I’m slowly accumulating visits to the many L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon restaurants dotted around the world; yeah, that sounds like a real hardship! If you think about it, the task is not really that difficult. Arguably the most famous chef on the planet and certainly the most decorated (at last count 33 Michelin Stars), Robuchon has restaurants in so many countries, it’s hard to keep up.
I’d originally planned to go to another Michelin Starred restaurant as my second meal on my recent UK trip, Pollon Street Social, but pulled the plug after checking the menu and not seeing much to my palate. It left a bit of a void in my planning, but at the same time presented an opportunity for me to continue my drive to visit each and every L’Atelier de Joel Rubochon. Thankfully I was able to secure a reservation with ease and made my way on London’s ‘famous’ Underground to Covent Gardens.
As an aside, I really love Covent Gardens, it’s one of my favourite spots in the UK, mainly because it feels so alive! So, I was quite easily able to find the building which housed L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, as well as a rooftop bar (which I never did visit). The first thing I noticed about the building was that it deviated quite far from all of the other L’Atelier’s that I’d visited. Firstly, I could actually see into the restaurant from street level, but equally because it had a much more rustic and funky feel than the others I’d visited.
Making my way to my spot at the bar, there was absolutely no mistaking where I was. Each of the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon’s have a common theme. There’s plenty of black and red; and an open kitchen or more precisely an open workshop (the French derivative of Atelier) where the chefs were hard at work prepping for and serving eager guests. Within moments of being seated, my waiter for the evening made her way over to introduce herself and ask if I’d dined at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon before….
It led to an interesting conversation that continued throughout the night, but after giving her a rundown of the outlets I’d visited, we just ran through the specials on the menu as opposed to the full spiel about the options. Interestingly, there were many choices on the menu that were new to me, many not appearing on the previous iterations in other countries. It gave me some hard choices as I really didn’t know what I wanted to eat.
While I was deciding on my course, the ubiquitous Alessi bowl arrived with a small selection of bread rolls and a slab of that wonderful hand churned salted French butter that goes so wonderfully with bread. Normally, the bowl of bread has way too many varieties, most of which I never eat, so it was sensible when there were only a couple of roll options there for me to choose.
After finally making my choices and placing my order, I was again surprised with the amuse bouche that arrived. Every other time I’d been to a L’Atelier, the first taste had always been a shot glass of foie gras with parmesan foam and prosciutto, or some variation so similar it didn’t matter. Instead I was presented with a beautiful little spring vegetable tartlet with a white cheese sauce. Of course it wasn’t your traditional tartlet, more like pastry wrapped around spring vegetables and sitting in a pool of sticky smooth cheese foam. It was light and refreshing, the cheese sauce coating the vegetables and adding a sweetness overall.
My starter had contained a list of ingredients that were guaranteed to leave me satisfied; sautéed squid, baby artichokes and tomato water in a dish called ‘Les Encornets et les artichauts violets à la plancha aux saveurs Ibériques’. Ahh, it sounded so much better in French when it was placed in front of me! As expected, the dish was beautifully presented in a classic white bowl with gold trim, the ingredients piled high. I particularly loved the sweet sauce that carried the dish, the squid was exquisitely cooked and the chorizo punchy, but not over powering. There was perhaps a tad too many of the artichoke hearts, providing an excess of acidity, but that was my personal taste preference. I enjoyed the dish very much.
Main was rather predictable for me I’m afraid; I really, really felt like that most famous of Joel Robuchon dishes, the dish which quite possibly put Chef Robuchon on the map, the foie gras stuffed quail served with mashed potato. The ‘La Caille caramélisée avec une pomme purée truffée’ is most certainly on each and every L’Atelier menu and with good reason. It was another example of classic French flavours playing together wonderfully, the sweet creamy foie gras against the earthy and slightly bitter quail. The sticky jus poured over that almost makes you weep with its deep and robust flavours that dance on the palate. Best of all, there were thick shavings of truffle on the mashed potato, along with an extra pot filled with the creamy buttery concoction that is often copied but never matched.
OMG – delicious!
My level of predictability continued with dessert, choosing the passionfruit soufflé or the ‘au fruit de la passion et son sorbet exotique’. The perfectly risen soufflé was calling to me and I barely managed to get some good shots before I dove right in and quickly devoured the light and airy dessert. There was a moment of pure delight as I smashed out the dish, but there was equally a moment of disappointment, with a section of the soufflé not quite cooked out fully, leaving a slightly eggy taste on my palate. A minor issue really, but still an issue! It was pretty darn sweet too, but that sweetness was offset with the perfect hit of passionfruit sorbet.
My meal was finished off with some petite four, which to be honest, were the only real letdown of the night. There was a chocolate caramel and passionfruit marshmallow, along with the traditional madeleine, the former not too bad but the madeleine dry and actually really hard to swallow!
As usual at a L’Atelier de Joe Robuchon, the service was superb, which is important when you are so close to the action that you’re almost interacting. My waiter for the night seemed really interested in the fact that I was an Aussie living in Hong Kong; reminding me that I live in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world (I was thinking the same about living in London!)
The team of chefs led by Executive Head Chef Jeremy Page and lead chef Axel Manes, did a fantastic job of providing me some top quality ‘nosh’. It was immensely enjoyable watching the chefs in action, they sure do make cooking look so easy!
As I was fixing the bill and leaving, I got to chatting to the Maitre ‘d who’d seemed pretty interested in my camera and pinged me as a food blogger. There was a standing invitation to come back to head up to the bar and rooftop terrace to check out how pumping the place got on a weekend. It did seem like a great idea, but alas, I never did go back to check it out.
Perhaps my next trip to London, where hopefully the girl will be along to enjoy the delights as well.