Tuesday, September 28, 2010

l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. 2 stars.

Chef of the century, he has named by the Gault Millau restaurant guide 20 years ago.

For decades, one of the most important and influential French chefs in the world.

25 Michelin stars to his name, making him the most starred chef in the world.

Mentor to some of the biggest names in cooking today.

And tonight I was going to his main restaurant, l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. 2 Michelin stars. #29 in the San Pellegrino world's top 100 restaurants.

Oh. Yes.

It's fair to say that I was looking forward to this meal. When it comes to big names in food, there are only a couple that deserve the same level of regard.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon is an interesting French restaurant. Firstly, the are only bookings for the first sitting. After that, you can rock up and try your luck. Secondly, it looks NOTHING like a French restaurant. The whole concept is a lot closer to a Japanese restaurant, with an open kitchen and all of the diners sitting along a bench. Between the bench and the kitchen is a few staff to take orders and ferry food. And in another non-French twist, sharing of dishes is almost encouraged.

We get there at 6.30 for our booking and it's already busy. Which shouldn't be a surprise, because the doors open at 6.30 and that's when all the bookings are. The crowd causes anticipation to build.

We're seated next to a group talking about insurance and some quiet couples and kick things off with an absolutely smashing champagne. Rather than ordering off the menu (which looks popular with others) we decide to just go the tasting menu. We let the sommelier do the matching wines for us.

I thought we might have to wait for our food with so many people arriving at the same time, but the dishes start flying out. Caviar with smoked fish and potatoes is delicious. The tomato salad is a simple selection of different tomatoes but tastes incredibly good. Foie gras with beans is the first classic dish of the night. Sweet and savoury in perfect harmony. The wine matching was a dud (the assistant sommelier had a go) but that dish was spectacular. The sommelier came back for the egg and mushroom dish and the dish was transformed into something excellent.

So we got through the tasting menu and it was all fantastic. An excellent experience. But... there were two things bothering me:
1.It was raining outside and we didn't have an umbrella.
2.I hadn't tried the langoustines. My beloved shellfish.

Rather than coffee we decided to go for a dessert wine to finish off with. But I felt like I just HAD to try more of Robuchon's food, so I got another dessert based on their recommendation for what would match the wine we got. The arabica. A dreadnaught of coffee excellence. Coffee beans, coffee mouse and a kind of coffee pastry in a glass. Delicious.

The rain continued to fall.

I made the move. Let's go the langoustines.

They were good. Damn good. I was happy.

But it was still raining.

We asked for a suggestion from the sommelier/waiter. He said he'd surprise us. What came back was one of the best dishes I've ever eaten. Bone marrow on toast. So simple, but SO FREAKING GOOD. Bone marrow was piled up high on the toast and each bite released a torrent of delicious, salty fat. Wow.

I should have left it there. But it was still raining. Heavily. Something was telling me to stay. Jesus likes Robuchon's food too maybe?

Again, waiter/sommelier was given carte blanche to bring anything. He brought the pig trotters. Beautiful. A mix of fat, sweet meat, crunch, breadcrumbs, salt. You know, the good things in life.

It was still raining but it couldn't keep going like this.

We left.

We got wet.

I had one of the best dining experiences of my life. Alongside Marque and Momofuku Ko, I have a new top 3.

So should this be given third Michelin star? Can you give something three stars if you sit at a counter? The food was all about great produce, it wasn't about showing off a stack of techniques or putting dozens of elements on a plate. Does it need to?

I don't want to think about it really. This dinner doesn't need to be analysed or considered like other fine dining experiences sometimes do. It just took incredible food and gave you as much of it as you wanted. You dictated the terms of the meal. Not the restaurant, like most other places do.

Michelin star tally: 16

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