Joël Robuchon’s “L’Atelier”

I was fortunate enough to be taken to Joël Robuchon’s “L’Atelier” this weekend. It was my first time eating in a Michelin starred restaurant, so the word “excited” doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling. We had a 9:30pm booking, but arrived slightly early, having allowed extra time for the trip there because of the snow. Our table wasn’t ready, so we were shown upstairs to the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. I’d love to be able to relate which cocktail I ordered, but there were so many moments of yumminess that night the name now escapes me. Fortunately, I was given a copy of the menu to take home with me, so remaining account of this meal should be a little more accurate.

In the end, we didn’t eat at a table, but at the counter. While a separate table would have been more intimate, I actually preferred our seating arrangements. It made it easier to look at the dishes other people ordered. Consequently, within 30 seconds of being seated we were salivating.

We had already decided to order the “menu decouverte”. My boyfriend takes the position that the better the food, the more you should rely on the experts to tell you what to eat, so tasting menus are the way to go. So far we haven’t been lead astray by this approach. Continuing this line of thought, we also indulged in the “discover france” matching wines. Now I know this post would be better with photos, but somehow pulling out a camera in a 2 star restaurant felt a little tacky. So apologies for the lack of food porn, but I will try to be sufficiently descriptive to convey the aesthetics experience to some degree.

Our meal started with an aperitif of Parmesan cappuccino with port and foie gras. It was served in what most resembled a shot glass. It was two tiered, as all cappuccinos should be, with a foundation layer of what was basically liquid foie gras which was topped with Parmesan foam. While the combination of flavour was fantastic, there was something quite odd about sipping liquidised flesh.

Next course was caviar on a bed of crab with lobster jelly. It was served in a small tin container, simultaneously giving the impression of just being given a tin of caviar while being reminiscent of a dish if potted crab. It was a beautifully balanced dish with an undertone of fennel permeating the crab. This dish had me resisting the urge to lick the plate. It was served with a 2009 Pouilly Fumé “La Demoiselle” Domaine Henri Bougeois. Unfortunately my knowledge of wines is appalling, so I don’t feel I can really comment on the quality of the wine or the matching of dish and beverage. but I’m including this just in case someone with greater understanding reads this.

Third course was a chicory and fuji apple salad topped with black truffle, and served with a 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Château La Nerthe. I was actually a bit excited about the wine because I’ve had Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds (or shall I be pretentious and say “Rouges”?) and always really enjoyed them. The dish itself was definitely the least successful of the menu. The chicory was beautifully prepared, retaining a satisfying crunchiness in every bite. However, while there was initially a subtle sweetness to the dish, each mouthful ended with a bitter aftertaste at the back of the throat, which detracted from the pleasure of the meal. To be fair, I’ve never had chicory before and recognise that this could be characteristic of the vegetable and I’m just not a “chicory person”. But for me there needed to be an additional sweet element to balance this flavour. Perhaps the fuji apple was supposed to do this, but for sone reason I couldn’t detect this flavour.

The next dish was stunning! It was a chestnut velouté with celeriac. Here the theatre of the restaurant really came to fore. We were initially presented with large white bowls with a small amount of celeriac and chestnuts in the bottom. Then from a sake carafe the waiter poured the velouté into the mix. There was a gorgeous savoury earthiness to the velouté. This contrasted perfectly with the tiny sweet morsels of celeriac and chestnuts. Just scrumptious! This was served with a 2007 Château Rahoul, Graves.

Onto the fourth course. Another highlight of the meal: seared foie gras with quince and clementine marmalade and topped with a thin strip of pastry. The the exterior of the foie gras was slightly crisp, so I still had to bite into it despite the silky melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness inside. It was visually and gastronomically perfect. This serving was so heavenly that for me the 2006 Gurwutztraminer “Cuvée Christine” Domaine Schlumberger was redundant. Of course, that didn’t stop me from drinking it.

The sixth course was sea bass flavoured with lemongrass served with fondue leeks and a 2009 Vins de Pays de l’Héault, Mas de Daunas-Gassac. I thought this really highlighted the skill required to devise a menu of this quality. The subtlety of the sea bass and the freshness of the lemongrass contrasted drastically with the richness of the foie gras and provided an opportunity for the taste buds to take a breather before the intense flavours of the next course. Yet at the same it was a beautiful dish in it’s own right with with the fish beautifully soft while maintaining a slightly crisp skin.

Onto the “main course”. The menu offers a choice between free range quail stuffed with foie gras with truffle mash, and ox cheek prepared “à la Royale” with celeriac emulsion. We took the obvious decision and chose to be served one of each and share. Consequently, while the menu offers a different accompanying wine for each option, we were both served the 2006 Goulee by Cos d’Estrounel. Given that we are both normally red-drinkers, we were particularly pleased with this offering. Fortunately my boyfriend eats far less than I do, and by this point he was struggling so I got to eat most of both meals. Glutonous? Yes, but this was not the night to be worrying about calories. Don’t ask me to choose between the two, they were both outstanding and utterly decadent in their own ways. Despite the truffle and foie gras the flavours of quail and potato managed to hold their own and stand out as the stars of the dish. The ox cheek was so tenderly cooked that eating it was more of an act of supporting its disintegration than chewing. It was served in a bowl topped the sweet celeriac emulsion – kind of like a shepherds pie really. Both meals were served with a side of the creamiest, butteriest, best ever mashed potatoes I have ever eaten in my life. They could have just served me a bowl of that and I would have left a happy woman.

There was an option to have a selection of cheeses at this point. however we were both feeling quite full at this stage so decided not to over indulge to this extent. So finally we reached dessert, which was a duo of desserts served with a 2008 Maury Domaine Mas Amiel. It was served in two parts, starting with a miniature panacotta which again was a refreshing cleansing dish between rich courses. Our final moment of indulgence can only be described as a glass bowl of quadruple chocolate gooey goodness. Two layers of chocolate…something, mostly milk chocolate but with a thinner bottom layer of dark chocolate. Mixed into it were tiny balls of chocolate and there was a chocolate ring stuck into the top. It was so rich and so intensely chocolatey it was almost too much for me, and in fact I think it would have ended the meal better had it been about half the size that it was.

Overall it was an AMAZING meal. It was two-and-a-half hours of hedonic indulgence. Bliss!

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