and glaciers – the high calorie consumption can be conveniently burnt-off.

Vegetarianism in Chamonix
Not to compare with New York where 100% vegetarian restaurants in abundant including rising of no cooking raw/vegan and fruit-only restaurant. Even in Paris, it is easier being vegan compared to say a decade ago. Vegetarian food is gaining acceptance in France as health and environmental concerns turn the French away from red meat.

The lacto and lacto-ovo group will thrive here in Chamonix given the dairy by-products serve in countless ways: in pasta, quiche, gratin and pizza. I tend to adopt a pescatarian approach making sure no meat by-product, and can be plant-based when I’m behaving well. Cheese consumption is pretty low in my repertoire due to concern on the animal rennet used in cheese-making process. Note that a lot of cheese here is not made with vegetarian rennet making eating out a bit of hassle for the strict vegan. Goat cheese is an alternative given no rennet required in curdling stage, plus goat milk has lower lactose content and easier to digest than cow milk.

As guideline, vegan can thrive here as long as: not panic when no kale, be open to non-French/international cuisine, communicate well via correct French terminology (Je suis veganne, végétalien, pescetarian), be creative on possibilities on menu (like removal of cheese items from vegetable sandwich), plan eating-out and order in advance for some restaurant seem to work well. Pasta without cheese and no cream based are available in most places. A big bowl of salade or salade verte with French dressing and heartily vegetable soup can be perfect solution. Grilled cold meatless options like a marinated artichoke and tapenade (ensure no anchovies) on baguette is simple vegan compliance, but to-die-for.

Gluten-Free in Chamonix
France is a fairly hospitable country for gluten-free given the rising trend of this diet among celiac disease patient and health conscious group. Have two French words handy ‘sans gluten‘ which mean ‘without gluten‘ – you will be taken care of. Be aware of this words in grocery stores, on products, on signs and even on restaurant menus! Go for crozets (local buckwheat pasta) and gallette de sarrazin (salted crepe/pancake made from buckwheat).

CULINARY GUIDE

French
L’Atmosphère – When the friendly staff at MountainDropoffs recommended this restaurant, we checked the menu then booked straight away. A Michelin’s Bib Gourmand feature, we were welcomed efficiently and seated inside – though a table on covered terrace by Avre River would be more pleasant especially when smoke filled in the air from the neighbour’s 3 type of meat cooked on hot stone grill (a Savoyard specialty). The waitress who is elegant and poised clarified on few ingredients asked, assisted us well as we chose the prix fixe menu each: Menu Tradition EUR36 for my partner and Savoyard Menu EUR25 for moi. For main, my tart arrived in thin crispy crust with parmesan melted in mouth, a well-balanced of sour, sweet, salty from dried tomatoes and anchovies. My partner’s sea bass tartare came fresh with herbs and quinoa that cooked well. Restaurant got busier as our main arrived. Dace fillet (emblem of regional lake) served with quinoa, herbs and zucchini tasted rather plain to my liking yet with good portion. My partner’s organic sea bream executed well à la Plancha, married with delicious tomatoe based ratatouille and crispy fried basil – not too rich. Desserts did not disappoint – bread and butter pudding with vanilla ice cream and peach poached well in subtle hint of verbena.

atmo

Dinner Atmosphere (2)

 

La Cabane – A short stroll away from our hotel in Le Praz, we were seated on terrace with view of green golf-course and Month Blanc ranges. A relaxed surrounding in a charming wooden lodge and modern interior owned by duo who also responsible for La Caleche and Le Cap Horn in town centre. We picked the Menu Les Praz at EUR 29 with very interesting ingredients on menu (I wish menu was translated better into English). The waitress seemed to not able explaining them perfectly – either language issue or lack of knowledge. Delighted with tasty complimentary gazpachoz, then 2 divine entrees arrived. A round shaped mousseline of pureed fera fish and crayfish is served with seashells flavoured and orange coloured crustacea sauce. Smooth and creamy excellent execution – certainly craved for more. Bouchot mussel (a yellow-orange mussel grow on ropes strung from wooden poles) in classic marinière style served with salicornes or samphires (seashore succulent plant also known as sea asparagus), tabouli (French way of course using couscous not bulgur like in the Middle East) and emulsion saffron sauce. The mussels are fresh and clean as expected from the Bouchot traditional aquaculture technique. This dish brought a salty complex yet fresh ocean taste on the palate. On to main which the chef served pan-fried sea bream with turbot bouillon – creamy broth of simmering fish, fennel and herbs. The desserts – salted short bread with cream and caramel ice cream and crème brûlée à la vanille bourbon, were fine though at the end felt like cream overloaded for moi liking.

golf cabane

dinner cabane

 

Modern and Pub Meal
Chambre Neuf – Part of Hotel Gustavia, in winter this ‘Swedish Bar’ is a must go for live band and apres ski – located by the train station. In summer, the shady terrace is a place for long relaxing lunch and to enjoy the special of the day inspired by Swedish, Asian and French cuisine. Food is not bad at all, reasonable with good portion. We tasted tortellini cheese with crème fraiche and noodle salad with smoked salmon. It has a dish with vegetable tofu option.

 

Across the road is another bar Elevation 1904 – always with a great vibe and fantastic mix of people. A place to exchange hiking and climbing stories. Famous for full English breakfast and not bad espresso.

La Petite Kitchen – Being British-owned and run restaurant expect a full English breakfast, homemade dessert and decent coffee. It has vegetarian foods like salad and soup (bean and vegetable stew).

Coquillages Mont Blanc – this little corner caught my attention while waiting for the bus. If oyster, caviar, mussel, lobster, clam and bulot (sea snail) are your culinary repertoire do visit this unique join.

Special Occasion and Touch of Star
Albert 1er – A two-star Michelin restaurant (named after King of Belgium, an alpiniste who love for Chamonix and Mont Blanc massif) is the most prestigious in Chamonix and part of Hameau Albert Hotel. ‘La Maison de Savoie’ created by head chef Pierre Maillet consist of 9 courses menu at EUR56 per person covering three regions: Piémont, Comtés de Nice and Savoie. Fera fish from Lake Geneva, Mont Blanc snail, duck foie gras and pigeon breast are some examples of exquisite culinary experience (not for vegan surely). The other restaurant La Maison Carrier situated in separate block of the main hotel is a classy re-creation of an old farmhouse. Though not Michelin star rated, it offers traditional food yet sophisticated based on review here. An absolute steal from Menu du Marche EUR20, Menu du Jour EUR25 to Menu du Maison EUR30.

albert 2 FotorCreated Albert

Le Bistrot: – This one-star Michelin (part of Le Morgane Hotel) is modern and chic but lack of character when SOTG went for nosy look. It is headed by chef Daniele Raimondi, Italian born and promotes a simple yet inventive cuisine. Not to be mistaken by Le Bistrot Des Sports (the oldest in Chamonix), it’s highly recommended for Le Classique at lunch (Plat Du Jour with dessert) – very good value at EUR22.

Auberge du Bois Prin> – One morning when my partner went for parapente or tandem flight, I went for an inspection at this one-star Michelin not far away from his landing field. A quick run up the hill away from town centre to find a slice of heaven in Chamonix – even Dalai Lama has been here. The cosy chalet’s run by Denis Carrier (owner, chef, gardener – yes all three) has superb location where the restaurant and all rooms have Mount Blanc display smack right in front. The 500 square metres of organic garden still to today use traditional methods that sourced its seasonal products to the restaurant. Its lunch Menu Clocheton at EUR29 not to be missed or simply just have a cuppa on the terrace. Sunday menu is served with farcon, a Savoyard special family recipe of potatoes stew, meat and added with berries or currants.

auberg 2

auberge

High Altitude Gastronomy – If you not fancy having picnic when up on the mountain, experience exceptional moment at the 4 restaurants awarded with title Maitre-Restaurateur: La Bergerie de Planpraz (Brevent), L’Adret (Flegere), Plan Joran (Grands Montets) and Le 3842 (Summit of the Aiguille du Midi).

International – Some handy suggestions as below when boredom strike at cheeses and potatoes consumption:IMG_20150829_130041
Satsuki – Welcomed with friendly staff and origamis as inviting on the front menu board, this join always fulled with Japanese tourists. A great eating out place for fresh sushi and sashimi prepared by Japanese chef. Good value Plat Du Jour around EUR11 came with options of chicken teriyaki, fish tempura or salmon served on rice, miso soup and drink (espresso or Japanese tea). For strict vegan-cucumber and avocado sushis are available. Cool down with moochi (ice cream wrapped in rice cake, glace maccha (green tea ice cream).

Tanpopo – For more than sushi, look no further than this joint cooked by Japanese chef.They do vegetable curry, wakame, and tofu salad. Upon checking the vegetable ramen is prepared with meat broth – so there’s a bit of let down.

Chez Yang – This is one of 2 Chinese restaurants in town worth trying. Good option for vegans if do not mind vegetable dumpling, stir-fry broccoli and vegetable fried rice. Get a sit on outdoor terrace facing Mont Blanc and enjoy a sip of Chinese tea to bring your sense of zen.

La Cappadoce – a Turkish fast-food joint (kebab and kofta alike) situated at the corner of the Avenue de l’Aiguille du Midi and opposite of the chic Hotel Le Morgane. Serving Halal meat being the only one in town.

Annapurna – This is not to be missed curry fix while in town. Serving North Indian style of cooking, dedicated menus for vegetarians are plenty from legumes, lentils, okra, spinach, and potatoes. Could not go wrong with cottage cheese curry and cheese naan on this land of cheese.

For Next Visit – top picks that worth booking a table
L’Impossible – SOTG fell in love with the philosophy (fish that is wild and caught from deep ocean, flour that is stone ground, and using of organic ingredients). In farmhouse-chalet setting, this Italian family owned restaurant has menus that labelled gluten-free and dairy free which are added bonus.

Munchie – This Asian fusion with a mix of French and Scandinavian cooking showcases a well-balanced menu for vegetarians (examples are sticky mango galangal crispy tofu, grilled sui choy cabbage) and non-vegetarians (examples are shiso marinated fillet of lamb with jerusalem artichoke coconut purée, salmon mi-cuit with carrot ginger puree, nashi and cucumber salsa).

Suggestion from a local residence at Chalet La Foret on 3 local joints suitable for vegan and gluten-free: Le cafe du Jardin for organic produced vegetarian menu located on a terrace of unique garden and alpine world, La Cremerie du Glacier for crozets gratin, and L’Arrêt Bougnette in Vallocine for taste of gallette.

Gourmet Takeaway
Look no further than Papillon who came recommended by British local resident. She claimed as regulars for its fresh, healthy and world flavours. This cool joint is famous among runners (no surprise there). A godsend on Alpine land for vegetarian, gluten free and lactose free alike when fresh tofu, rice noodles and coconut milk based curry are on menu. Gluten-free nachos also available. Raves as the best freshly roasted coffee in valley and come with choice of soya milk.

Food Shopping
Super U, Casino and Carrefour stock varieties of staple for self-caterers and gluten-free alike. Stylish store Organic épicerie provides a good range of organic items deserve a stop by – even Scott Jurek and ultra-runners from Compressport paid their visit. SOTG impressed with gluten-free French madeleines flour sold here.

Specialty DeliCollage Cheeses
Le Refuge Payot has 3 locations in town and do offer great selection of Savoyard specialties (cheese, charcuterie, wine, and Swiss chocolate). Gruyere priced at 45 Euros/kg and Beaufort D’Ete at 34 Euros/kg (an Alpine cheese at its best – made from raw milk produced during summer months from Tarine cows that graze on high mountain and on natural pastures). Other well-known regional cheeses are Tomme, Vacherin and Raclette. For lesser tourist trap feeling, visit newly open Cooperative Fruitière Val d’Arly. Italian deli can also be found at Mercatino Italiano Chez Valerio.

 

Salon De Thé, Pâtisserie and BoulangerieCollage Chamonix
Sweets and bakery are not my forte – though admit a chocoholic myself. When in France these should not be taken lightly – especially when I learnt that macaroon and meringue are gluten-free. Local specialty is Croix du Savoie – a delicious brioche-like pastry filled with vanilla custard or in summer come with myrtilles (blueberries).
Must visits are Ancey Chocolatier 1821 institution for sweets and chocolates, Aux Petits Gourmands that won 2014 Les Award Du Salon Du Chocolat, Patisserie Richard for that glacier ice cream perfect on hot summer day and traditional macaroons, and Le Gouthe for more sweets delight.
Boulangerie Patisserie Saint Hubert on Place de l’Église for special blend sport bread and Croix du Savoie. Local favourite’s Fleury Jean on Rue Joseph Vallot for chestnut flour bread (order in advance).

MarketCollage Market Day (2)
Available almost every day in the week in different towns, click here. for schedule. The Thursday market at St Gervais is the largest and has more variety than Saturday’s at Chamonix town (car required). A visit to Chamonix’s Saturday market is never a dull moment. Follow wonderful smells and indulge in myriad of colourful fresh ingredients and farmers produced like mountain honey, artisan chévre (goat cheese), all sort of berries, mountain of olives, and blocks of nougat. Meet the ‘Chicken Man’ at truckload of mouth-watering rotisserie chickens (Rotisserie Chez Polaton) or greet bonjour to Asian lady at Vietnamese/Thai homemade cooking store.

Gourmet Cooking Lesson
From one-day lesson EUR100 at Chamonix Experience to comprehensive holiday package run by Emma Watson’s ChamChef, French trained local resident for choices of either gourmet cooking or health & wellbeing course.
During winter season, you could combine 3 days skiing and mountain gourmet with world’s top chefs organised by Momentum Ski – a grand opportunity be up-close with Heston Blumenthal.

Private Chef and Catering
Plenty of options for time saving or to cater for special dietary requirement, check out Philippe Convers ‘s Call Chef, Philip Jones’s ChamonixChef, or Mountain Lifestyle who also does food pack and grocery delivery. For Indian at your chalet – visit Thali Chamonix.
Also pay to check in advance with accommodation of choice as some do cater for any dietary requirement.

STAY
We had a very pleasant stay at the renovated Hotel Les Lanchers (listed in Michelin Guide) situated very near to Flegere cable car for its friendly staff at reception and restaurant, good facilities (parking, luggage storage, shower), good room size with terrace and Month Blanc massif view. At Rendezvous Restaurant, we enjoyed the baked salmon with basil wrapped in thin crispy filo pastry.

 

Further reading to extend love affair on the French Alpine mountain, refer below:

    • Chamonix comprehensive document presented at Arabian Travel Market in Dubai – a pdf guide
    • Cooking traditional Savoyard in your own kitchen – recipe by food blog Taste of Savoie
    • Own set of fondue and raclette based on review here – top fondue pots review and raclette buying giude. (I am eyeing a set from Swissmar for raclette that also come with granite stone)
    • A handy Etapes Gourmandes publication to plan your next or first culinary trip around Mont Blanc – copy available in the valley’s Tourist Offices or click here (get translation to English first)
    • SOTG previous post on first visit to Chamonix

Before I give finale to the longest post in this blog to date, here’s a pictorial guide in slider display of some non-food shots that caused overzealous on SOTG Instagram – just to make a point it wasn’t all eating in the valley because this slice of heaven is for everyone to enjoy.

As for other areas in the region like Megeve (for dose of 3 starred Michelin), Annecy and Italian’s Courmayeur  – there are endless culinary adventures awaiting for SOTG to return.

For a taste of Swiss/French Alps in Dubai if you crave the comfort of melted cheese – Galeries Lafayette at The Dubai Mall for raclette and Apres at Mall of Emirates for cheese fondue.

Do you have a favourite Savoyard dish or dessert that you relish? Or any other hidden gem yet to be explored in the valley or surrounding?

Stay tune for my next post on Geneva and what I learnt from my recent race in the Ultra Trail the Mont Blanc.

Au Revoir,

SOTG.x