1 June 2012

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon - The vegetarian tasting menu

My first visit to L'Atelier was in February, and we went to celebrate my wife's birthday. L'Atelier is the London outpost of the esteemed Joel Robuchon, and follows the format and design of a number of these outposts from Paris to Tokyo. The restaurant is set up in 3 sections, a dining area based around the kitchen, a formal dining area and a bar/garden on the top floor. We sat at the bar area around the kitchen area, the best seats in the house as you can see all the dishes being cooked and assembled  As my wife is a vegetarian she chose the vegetarian tasting menu, and as it was her birthday, I chose it too so we could enjoy the same dishes together. My wife had wine to match. The sommelier gave a short description of the wine, together with its origin and reason why it matches the dish.

We were sat at the counter area, able to see the kitchen in action.  Unfortunately we did not take any photo's, so I only have notes based on a copy of the menu they were kind enough to provide us with.

The amuse bouche was a lemon jelly, with fennel foam and tapenade, and was offered the intense aniseed flavour and aromas of fennel, a hint of saltiness from the tapenade, whilst the lemon jelly was light and refreshing.

First course was La Nicoise, a lettuce heart garnished with crunchy vegetables. A flavourful dressing complimented the quality ingredients, and the lettuce stood out as a key ingredient and made this a full dish rather than just the salad it appeared on paper.

Next up was La Truffe Noire, a Fuji apple and chicory salad with black truffle. We watched the chef carefully assemble the dish with tweezers, placing perfectly cut pieces of chicory and a rather amazing looking Fuji apple in a ring, before dressing it in a truffle dressing and placing truffle slices on top, covering the perfect circle of chicory and apple. The truffle was fresh and highly fragrant, and went brilliantly with the exceedingly fine chicory and apple. I adored this dish, even going so far as to mop up every last bit of dressing with the last of my bread.

After this we were presented La Chataigne, an open bowl, with small cubes of celeriac and chestnuts placed within was placed in front of us. The waiters then poured over a chestnut veloute. The chestnuts were sweet and caramelised, yet delicately spiced, the celeriac providing a counter note, the veloute rich and absolutely packed with flavour. This dish blew us away, a perfect balance of sweetness, spiciness and richness.

The next course was L'Oeuf. A cocktail glass with an egg cocotte, topped with mushrooms and a wild mushroom cream. The very soft baked egg went perfectly with chopped mushrooms, and mushroom cream. My wife is not keen on very soft egg, but was surprised that the runny white and yolk worked so well.

Following this was meant to be Fregola Sarda, the toasted Sardinian pasta, but the fregola was not available. Instead we were given a bowl of vegetables with Parmesan foam and parsley foam. This dish was a revelation, with cavelo nero, and cute little crescents of swede and turnip covered in two types of intense foams. The disappointment of missing our on another truffle dish was forgotten as the vegetables were so delicious, each mouthful of fresh perfectly cooked vegetable coated in a rich buttery foam.

Lastly was Les Spaghetti. This was spaghetti with tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes. Possibly the weakest dish of the lunch, and whilst was one of the best spaghetti pomodoro's I've ever had, and flawlessly executed, it didn't quite blow me away compared with previous dishes.

Pre-dessert was a shot glass of vanilla panna cotta  topped with chestnut puree and a piece of gold leaf. I love the dish, it's only a few mouthfuls but the combination of creamy pana cotta and intense sweet chestnut works really well.

Finally a pear dessert. This was pears, chocolate mousse, pear mousse and a particularly marvellous pear sorbet. It's not as heavy as it might seem, and the pears were sweet and provided the texture with the chocolate and mousses.

Both desserts were fine ending to a spectacular meal.

With 3 standout dishes of La Truffe Noire, Le Chataigne and the vegetable dish, this tasting menu was probably one of the finest I've had, especially as it did not have any expensive ingredients like caviar and foie gras, but relied on the quality of vegetables and the terrific execution and design of the dishes themselves to raise some simple ingredients into a feast I will remember for a long time.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

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