When going through my list of restaurants, I (Winkypedia’s Cheap Eat Expert, Gerald) realised that I’ve eaten in 3 starred and 1 starred Michelin restaurants, but never in a 2 star. This had to be rectified. So this trip was less to do with food, but more with an obsessive compulsive desire to experience the spectrum of reviews. After a little research on the net, I decided to go to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon.
Why that particular restaurant? Well it was the cheapest 2 starred Michelin restaurant I could find in London. Simple as that. I’d heard good and bad things about Robuchon’s restaurants. I have a relative who is boycotting them, due to them raising the prices in his Tokyo restaurant to reflect the weakness of the Japanese yen, but then failing to lower the price again once the yen appreciated.
They currently have a menu du jour offering, where you can have a 2 course meal for £22, or a 3 course meal for £27, or you could order from their regular menu. Given the current economic climate, naturally I plumped for the menu du jour.
I keep a running score in my head of how much my michelin starred meals cost. e.g. my meal at the Fat Duck, worked out at £180 for the meal, so about £60 per star, per person; Galvin @ Windows came in around £100 per star, and One Dim Sum (in Hong Kong) came in at a legendary £4 per star. So potentially I could have a meal, that would come in at just over £11 per star. This would have to be the best value meal in the UK!
We booked dinner for 12.30 on Sunday. On arrival we were warmly greeted, and taken to our seats at the bar. It is a curious concept, French dining but with Japanese style lay out and service. In the same way a sushi chef would pass things over to you as you sit at the counter, here the staff pass the dishes over to you as they are prepared infront of your eyes only a few feet away.
The decor of the restaurant is a very modern red and black, and they appeared to be having an apple phase. There were apples on display through out the restaurant, but curiously they were not that apparent on the menu!
We were one of the first guests to arrive for the lunchtime service, so there were only 3 other people in the restaurant when we started dining. At that time the volume of music they played in the restaurant did seem disconcertingly loud, but as the place became busier and livelier it seemed to be the correct ambient level.
For our starters we chose La Chataigne (a chestnut soup), and L’Oeuf (an egg cocotte in mushroom cream). Both were delicious. The only slight imperfection was that the egg and mushroom cream was served in a martini glass, and soup had spilled down the neck of the glass.
Our mains of Les Spaghetti (Atelier style spaghetti) and Le Lapin (braised rabbit) were equally good. The spaghetti was in an intense tomato (and I assume breadcrumb) sauce, and with the generous shavings of parmesan, was full of umami flavour. The rabbit was surrounded by a ring of macaroni, where each piece was stood on its end, and somehow attached to its neighbour, to form a ring to hold the rabbit. It must have been stunningly labour intensive and was a great deal of fun.
I think this is why Atelier is so clever. If you sit at the bar, you are only a few feet away from the chefs, and you see the attention that they pour into their craft. It does cut both ways, some things seem slightly less magical when you see them in preparation. Before they served the egg, the chef removed a layer of cling film from the martini glass to add the mushroom. Now being home cooks the only time we clingfilm a dish is when we heat it in the microwave. Were they reheating the egg by microwave? That would be impossible, but why would the mushroom cream in the martini glass be clingfilmed?
The meal really is only half the experience. The menu du jour allows you to taste the skills of the chefs with some of the cheaper ingredients, but while you sit at the counter, you are exposed to all the dishes that that Atelier are famous for. We sat directly opposite an Iberian ham, that every few minutes, a chef would return to, to shave off a few slices, for some lucky diner.
We watched as the chefs painstakingly prepared a lobster salad (first photo). The concentration and effort they put into it was incredible. You realise the amount of effort they put into the aesthetic presentation of the dish.
All through our meal, we saw more and more dishes that we decided we would order next time we return. The menu du jour allows you to taste the skill of the chef, but throughout the meal you are able to see the other dishes prepared, and they just increased our desire to return and select dishes from the a la carte menu.
One intriguing dish saw diners presented with what appears to be an entire tin of caviar…
For an additional £5, you can add dessert to your meal. We ordered Les Tartes (a selection of traditional tarts) and La Noisette (Hazelnut biscuits with crunchy praline, chocolate and caramel mousse). Both were delicious and were an ideal way to round off the meal. The tart selection were minitures which consisted of lemon, chocolate brownie, pear, coffee and cinnamon. The brownie one was my favourite as it was smooth and soft. The walnut inside made the texture more interesting. With so many different flavours of tart, it’s ideal for sharing, luckily my tastes complimented my dining companions as the tarts she didn’t like, I was more than happy to finish off for her. I was slightly confused by La Noisette, from it’s description I was expecting something more biscuit like, but what I received was closer to a giant multi textured chocolate bar! However, it was a chocolate bar with a touch of 2 star luxury, flecked with bits of edible gold leaf. (We had gold leaf on a different version of chocolate bar at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal too!) How often can you have such a luxurious dessert for £5?
From the pictures, the portions may have seemed a little small, but I can assure you that after our dining experience we were both surprised by how full we were!
An example of the attention to detail was the Staub teapot. This monster of teapot was the height of over engineering. It’s solid cast iron, but it only contained 2 cups of tea, and was very very heavy. The was definitely overkill for a fresh mint tea, but it is certainly the most memorable teapot ever encountered during a meal out.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Atelier. It’s very much like going to a cinema, seeing dishes that you did not order get prepared, they work almost as movie trailers, enticing you to return to try the blockbuster dishes.L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
£70 for 2, incl. sparkling water and service.
13-15 West Street, London, WC2H 9NE
Telephone: 0207 010 8600