I spent Christmas in Paris last year. Having previously visited the city in August 2009 I was disappointed to find many of the places I would like to have eaten at were closed for the holiday period, as many also are during the entire 8th month of the year.
Gladly L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon was open and I booked us in for lunch on Christmas day at 2pm. Having never dined at a Robuchon restaurant before, I really had little idea of what to expect. I'd attempted to browse their website but it's one of those annoying restaurant flash sites so I found the email address I needed to book a table and left it at that. Fortunately the UK website for the London venue is infinitely less irritating than Joël Robuchon.net.
So unlike most meals out, I had not read any blog posts or viewed the menu in advance of this one, as it was Christmas I wanted it to be a relaxed occasion, whilst being almost certain that we would surely love the food of a chef whose global empire has amassed a total of 26 Michelin stars.
This turned out to be true and the food was exceptional. The lasting memories I have of the meal however were more to so with the service. Having arrived 5 minutes early we were told to wait in the lobby of the adjoining hotel, at a small bar. This is not unusual and we were actually glad of the time to enjoy an aperitif. But the guy who welcomed us ushered us through and then back out of the restaurant without giving an estimate of how long we might be left there and without taking our coats. We received and finished a glass of champagne, whilst sat at an unmanned bar, for 25 minutes when we finally went to find the chap who had welcomed us. He came to take our coats just as the barman returned so he couldn't see what our issue was.
We ordered another glass which after 5 minutes did not materialise and then we were led to our seat. Comparing this to the service we experienced at The Ledbury a month before, it's difficult to believe they have the same Michelin classification. What made it more difficult to swallow was the fact that the absent barman tracked us down inside the restaurant and handed us a bill for the drinks. We refused to pay (well Thomas did, I of course, would have just paid despite my dissatisfaction) and a discussion ensued with 2 waiters and eventually the manager who reluctantly agreed to settle the drinks tab whilst arrogantly proclaiming that we would no doubt love the food and explaining that it is their policy to not hurry diners to leave (or indeed state upon booking that the seats must be vacated within a given amount of time, something which I appreciate and actually admire) especially on Christmas day. I totally understand that but we would merely like to have been informed that this was the case when we arrived. As it was we felt quite negelcted.
Bad start aside, the manager was right, the food was some of the best I had in 2010 and having not researched Robuchon's L'Atelier concept I was perhaps unprepared for the more casual style of Michelin dining offered here. Still, as has been discussed elsewhere recently, service is a major factor in deciding whether you will or will not be likely to make a return visit.
Back to the food, we opted for the €150 tasting menu and a bottle of rosé.
L'amuse-bouche - Jerusalem artichoke soup served cold with artichoke crisp. I really liked this, Thomas found the consistency a bit 'sick like' (his words).
La saint Jacques - scallop ceviche with sea urchin. This was my first try of sea urchin, I was surprised by it's vibrant colour and soft texture. Very good.
Le caviar with smoked mackerel, potato and horseradish cream
Le foie gras with white beans was my favourite dish
L'œuf - Poached egg in a mushroom broth with girolles. The perfectly runny egg made for an interesting mouthful once the yolk was pierced. Again, Thomas thought texturally this was a little sickly.
The lady dining next to us found a hair in her egg dish. She sent it back, there was no apology and she was presented with an entirely different plate of food (which she took with good humour) 10 minutes later when she enquired where her replacement L'œuf had got to, by which time her companion had finished this course.
Le rouget - red mullet with olives, tomato and capers. I adored this too, unusual I thought to combine such strong flavours with fish but the mullet was more than a match for the trio.
La Caille - my main course (from a choice of three) was the quail stuffed with foie gras with truffle mash. Brilliantly cooked and very decadent.
La joue de boeuf - Thomas' main. Beef bourguignonne with mini carrots and onions and the creamiest mash.
Les Parfum des Iles - passionfruit granita with lime, refreshing and pretty.
La Pomme - royal gala apple with caramel sauce and salted caramel ice cream.
We also had a starter of oysters to share from the specials which were excellent. Good rye bread was served as well as the typical bread basket and creamy butter which is visible in the picture at the head of the post.
Seating is very compact, we were in a corner so were granted some privacy but to our right there was (before the hair in the egg lady arrived) a diner who was all elbows.
That said, it's always a joy to watch chefs at work, here from the bar style seating circling the kitchen and in all this was a great special occasion meal let down somewhat by the careless front of house service. Were it not for this blip, I would likely be raving about the place and eagerly anticipating a trip to the Covent Garden site.
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5 Rue de Montalembert
75007 Paris, France