Published on June 13th, 2011 | by ladyparker0
Review: The Elegant Bistro: Le 7 Bistrot Chic par Anne-Sophie Pic (Valence, FR)
Summary: Legendary chef Anne-Sophie Pic's bistro in Valence is a nod to simple, well-executed French dishes and is a great lunchtime location.
Just glimpsing the list of culinary awards and achievements French woman Anne-Sophie Pic (pictured) has under her belt is enough to exalt her as a gastronomic heroine.
Freshly awarded the coveted title of World’s Best Female Chef at San Pellegrino’s 2011 Best Restaurant Awards, Pic is the only female to be awarded three Michelin stars (a considerable feat in the male-dominated French culinary world). She successfully operates with partner-in-crime and husband David Sinapian, two restaurants (a third at the Beau Rivage Palace in Laussane is a joint venture with the proprieters of this establishment), a hotel, a consulting business, an e-store, cooking classes, seminars and a foundation collectively comprising the Pic Empire. A cookbook has also been published if that was not already a satisfactory array of accomplishments.
The catalyst for Anne-Sophie’s fame, knowledge and experience was her fundamental involvement in Le Maison Pic, a veritable restaurant legend in France. Her journey through life has without doubt been one over unchartered waters. Great-grandmother Sophie Pic opened L’Auberge du Pin – a small cafe just outside Saint-Péray in 1889. Son Andre acquired it after Sophie’s 30 years of labour – little did she know she was building the foundations for one of the paragons of French cuisine. It was the studious, learned Andre having worked in some of the finest places in Lyon and Paris who reincarnated Sophie’s little cafe as Le Maison Pic, shifting to Victor Hugo in Valence in 1936, where it remains today. Combined with the introduction of French roading infrastructure the location was a breakthrough.
Le Maison Pic has had a volatile relationship with the provocative Michelin star regime. Andre saw it gain its first three Michelin stars upon moving to Valence, his son Jacques followed in his fathers footsteps and regained the three stars in the late 1970s. Jacques tragically died after service one evening, and this loss preempted the demise of their stars. Without formal training, Anne-Sophie faced an immeasurable task. Against biased male chefs in the kitchen, but with her temerity and her mother’s support, she says she just “put on an apron, walked into the kitchen and started cooking, which was probably the bravest thing I’d ever done.” Hard work, positivity and talent paid off, and daughter-now-owner Anne-Sophie successfully reclaimed the three stars in 2007.
Madame Pic opened “Le 7” Bistrot in 2006 as a salute to the historic Route Nationale 7, endearingly known as Route Bleue (the Blue Route) or La Route des vacances (the Holiday Road), which wound from Paris all the way down to the Italian border. The RN7 contributed significantly to the development of the French dining scene. Of course inherently Le 7 pays homage to the many celebrated restaurants that ensconced themselves along this iconic route. It must have been a memorable trip for what seemed like nearly all of the French (especially Parisian) population, which migrated south during the holiday periods, stopping at these famous restaurants along the way. Frequently you would hear enumerated such stars as La Cote d’Or in Bourgogne, La Mere Brazier in Lyon, La Pyramide in Vienne and of course La Maison Pic in Valence.
A beautiful late-Spring day in May suggested that we try the newest addition to Pic’s repetoire, more casual than its 3 starred neighbour, but with a continual and obvious focus on traditional French dishes with modern flair. A reputation of food executed brilliantly, using exceptional local ingredients ensure it’s a pretty safe lunchtime option whilst passing through the South of France on the new motorway, though arriving at our destination on the original RN7. The colour scheme of reds, whites and greys enkindle a feeling of roadside attraction, there’s chic photography and artwork hanging on the walls, and roadsigns splatted across the floor. Venturing outside to the simple but tasteful courtyard, we can’t help but comment this venue could be anywhere in New Zealand. There are modern furnishings, luscious linden trees and the surrounding architecture gives you a distinct non-European impression – alluding most to this is an expansive wooden deck underfoot. The fleeting transportation back to Antipodean soils is quickly extinguished by the cocoon of native language being spun around our table as we are seated by our waiter. It’s lively and busy – sounds of bird song are interlaced with convivial laughter.
Menus once handed out are immediately noticeable as unique. Cleverly keeping to the theme, they’re formatted to resemble a folded road map – and just with any road map, the options are numerous. Though the a la carte looks like a well-established route, there’s also the plate of the day option at €17. However all three of us decide to revert to auto-pilot and we go for the set menu option. At €29 for three courses it seems like a steal particularly with the strength of our national currency – something we rarely experience!
A Pic petit baguette delivered to the table in a branded paper bag is a very adorable act and we relish in its Frenchness – can this nation bake or what! Amuse bouche briskly follows – crostini with a beetroot dip served in shot glasses – pleasant enough to whet our growing appetite.
Meanwhile our wine selection is given to the waiter – the Comte Lafon Meursault 2006 from Cote Beaune, Burgundy. What’s most enjoyable is the fact that Anne-Sophie obviously takes pride in her establishment’s image with those who enjoy wine – for the glassware, unlike the vast majority of French restaurants and cafes, is larger than a thimble. In fact in this case they are appropriate and commendable vessels for the wine we are about to receive.
It pairs well with our starter – a creamy asparagus veloute with anise. It has a delightful texture – cool and velvety, and the flavour profile of anise spice and green fresh asparagus is divine. This is what Sophie-Anne is renown for, her cooking produces dainty, delicate dishes with no-fuss combinations of flavour that work.
This elegance is seen in the mains which arrive in good time – my two dining partners choose the shoulder of lamb with crispy polenta and coriander which is presented minimalistically but effectively. I go for the more traditional French option – a quenelle of brochet (pike), with steamed vegetables and an emulsified shellfish sauce. It’s an interesting dish, not something which my palate is used to but the flavours again work. The quenelle had an evanescent delicateness to it, and the emulsified foamy sauce adds flavour appeal.
The two desserts were summoned – the first a raspberry and pistachi tart with raspberry sorbet, and a chocolate eclair with Guanaja chocolate cream in two textures. Although presented beautifully, both were not enough to send us into a rapturous state however they were gratifying enough to end what had been a superb lunchtime dining experience.
After dining at Le 7, knowing the history of the much respected route, a part of me wishes we could have got in our car and traversed the classic RN7. It would certainly be a far more romantic, though less efficient mode of transport than the sophisticated highways that now replace it. Anne-Sophie Pic can be content that not only has she succeeded against adversity and the societal norms of the French kitchen, she has preserved a slice of French transport history reified through her elegant, fun and flavourful Le 7.
Le 7 Bistro Chic
285 avenue Victor Hugo, 26000 Valence, France
+33 4 75 44 15 32
Open for lunchtime and evening dining year round.