Atelier Robuchon - recommended dishes?
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon is an innovative concept in restaurants
from the one that was once elected "cuisinier du siecle" (the 20th,
obviously), along with Freddy Girardet, by his peers. It opened in
Paris first, and since then reproduced itself in London, New York,
Tokyo, with awards and success.
In a black, sophisticated setting, a long bar goes around a grill/
tepeyaki. You cannot really see the cooking going on, because you are
far from the grill and without sight on the non-grilling part. So
you're really far away from eating in the kitchen, but there is
indeed a more direct connection with the chefs that in a usual
restaurant. Reservation is basically impossible and the place is very
crowded around meal time.
However, coming on a sunday night at 11.30 did grant us immediate
access to three seats without waiting (usually, you would come, be
told you they probably won't have a seat for 45 min or two hours, and
said you can go have a drink nearby and they will call you on your
cell when there is a table for you). We were warnt however, that,
contrariwise to French usage, the 12 am closing time is not the time
for the last order being taken, but the time for the kitchen to
actually close, so we would have to limit our ambitions in terms of
exploring the menu but we would be served quickly -- so much so that
the third course would actually come at the same time as the second
All the entrees we had were more than delicious, more than perfect.
The tartine de pied de cochons (pig's foot on toast), was intense and
subtle, a perfect composition of consistencies, a touch of
Parmiggiano almost got unnoticed but bring a fine balance to the
foot's flesh, salad and toasted baguette (still: two small tartines,
19eur). Perfect and tasty glass of Languedoc red Wine, without any
sourness and many flavours, makes a good aperitif, although we are
not offered anything to drink for long minutes once we're seated
(10eur, first price for wines by the glass).
Fresh anchovies and peppers are brought together in a very pictural
and simple presentation: a rectangle, in the middle of rectangular
plate, made alternate stripes of fresh anchovies and peeled,
marinated red peppers. Both tastes perfectly reveal one another, and
the plate once again is at the level of the best restaurants in the
world. A plate of Bellota Bellota ham has nothing noteworthy except
being delicious. I guess the reason they serve small dices of peeled
tomatoes on small toasts of Poilane bread on the side is so you can't
object that there is no cooking involved in this plate. However, they
do not bring anything to the ham, who has enough to say by itself.
The now classic Merlan frit is worth the pride of Robuchon (despite
the pretense of Gordon Ramsay in his autobiography that he never
understood what such a simple dish had to do in Robuchon's
restaurant). It is paneed and deep fried. The fish flesh is tender,
shiny, white. It is served with fried parsley and a little cocotte of
the famous puree of Robuchon, half butter half ratte potatoes. It is
obviously more of a sauce than an actual side dish, but a sauce whose
richness is an excellent match for the simplicity of the fish, more
so to my opinion than when it is served with meat (which also means
that it annihilates its dietetic value).
Or, worse again, with creamed pasta, which happened that night in the
form of six al dente macaronis lying in order next to one another,
creamed I mentioned, also with veal and morilles mushrooms juices.
This provides the base on which the flavour of the morille expand.
Like the rest, the morilles were perfectly freshed, perfectly
seasoned, perfectly cooked. They were firm not hard to chew, yet the
said chewing would reveal those characteristic forestry tastes, and
the cooking had the sweetened the somewhat rough mushroom. Dices of
foie gras and chicken kidneys, both roasted, completed the picture. I
should also mention the veal sweetbread, simply one of the most
perfect you can have, so perfectly melty and tasty (other glorious
sweetbreads include Bernard Loiseau in Burgundy and Rabaey in
Switzerland -- there is much more to eat there, but for much more
than the 21eur of the Robuchon tasting sample). Also, a tartare-
frites was irreproachable but, like the ham, had nothing more than that.
So the food was top notch, really impressive. But I have to tell you,
the bread felt like it had spent two days in a plastic bag, and the
desserts were plain bad (ice creams were still OK, they were out of
tarts and petits pots, and the coffee and chocolate desserts we had
felt like those industrial "desserts" you take out of the fridge and
eat while watching 24). And the service was not particularly
attentive or helpful, with that impression that they are doing you a
favour by serving you rather than you by coming.
On the whole however, my purely personal impression is that the place
has no soul, with its black dressed personal that feels a bit like
they are the security guys, or alternatively like they are about to
sing corsican polyphonics, and that feeling of being part of a
remarkably industrialised business. But it offers unique features:
where else in the world can you eat a perfect ris de veau on a sunday
night at 11.30? Where else can you have just a bit of a positively
gastronomic experience, even if you are not hungry -- just a
perfectly cooked whole lobster for 70eur, end of story? Here you do
not have to have the appetite and time to make a full degustation
menu, but you can do it as well (it will however end up costing almos
as much as the degustation you would have had in a classical topnotch
gastronomic restaurant). You can just pick up the thing you feel like
that day. You also have a significant choice of glasses of wine. No
two ways about it: a very smart concept, fit for our times, and
remarkably realised (that is, except for bread, desserts and service).
it sounds like the ultimate late night dining in Paris!
For those who have never dined with Chef Robuchon, especially at his fine dining establishments, simplicity has always been his byword. He has always known exactly what to do with each food item at that particular point in time, and he always lets the flavors sing. It's his techniques that set his food so high above everyone else, and in the book Patricia Wells wrote with him, "Simply French," he pretty much "gives away the store!" By following the instructions laid forth in that book, a good home cook can pretty much cook a three-star meal in the home -- if one wants to put forth the effort. ;>)
depends on what you like, but most entrees are remarkable (full review on my blog), and desserts are bad. You can do a very quick (if you get a table) and light meal indeed, and of very high quality.
Yesterday, La Morille, Le Pied de Cochon, Le Merlan, Le Ris de veau would be four dishes I would highly recommend. Anything whose good preparation is rarely found and demand extra care. In that spirit, I would try the seabass as well, asparagus if you like them, etc.
Conversely, dishes like the beef tournedos or entrecote, spaghettis, ham, tartare, are not worth going there -- they are quite perfect but unsurprising and pricey.