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Union Restaurant, La Plagne | Interview with Phil Howard

One of Britain’s most admired chefs, Phil Howard, owns Elystan Street in Chelsea and formerly ran Mayfair’s two-Michelin star The Square. With plenty of footholds around the city, he opened Union Restaurant in La Plagne Montalbert three years ago. Serving fresh, nourishing cuisine, skiers come from all corners of Paradiski for his creative tasting menu.


Phil-Howard-by-Andrew-Hayes-Watkins-(2)

What made you want to embark on La Plagne’s dining scene?

We’ve had a chalet in La Plagne Montalbert for about 12 years and as a family we ski a lot. My world is food, so wherever I go I’m either eating, talking or thinking about food. I found all the restaurants similar in what they offered, and I didn’t wake up with the urge to ski somewhere for lunch because it was going to be great.

I wanted to do something different, feeding a hundred people that had been on the mountain all day with a slightly different repertoire of food. This is where Union Restaurant came in.

Have you got any areas in the Paradiski that are your favourite?

Spending so much time in noisy, smoky and steamy kitchen basements, the mountains provide a wilderness. I enjoy ski touring and as Montalbert is on the Paradiski boundary it’s easy to hike up and ski untouched areas. There’s nothing particularly exposed or radical about the immediate terrain but it’s really special. Rather than heading to the main ski area after a big snowfall, we go in the other direction and have it to ourselves.

When I have a chalet of people that don’t want to ski tour, I hike up before sunrise with a head torch. If you have one epic run to start, you don’t mind skiing around wherever with your mates.

Off-piste-la-plagne

How does the cuisine at Union restaurant differ from Elystan Street and the mountain restaurants?

My cooking is what people call modern British, and Union restaurant is closer to Elystan Street than it is to the typical mountain restaurants. If you go skiing for a week, it’s fine. You eat all the heavy mountain food and you come home. For people that ski more often – and there are a lot of them in Montalbert as there are lots of property owners – you begin to miss vegetables and variety, so we offer a more contemporary menu.

We know what we’re doing and we’re out there to be the best restaurant in Paradiski. It’s not fancy or stiff, but that’s our mission. Union is often full of people who have skied over from Les Arcs, which is exactly what we want. To be a restaurant that people ski across the Paradiski for!

How do you source the best ingredients?

The simple things we want don’t appear on the other restaurant’s menus. We want great quality, seasonal produce that is resilient due to weather, like white beetroot, celeriac and turnips. Getting good ingredients has been the greatest challenge.

In London, I have all my suppliers and I get great ingredients at the drop of a hat. In Montalbert, I have to think ahead and be more creative. After three years at Union, we’re well placed. If you want to cook beautiful food, you must have great ingredients, so that’s been the biggest struggle.

Daube-of-ox-cheek,-Restaurant Union-photographed-by-Andrew-Hayes-Watkins-(1)

What can foodies expect from your tasting menu this ski season?

It varies a little. Start with truffled chicken bouillon, a small glass of intensely aromatic chicken broth with truffle, and a little warm crumpet on the side. Similar to consommé; it’s nourishing, warming and incredibly delicious. I want to make an impact through the first course.

We then do three cold courses: a fresh and clean beetroot cured salmon dish with lovage, a roasted cashew nut hummus served with warm, roasted vegetables – a signature dish at Elystan Street and Union – and a warm green bean salad with truffle and hazelnut pesto.

Next is octopus – it’s fun and delicious. It’s a lovely Mediterranean change from parsnips and celeriac. The last savoury dish is braised pork cheeks, finished with crème fraiche and a dash of mustard – a mellow comfort food. The cheek is the best part of meat for braising and served with smoked, creamed potato and caramelised onions.

A clean, refreshing pre-dessert plate is poached rhubarb and clementine. Rhubarb is the screaming clear flavour that arrives in the heart of winter. To finish, a warm, slightly under-baked chocolate brownie with an orange-infused whipped cream.

Beetroot-cured-salmon-with-horseradish,-Union-photographed-by-Andrew-Hayes-Watkins

When you’re hungry after a day skiing, what’s your favourite guilt-free dish?

I’m as much of a pig as anyone; I don’t care what I eat as long as it’s good. I really enjoy a cheese fondue – it’s one of life’s delicious things – with a big green salad. If you’ve been skiing hard all day, you do just want something hearty and you’ve earned it. Food dominates a lot of our lives, and skiing is no different.

Confit-of-duck-with-haricot-beans-and-garlic by-Andrew-Hayes-Watkins

Tell us about your guest chefs this winter…

On 6th and 7th March 2020, Angela Hartnett and Nigel Haworth will join me in the kitchen. They cook wholesome food from the heart, and they cook it well. We’re doing 50/50, so they will do two courses and I’ll do two courses. It’ll just be delicious ingredient-led food on the mountains on both evenings. Union is just a small restaurant with 32 covers, so they will be intimate evenings.

It’s best to book in advance, as if we’re full, we’re full.

Union Restaurant interiors Andrew-Hayes-Watkins

We’re definitely salivating now! When you book a holiday with Ski Solutions, we will happily book your restaurant reservations. If you’d like to book a table at Union Restaurant in La Plagne, please contact us on 0207 471 7700. For more information on holidays to La Plagne, see here.

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