For a modern 30th birthday celebration within the family, the chic and vibrant younger brother of the 3-Michelin-starred Le Pic, Le 7, seemed the perfect venue. In the heart of Valence, the bistrot is located within the Hotel Pic complex (where rooms start at €290 a night), as is the €210-menu Le Pic restaurant. The Pic name also lends itself to a cookery school, a consultancy, and a shop (a physical one just down the road, and also an online one). Such a culinary dynasty, with Anne-Sophie Pic (this year named the World’s Best Female Chef by San Pellegrino) at the helm, commands immediate awe and respect.

Modernity is certainly at the heart of the bistrot’s decor, with red plexiglass chairs and industrial metal finishes perhaps challenging people’s traditional perceptions of what a Michelin-starred chef should be doing. At €29 a menu, too, it’s also appropriate for visiting recession-busters. The menu itself takes the form of a road map that has to be unfolded, and the bread, cooked in-house, comes in the traditional paper sleeves that are familiar to many a boulangerie. The bread itself was surprisingly disappointing due to its chewiness, but all was forgiven thanks to the rest.

We were invited to dunk breadsticks in a pleasing aubergine dip, which fused creaminess and saltiness with panache. A watermelon gazpacho starter was both innovative and traditional, with the melon adding just a hint of a twist to the age-old concept (although the anise it was also promised to contain was not detectable; arguably it was working to add cohesion that’s not necessarily obvious), while around the rest of the table, a simple rocket and mozzarella salad was enjoyed for its high-quality ingredients. Around us, a lively and casual atmosphere was developing, including the sounds of a surprising number of children for a restaurant of this type (although the restaurant is child-friendly in the respect of providing high-chairs, I can’t think what they would eat: there is no trace of a children’s menu to be found among the sophisticated dishes on offer). Booking is recommended; I know it was a Saturday lunchtime, but it was full to the rafters.

All five of us enjoyed a main course of slow-cooked veal, whose tenderness did not go uncommented upon. Served with perfectly-cooked beans, it went away from the modern twists that we had got a hint of during the starter. In short, it was certainly satisfying, but perhaps lacking in creativity for a place with Anne-Sophie Pic’s name on it.

This was all accompanied with a selection of local wines by the glass – a 2001 Hermitage La Petite Chapelle (Jaboulet) was selected by Jean-Marc, who found it to have a profound nose characteristic of the area, but to be a bit too dry in the mouth. I chose a 2009 Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée L (Combier), which wowed from the moment of its arrival at the table with its purple frothiness and deep scent. In the mouth, too, it did not disappoint, proving fruity and fine. Also on the table was another 2009 Côtes du Rhône, this time produced by the Domaine Jamet – an affordable offering from a star producer. Fruity and fresh, a full bottle costs a mere €14 at the Pic Boutique. Price-wise the boutique is offering good value: a Puligny-Montrachet from Sauzet, spotted at €37 near Paris, is priced at €32 here.

The sequence of events that followed our main course was so very right, yet so very wrong. For dessert, we had the choice of ‘finger croustifondant au chocolat Manjari avec glace menthe-gingembre’, or a raspberry boule concoction which came out pink, luminous and jelly-like, with a contrasting creamy centre. Torn, I had gone for the crunchy fondant chocolate ‘finger’, and with its deep rich chocolate, range of pleasing textures and the combination to die for of mint and ginger in ice-cream form, I was not disappointed. It was what came next which made me wish I  had chosen the raspberry dessert instead.

My inlaws had, when booking the restaurant, told Le 7 (when they asked whether it was for a special occasion) that we were coming for my husband’s birthday. Unbeknownst to them, or any of us, the restaurant arranged a surprise complimentary birthday cake – a really nice, personal touch. Equally unbeknownst to anyone, it was a chocolate extravaganza with thick, soft dark chocolate icing and golden embellishments.  It was delicious, and we could not have wished for a higher-quality birthday cake. However, it would have been a lot more delicious had I not just put away another plate of chocolatey goodness.

Following this, we asked for coffee, which was brought with petits fours (as you would expect of a fine establishment such as those run by Anne-Sophie Pic). The petits fours would have been the star of the show thanks to their melty, fondant centres – had they not also been…yep, you’ve guessed it…another chocolate-fest! Now, I enjoy chocolate, and I accept that all three of these events coming in such quick succession was just bad luck or coincidence, but there is such thing as overkill, and it surprises me that more variation could not have been offered by the restaurant, at least on the petits fours front (surely anyone who has just ordered the chocolate dessert off the €29 menu will not be as ecstatic as they could be about chocolate petits fours?).

Nevertheless, none of this stopped the bistrot from being extremely good value for money. Service was slick and near-faultless, especially in such a busy setting; staff were discreet; the settings, right down to the toilets, were stylish and well-maintained; and the food, even if it was at times a little lacking in creativity, at times showed astonishing innovation and was, at all times, cooked and presented to a very high standard indeed. Would return.

285, avenue Victor Hugo 26000 Valence

telephone: 04 75 44 53 86

http://www.pic-valence.com

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