Chamonix has a lot of restaurants to choose from, particularly of the traditional Alpine variety, which are lovely for cosy evenings when the dark nights start to draw in.
La Flambée is a tardis of a restaurant - it looks tiny from the outside but step through the door and it goes back quite a long way, with a peculiar layout that makes it feel small and cosy, whilst simultaneously being able to seat quite a lot of people.
Despite this, they always seem to be busy and we were quite lucky to get a table for four without a reservation, even on a quiet mid-week evening in September.
The small terrace outside the restaurant is crowded with the usual Alpine fripperies - wooden knick-knacks, lacy doilies, ye olde milk jugs, etc and a blackboard announcing the daily specials. Inside, the decor is much the same but it’s done with enough quirky style to prevent it from being quite so twee as so many others.
The menu has quite a lot of choice but not so much that it makes you suspect a microwave is the main appliance used in the kitchen. The kitchen is actually open-plan and you can see the chef preparing the meals as you enter the restaurant. All the usual Savoyard suspects are on the menu - fondue, tartiflette, onion soup, etc - as well as pizzas, burgers, salads and a selection of meat and fish dishes. Unusually they also have a small curry section with about half a dozen options to choose from.
The set menu at 27€ for three courses seemed quite good value and offered a few tempting choices, so most of us went with that. The starters included onion soup, mixed Italian salad, fois gras served with grilled bread and onion confit or a duo of salmon gravelax and salmon tartare served with gambas. There was an impressive six main courses to choose from including Scottish salmon cooked “en papillote”, duck confit, rack of lamb, honey-glazed duck breast, wild mushroom tartiflette, and “diots” which are a type of Savoyard sausage cooked in white wine and served with a creamy potato gratin.
To start we went for onion soup and the salad - the soup was lighter in colour than the usual Marmite-coloured concoctions and wasn't as heavy in texture, the onions were sweet and tasty, and it was served with a slice of toasted baguette topped with melted Reblochon cheese for dunking. The salads were bright and colourful with a crisp mix of leaves, grapes, fresh peach and red onion. They were served with a massive hunk of freshly baked bread, delivered to the table on a wooden board with a sharp knife so that we could hack off our own pieces, and a nice homemade vinaigrette.
Next up was the main course with the set menu diners opting for salmon with green vegetables and duck with potatoes. I went "off-piste" with the vegetable curry, curious to see what such a typically Savoyard place would make of it. As it happens, it was very nice but the moral of the story is that if you want a “proper” curry, go to a curry house… As with the salad, it contained an unusual amount of fruit alongside the more familiar vegetables which made for a nice sweet contrast to the mild curry sauce but it could have done with a bit more kick. Everything was cooked to perfection though and the accompanying rice was light and fluffy.
The salmon steaks were very nicely cooked, the pink flesh steamed in a paper parcel and flavoured with citrus juices, accompanied by some tasty green beans. However, the portions were distinctly on the small side. Also, due to a misunderstanding they were not served with the basmati rice that was listed on the menu - we could have asked that they bring it but by the time we realised we figured it would probably arrive too late to be eaten at the same time.
The triumph of the evening was the duck confit; dark brown and crispy on the outside whilst pink and succulent on the inside - served with a hearty portion of creamy potatoes that had more than a hint of garlic about them.
Our meals were washed down with a very drinkable bottle of Bourgogne - there was a good choice of wines mostly all within the 18-20€ mark, although you could splash out on something pricier if you wanted.
The set menu offers a better selection of desserts than most - all homemade from seasonal fruits, according to our waitress. Between the four of us we sampled the chocolate fondant, a blueberry crumble, a raspberry crumble and a raspberry and mint gazpacho. The chocolate fondant was pleasingly hot and gooey, as a good fondant should be, but was again a little on the small side. The crumbles both had a generous portion of sweet tangy fruit on top of a crumbly base (I know, crumble underneath the fruit, those crazy Frenchies...), served with a dollop of cream in a cute heart-shaped dish. The gazpacho was a freshly squeezed raspberry and mint “soup”, which made a lovely refreshing end to the meal.
The service was polite and friendly, if a little on the slow side, but then by 8pm pretty much every table was full so they did well to keep everything ticking over. Especially seeing as there was a large group celebrating a birthday - requiring the waiter to bring over the customary ice cream with a firework sticking out of it.
The set menu was good value for three courses and offered lots of choice; the rest of the a la carte dishes also seemed fairly well-priced. I did notice from some of the plates going past our table that the typically “Savoyard” meals seemed a lot more generously portioned than the dishes we ordered - so if you’re hungry I’d recommend going for the full on cheese-fest. Many of the items on the menu were marked "fait maison" (homemade) and this certainly seemed to be the case, even down to the bread and salad dressings. I’d recommend La Flambée as somewhere to enjoy a cosy evening without breaking the bank.
Location: Chamonix - Centre
Cuisine: French | Local Specialities
Vibe / Atmosphere: Romantic | Rustic | Traditional
Access: Children welcome | Pedestrian access
Open Seasons: Summer | Winter
Address: 232 Avenue Michel Croz Chamonix - Centre |