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L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (London)

The 2009 edition of the UK Michelin guide was released last week and Joel Robuchon added yet another star for his L’Atelier in London. Ironically, Robuchon has told the Michelin people to piss off, saying "as long as Michelin remains stuck in the past, I have no interest in being mentioned in it".  Today he has more stars than any chef in the universe.

Not everyone is thrilled with what Joe Robuchon is doing with his haute chain. Many people say the Paris location in particular isn’t up to the task . I visited the L’Atelier in London a while ago and thought both the food and the concept are fantastic.

High end cooking is usually reserved for special occasion restaurants. Places where you make a reservation weeks in advance, wear your most uncomfortable clothes, spend a small fortune on a meal and spend hours in company of not always attentive servers who make you feel as if you are lucky to be in their presence. Take the special out of the occasion and fine dining for the sake of food is a full time job. Tedious, predictable and mildly annoying.

With his L’Atelier concept Joel Robuchon turns the whole thing on it’s head. There is a dining room, but the best seat in the house is at the bar in front of an open kitchen. The whole thing resembles a sushi bar, though the fish has been replaced by dramatic displays of produce and a giant leg of jamon iberico mounted in a stainless steel harness.

Most of the menu consists of small plates (the ham isn’t the only nod to Spain), few large mains and desserts. You are just as likely to share the counter with someone who popped into L’Atelier for a snack as someone demolishing  a 12 course meal.

I didn’t do my usual romp through the menu and ordered a more reasonable lunch instead. It wasn’t cheap, but it was less expensive than what you’d usually spend for meal prepared at this level. The dishes had fancy French names, but were remarkably focused and restrained.

The starter with daunting name of “Le Jambon "Iberico de Bellota’ taille par nos soins escorte de pain toaste a la tomate” turned out to be few sublime shavings of the best ham in the world. It looks like this and it was delicious all on it’s own.

I still don’t really know what a cocotte is, but I ordered the “L’Oeuf cocotte a la creme legere de champingnons des sous-bois” and got a egg something or the other topped with wild mushroom froth. It was light, it was bursting with flavor and it tasted of egg yolk. To this date I think it rivals the L’Arpege egg as a perfect way to start every meal.

 La Caille au foie gras et caramelisse
avec une pomme puree truffee

The foie stuffed quail was very well prepared – tender and crisp in all the right parts – but the Robuchon’s signature mashed potatoes (rumored to have an obsene amount of butter) were in a league of their own. They remain a reference point for potato dishes for me.

I closed out with “un dessert je ne me souviens pas”, loosely translated as some dessert I no longer remember. I am pretty sure it had lemon and meringue.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon may be a chain, but it’s a chain I’d be thrilled to have in my home town (not happening). Despite having similar menus, apparently not all locations are the same and some cook at a very high level, which explains why someone from Paris would spend their time going to a French chain in New York. It also explains why Robuchon continues to amass Michelin stars without even trying.

January 26, 2009   6 Comments