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L'Atelier De Joel Robuchon Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield falls in love with mash but gets lost in the dark

Written by . Published on December 21st 2011.

L'Atelier De Joel Robuchon Reviewed

SO Casey, the Colonial, and I were in L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon on West Street in the West End in the Would-be Capital of the West.

The jus was a presence that added craft to the whole, moistened it, smoothed it, yet politely held itself back from overwhelming the delicacy of the potato and the persistent presence of the belly pork.

There was a bustle (is that the correct collective noun?) of French waiting-on staff serving us over an uncomfortable counter into which we’d been ungraciously packed.

It was a good job neither of us were overweight otherwise it might have been undignified. As it was the Colonial seemed to find it difficult to work her S&M boots under her stool, especially in the dark gloom of the place.

According to the PR the seating arrangements are part of a ‘Japanese inspired counter concept.’ Excellent. I love counting the many and diverse uses of the word ‘concept’ in marketing speak. It normally masks some sort of deception. In this case it allows as many people to be packed into the ground floor of this outpost of the mighty Robuchon empire as possible.

The interior is brothel chic, with a dirty mix of sexy lingerie reds and blacks. The moody spotlighting could – I imagine – grace a West End pole dancing club for aging Russian oligarchs. The macaroons decorated with diamante in counter cabinets are vulgar but the exotic fruit trapped in perspex are engaging as is the view of the kitchen. There's a feature living wall of ivy and we became very fond of a massive four foot diameter apple. 

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We loved the waiting staff too.

Our French waiter (although maybe this is the wrong word for a person passing food and drink over a counter) described the amuse bouche he’d plopped in front of us like this.

“President Sarkozy, Tour Eiffel, Toulouse Lautrec, Bon Appetit.”

“I never understood a word,” said Casey.

“Nor me,” I said. “It just seemed a string of French nouns.”

The amuse turned out to be foie gras in a port wine reduction and lots of foam. The port was a sharp move, adding definition but overall the dainty was lacking in oomph. Still it was only an amuse, a little refresher for our entirely reasonable £29 for three courses set lunch.

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The next course was announced as: “Jeanne d’Arc, Sacre Couer, Napolean Bonaparte, Place de la Concorde et La Belle Epoque, Ancien Regime, Le Roy Soleil, Bon Appetit.”

Casey’s dish was in fact a chicory salad with Fuji apple and Stilton with tomatoes and was utterly underwhelming again. Chicory good, cheese lovely, apple good...er...fine, right, surprise me could you?

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My egg cocotte with mushroom cream was also lacking in character. It looked lovely, the baked egg broke beautifully into the earthy mushroom foam and the artistry and execution was undeniable, but thinking back twenty-four hours I’ve lost it – can't recall the taste.

Robuchon 030 Mains changed things for the better. According to the waiter these were “Peugeot, Eric Cantona, Tour de France et Rabelais, Descartes, Sur le pont d’Avignon avec Frere Jacques, Bon Appetit.”

My dish was pork belly braised in black Grenache grapes and served with mash potato with a cheesy wafer on top. It was the bees’ knees, it was the four foot diameter apple of my eye.

Robuchon 038 The mash was so rich yet so fine (livened by an exquisitely balanced sprinking of spices and spring onion) it brought tears to my eyes – I yearn to cook it that well.

The flesh beneath flaked and fell apart just so-bloody-so that I wanted to knock back two or three extra portions. The jus was a presence that added craft to the whole, moistened it, smoothed it, yet politely held itself back from overwhelming the delicacy of the potato and the persistent presence of the belly pork.

This came with quite the best side of veg, carrots and parsnips I've had all year. Beautiful buttery yet robust veg, that was eaten with as much relish as the pork.

Robuchon 035The other main of sea beam, bok choi fondue with a mango and spicy oil based vierge sauce was less good, but still worthy of the Robuchon reputation. A mushed up fork full of the gentle fish, bok choi, tomato, mango and the sauce made for a vivid and colourful experience, but suffered slightly from a slightly cloying and annoying aftertaste. Still an excellent addition.

Robuchon 039Both of these were miles more satisfying than the starters or a dessert of mascarpone mousse with a vanilla and apple crème brulee, almond crumble and Calvados ice cream. This, despite the evident complexity was a disappointment, especially in the beautiful to look at but undistinguished to taste main feature of the mascarpone.

Robuchon 048A cheese selection delivered completely however. The Roquefort here gave the mash a run for its money. It was a magnificent cheese starting off with mild suavity before finishing with magnificent salty punch.

Robuchon 046So what wine did we choose? Ah the winelist. What a blast.

The Pauillac progression of prices in the winelist and shown here went like this: £280, £1590, £2600, £740. I know, I know, criticise me for knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, but really. 

Robuchon 021Is that the best they could do for middle income people, a kick-off point of £280, and then that magnificent rise to a crescendo of £2600 falling to a slight diminuendo of a snippy £740? Maybe we should just not go.

After a long hard look we found a bottle of Vacqueyras Montirius which was £54 and a full but mellow drink with a nice tail to it. It was just about the cheapest wine on the menu. 

After the meal we got chatting to a couple of charming female gourmands next to us. You can’t help but do this, in L’Atelier you're almost sat on each other's laps.

“Are you reviewing the place? How exciting,” asked one of them who went by the name of Lena Jones – there she is below.

Robuchon 050“I am, indeed,” I said. “So what did you have and what did you think of it?”

Turns out the ladies eat out regularly in places with a reputation for fine food, they’ve made a hobby of it and keep notes, they know what they're talking about. The general view was while the food had had its moments it hadn’t been knock out. “Our all time favourite is Zuma,” they said.

They were right.

While the food had been standout in the mains, the side of veg and in that one cheese, it hadn’t been drop dead gorgeous, and was variable in flavours. Of course we were having the lunchtime set menu and not dining a la carte, but still we'd sort of expected more from this much gilded two Michelin starred establishment and from the so-called 'Chef of the Century'. 

As we left the waiter smiled his handsome smile and said something like: "Gerard Depardieu, Audrey Tatou, Catherine Deneuve, aujourd-hui, au revoir. Voulez-vous coucher avec moi."

"Bye," we said.

"You know," I mused as we walked out, "I wouldn't mind running off with the big apple, just picking it up and charging away down the street."

"I'd like to see that," said Casey, "but I think the police would catch you quickly. It's hard to conceal an apple that big even under the largest fedora."

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You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, 13-15 West Street  London WC2H 9NE
0207 010 8600 www.joelrobuchon.co.uk           

Rating: 14/20
Food: 7/10
Service: 3.5/5 
Ambience: 3.5/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.

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Madame DuPontDecember 22nd 2011.

Ahhhh.... the subtle comedy of French stereotypes. Zut Alors!

Ian AtilDecember 26th 2011.

Ha funny. Let's not fall into just because they're famous they must be good reviews. A welcome and sensible look at excess this

ScottDecember 26th 2011.

of all the french influenced michelin starred restaurants ive dined, this rubs your nose in the frenchness far less than anywhere ive known, so the french stereotype jokes are a little misguiding here - its more like eating fine french cuisine in a sushi bar (although thats the idea).....i had a great time though - my only gripe being the fact the chef didn't let me send the fois gras i didn't like back to the kitchen with any remaining fois gras on the plate, said the chef would be very unhappy (even though it was a tasting menu and surely we can't all like everything on it!) - so my pal had so get an extra portion down his neck before we could continue. the presentation of the food was second to none - one dish im sure must have involved the chef placing each individual bead of caviar (of maybe 200) on top of the lobster by hand! my absolute highlight though being the lounge upstairs where you can retire for a Cohiba and a fine apertif in front of the fire after your meal.

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