Entering L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon is like stepping into a kind of deliciously sexy combination of Japanese geisha ryokan, Manhattan boutique hotel bar and upmarket Greek island disco lounge. The décor of dark woods, deep red, soft lighting and the living wall of climbing plants are as soothing as the staff who might as well stroll around offering hot facial towels and sponge slippers or the odd shiatsu shoulder massage such is the attention and gentle lulling towards the eating experience.
We came here with a toptable special offer and I admit I was expecting a snobby reaction or somewhat less attentive service than those lucky souls who’d come in for the full on menu decouverte. I needn’t have worried, Raquel and I were treated like demi-gods, the most effective marketing and sales ploy in the world as we swiftly abandoned our special offer 2 courses for £22 and one glass of wine in favour of devouring the menu and sampling two reds, two whites and a dessert wine and visibly drooling over the à la carte like junkies with lockjaw.
L’Atelier deserves its two Michelin stars and then some. I am a convert to the school of Joël. Bring it on Robuchon! We sat at the bar where you can observe a whizz team of chefs and sous-chefs slicing sashimi, prodding salmon fillets and whizzing various green things through moulis to a throbbing soundtrack of Hotel Costes meets throaty 40s jazz singers.
We ordered a glass of 2009 “O Rosal”, Terras Gaudas from Raixas Baisas at £8 a glass, a dry, crisp, light-bodied wine perfect for the first starter of Oeuf Mollet – a creamy egg barely poached in asparagus foam with slivers of lardons and asparagus tips. Raquel was already weeping into her spoon at this point. I think I might have slurped loudly enough that the sophisticated couple across the bar detected we were amateurs in all things Michelin.
Moving on we opted for a Hungarian wine, simply out of curiousity and it blew our socks off. A full-bodied, mangoey, butter-yellow wine, 2008 Fehèrburgundi Weninger which we matched with a tartare of sea bream with julienne mushrooms and celery – sweet, fresh, contrasted by the lovely crunch of the greens. Not quite the smooth punch of the poached egg, but still causing a party in my mouth.
Next up we moved onto red for our mains, a velvety, juicy 2009 Côtes du Ventoux “Les Boudelles” Domaine Brusset. I ordered “le lapin” – a braised rabbit with mustard seed served with potato, heart-warming traditional French comfort food served elegantly, and with rich taste. This was joined with a dish of salmon in a black sesame crust with orange and fennel salad – perhaps the only less exciting dish, although it was, naturally, exquisite.
We were going to stop there until we saw the foie gras with rhubarb crisp and rhubarb and pistachio jelly on the menu. At which point needless to say we both cracked and gave in to our foie gras-obsessed brain impulses. of course we couldn’t have a foie gras without a decent sweet white wine and we opted for our lovely waiter’s recommendation of the
2007 Pacherenc du Vic Bilh “Brumaire” Domaine Alain Brumont, a heavenly nectar – up there with the Hungarian power-wine with all the softness and sweetness of a honeydew melon.
So is it adieu to Busaba Eathai and my “in-a-rush” Pret sandwich? Probably not, the wallet is still suffering and there’s still many an excellent budget meal to be had (note, I was not meaning Pret is excellent – lord help me!) BUt its fair to say, I feel L’Atelier may well be the catalyst to a whole new era of impulse gourmet dining in my life.
Joy to the World!