You know the drill, one of the greatest chefs of the last 100 years, and it must be said probably one of the most canny restauranteurs going today. How else do you account for the squillions of Michelin Stars the guy has.
Of course I’m talking about Joel Robuchon.
I’ve been collecting Joel Robuchon visits wherever I can and was recently able to add the Shanghai outlet of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon to the list. The list includes various iterations of his restaurant empire in Hong Kong, France, Taiwan, Singapore, Macau and the UK.
My favourite by far to date has been L’Atelier in Singapore, which coincidentally was my very first time and had a lot to do with Head Chef Lorenz Hoja, who treated me pretty well on the night. At the time, the Michelin guide was not in Singapore; 2016 saw a change to that status and L’Atelier and Lorenz received two Stars.
So of course I had to visit the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Shanghai, itself bestowed with two Michelin Stars; naturally, the comparisons started as soon as I walked through the door of its The Bund location.
If you’ve only been to one L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, you know the drill of them all. For those who’ve not had the pleasure (yet), all of the L’Atelier’s have the same set up; predominantly bar seats around the workshop area in which the chefs prepare their magic. Atelier is French for workshop, and that’s what you’re getting when visiting one of these magnificent restaurants.
Amazing food prepared in a workshop for your pleasure!
The head chef of the Shanghai outlet is Francky Semblat, an alumni of Robuchon restaurants from the age of 19 years old. Chef Francky is well known for sharing his mentors relentless perfectionism, passion and love of gastronomy, so I was pretty interested in seeing how that would translate into the meal.
The best way to sample the exquisite food on offer at a L’Atelier is through the tasting menu, however, I’ve been looking after my weight recently and decided that a more sensible approach to my meal was called for. As such, I opted for choosing items from the ‘Les carte de plates en pitetes‘ and the ‘a la carte‘ menus; essentially tasting menu sized portions that allows you to choose your own adventure.
The meal started with the now very familiar bread basket (Alessi of course) along with an amuse bouche of foie gras topped with foam, the only variation on the Shanghai version was the addition of a thin layer of red wine sauce reduction, which gave the dish a fruity and slightly fermented flavour.
My first dish of the night was from the Les carte de plates and was absolutely sensational. La Dorade or sea bream carpaccio with lemon dressing, esplette pepper and caviar was typically beautiful to the eye, as well as being a joy on the palate. Presented on a long oval plate, the ultra thin sea bream was wonderfully fresh; the lemon dressing had a little sweetness creeping in, balancing the acidity and the caviar dotted around the plate added saltiness. A little olive oil finished the plate, which I quickly devoured, a satisfied smile on my face.
My dish of Le Topinambour or Jerusalem artichoke veloute with comté and Château-Chalan emulsion with Yunnan ham also came from the Les carte de plates. Presented in a small glass tea cup, the veloute was topped with strips of truffle as a bonus. The light and velvety soup was packed full of flavour, the artichoke soup slightly astringent, but well balanced from the cheese and ham bits that were floating around in the cup, giving little bonus hits to the palate.
A true test of any Joel Robuchon restaurant is how well the team can prepare (arguably) the most iconic dish in Mr Robuchon’s arsenal of exquisite food. I dipped into the a la carte menu for the iconic La Caille or caramelised quail stuffed with foie gras and served with mashed potato. I’ll never forget the first time I had the dish in Singapore, what a revelation; just sublime. The Hong Kong and Taipei versions of the dish were equally amazing. Unfortunately, I found the Shanghai version to be a little under cooked!
That’s right, the foie gras stuffed inside the quail hadn’t completely ‘melted’ and when I cut into the dish, it was clear that it was under by the square shape of the foie gras. Worse, when I was powering into my whipped mashed potato, for the first time in any of my Robuchon experiences, there were lumps in the mash!
Don’t get me wrong, the caramelised sauce was wonderful and sticky, the quail full flavoured and yummy and the mash buttery and warming; it’s just that there were small errors that negated the perfection of the dish.
It was dessert time and I found it impossible to pass by the soufflé, which in Shanghai was the La Poire or pear soufflé and fondant, served with a simple vanilla ice-cream. When the soufflé arrived, it looked perfect, just as I’d expect a Robuchon dessert to appear. Diving deep into the soufflé, I found the top half to be light and airy and wonderful; however, it was at that point that I discovered what the ‘fondant’ part of the dessert was all about. The bottom half of the dish had stewed pears and as a consequence made the lower half of the soufflé a little gooey and slightly unpleasant on the palate. Again, a first for a dessert at L’Atelier de Joel Robucon for me.
Again, I found it impossible not to compare my experiences in the Shanghai outlet of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon with all of my previous experiences. Service was impeccable and while the language barrier was harder than other markets, I was lucky enough to have a waiter who had spent time in Australia and was keen to practice his English.
Food was a mixed bag, the initial couple of courses were well up to the standard that I’d expect from a two Michelin Starred restaurant; and a restaurant run by Joel Robuchon. But, I did find the second half of the meal to have slipped to a unusually low standard.
Ranking all of my experiences in the legendary chefs restaurants is pretty hard, the standout meal was Singapore and is forever locked away in my food bank. The remainder of the restaurants are at a high standard, but hard to split. However, it’s easy for me to say that the Shanghai outlet provided the most inconsistent meal, and one that I’ll remember for all the wrong reasons.
Well, I still have a few to try and will be lucky enough to keep the visits coming with trips to Tokyo and Montreal this year.
I wonder where they will sit in my collection of memories?