Pecking proverbial milk tops from fine dining establishments across the UK

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, London

13-15 West Street, London WC2H 9NE **

Tasting menu available Mon-Sat -2.15pm for Lunch, 10.30pm for dinner. Seven courses + coffee: £125.


For some reason, L’Artelier de Joel Robuchon has slipped under the Fat Robin’s sensitive radar. For some time now a London institution with two Michelin stars to its name, Joel Robuchon’s outlet in the city should have been high up the pecking order, but instead has remained neglected and untouched: the last hazelnut in the bird feeder. But no longer.

My friend and regular protagonist in these musings Mr B was returning ‘for one night only’ from travels abroad, and it was on his recommendation (B having visited Mr Robouchon’s restaurant in Las Vegas) that he, J and I arranged to meet at L’Atelier one Monday night. After a pint at an old English pub and a gin and tonic at a trendy Scottish bar, it was time to head to France for the meal.

The decor in L’Atelier instantly stands out. The designer has gone for a ‘black and red’ theme, with black walls, dark wood tables, bar and floor with and red lights, serviettes and pictures – as well as various fruits and vegetables scattered liberally around the place. The room is very dark, with much more of a bar / club feel than your standard restaurant with its pastel colours and starched white table cloths. I suppose the idea is that the surroundings reflect the food: modern, edgy, different. It would, I think, be a great place to take a girl on a date. The problem on this occasion was that I was with two other men, so spent probably a little too much time throughout the evening wondering if the waitress thought I was on a date with them (I’m fairly sure that she did).

Having been seated at a table looking over (but not at) the central open kitchen / bar area, we opted for the tasting menu, or menu decouvetre, as L’Atelier calls it. First to come was a ’’Royale’’ of foie gras, port reduction and parmesan foam, served layered in a shot glass. This was an outstanding start to the meal. The intense foie gras was rich and creamy, and complemented perfectly by the sweet and acidic port reduction which cut through it. The parmesan foam , which might have been lost amongst such powerful flavours, rather performed its role perfectly in lightening the dish and leaving the mouth cleansed. There was much scraping of shot glasses with teaspoons before we all accepted that the pre-starter was over, and it was time to move on (9/10).

The next course to arrive was ‘Le caviar’, caviar served on a bed of crab meat and lobster jelly. The first thing to comment on was the presentation, which was wonderful. The dish was served in a Joel Robuchon branded caviar tin - which appeared completely full of the black stuff – and a mother of pearl caviar spoon with which to eat it. Only on cutting through the generous layer of caviar was the lobster and crab revealed below. B, J and I were unanimous in our gleeful, childlike response to these of culinary theatrics. Presentation is always important, but its not often a plate of food can make you smile. With expectations raised, the caviar did not disappoint on the flavour. The caviar was good – no more than that – and the lobster and crab were sweet, combined with just a hint of fennel, which worked very well. The inky caviar popping in the mouth followed by the melting jelly and the tender crab meat made for a wonderfully textured dish (9/10).

While the empty plates (for which read: tins) were removed, a creeping fear began to steel over me, as it always does when going for tasting menus. The ‘rollercoaster of the tasting menu’ had been on the up two courses in a row, and I feared that with six courses to go, we were going to drop at some point. Its happened before – with J once being half way through a tasting menu running out of superlatives for the second starter, and by half way through complaining that the food tasted variously of ‘rotten vegetables’ and ‘stale beer’. With the standard so high, I feared, something was bound to disappoint.

The next course confirmed my fears – through only up to a point. When it arrived, ‘La grosse crevette’ was just that – a single, very large, grilled tiger prawn, served in the shell. The menu promised ‘exotic flavours’, which were imbibed into the crustacean by marinating in a variety of citrus juices and eastern spices. There was also a lime to squeeze over if required. The tiger prawn was well cooked and tasty, but was messy to peel, and disappointing after two carefully balanced and constructed courses. A good tiger prawn is always nice, but come summer, a very similar dish can be found served up chez moi on the barbeque – I even cook them the same way (I know because you could see the broiler from the table). In a restaurant with two Michelin stars, I expect more: after two such excellent starters, even more so (4/10).

Discussion about which way the menu was going to head was cut short by the arrival of the next course, duck foie gras with citrus compote and port jus. This was essentially the mother of the amouse bouche which had gone down so well. The foie gras was served in an unashamed bloc, seared until crisp on the outside and melted (and it must be said barely cooked) in the centre. The result was rich, almost to a fault, and it would have been a challenge to finish the slab on its own. What saved it and made the dish was the well paired citrus compote, which cut through the sticky foie gras and gave a contrasting acidic ‘tang’, and the sweet, sticky, port jus, which added balance and rounded off the plate well. Once again, we were back into good food territory, (7/10).

Next came the first proper main course, an Asian influenced black cod, served on a bed of spinach with wasabi cream, with pureed carrot. This was another exceptional course. The fish was perfectly cooked, tasted very good, and fell apart easily into large, firm flakes. The sweet carrot puree was the highlight of the rest of the plate - smooth and delicious, but the wasabi spinach was much better than I had feared, complimenting the fish well, and rather than overpowering it. Incidentally, it injected some much needed greens into the meal so far. (8/10) and B’s favourite dish of the meal.

The final main course featured foie gras once more (without a whisper of a complaint from the Robin’s corner). The quail arrived in two parts, with a confit leg and the breast stuffed with foie gras. This was served with a quinnel of truffle pommes puree (including a generous shaving of truffle over the top and an extra portion of the potato to serve ourselves as we ran out – delightfully presented in a miniature Staub pot. This was a very well executed classic French plate. The quail was cooked very well, served in a delicious, simple jus. The potatoes were smooth and buttery and the truffle flavour was strong (though as with most pomme puree, this had, for my taste, been over-whipped, so as to become elastic and chewy). It was extremely pleasing to see - and taste - white truffle shavings rather than try and detect a hint of flavour where truffle oil had been used. A good course, although it would have been nice to see a little more experimenting with texture, preparation/ cuts of meat and presentation as this was the main dish of the evening (7/10).

Moving on to desert, we were next offered a green ice lolly on a stick, which, on ‘sucking and seeing’ revealed itself to be blackcurrant sorbet covered in (green) white chocolate. Again, L’Atelier’s sense of fun shone through, and it was for this reason, as much as for the intense flavour and refreshing, palate clensing effect, that we all enjoyed it. Its not often your food will make you smile with sheer joy once in a meal, twice is quite an achievement (8/10).

Desert was a beautifully presented chocolate pot. The ‘pot’ itself was a red glass bowl, with a chocolate disc covering the top. Having broken through this, the rest of the pot was revealed, comprising a white/milk chocolate mousse, sprinkled with milk chocolate sitting on a liquid chocolate base. It was a good desert, nothing to complex, but interesting, a bit of fun, and enjoyed by all, although with so much going on, not one of us managed to finish the lot (6/10).

After the desert, we took coffee at the bar, watching the kitchen processing the final orders of the night and reflecting on the meal just finished. It was without doubt the best tasting menu I have had to date. Some of the best dishes I have ever had featured, and none let the side down irrevocably. There were just not that many misses and a number of hits. This could be because of L’Atelier’s menu concept, where all the dishes are tasting menu sized and all meals are 6/7 courses, so that there is less experimenting and more tried and tested dishes on the menu decouvetre. Whatever the reason, I am ashamed to have overlooked L’Atelier for so long, and can’t wait to return. London’s other two star restaurants have a lot to live up to.

What did others think? L'Atelier on Urbanspoon

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