Thursday, 3 February 2011

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon - Culinary Moulin Rouge

Joel Robuchon is one of the nine names that have earned 2 Michelin stars in Hong Kong. Fine dining is strange in this city, it’s almost non-existent. I genuinely believe it is to do with the culture, just general behaviour, manners and respect. Anyway I wouldn’t like to offend anyone here. I meant to treat Mum to L’Atelier in London last year, but plan was scrapped due to time restraint. We checked in at the Hong Kong branch instead.

The décor follows the slick black and red theme of the Joel Robuchon brand, with dazzling colourful vegetables on display. We were seated at the bar surrounding the kitchen. Our server described the 6 fresh fruit juices available, Mum went for watermelon and I chose melon just for the sake of contrasting colours. Refreshing, natural, sweet.

After presenting us the menu, our server placed the warm breadbasket on the counter. The selection included the renowned croissant in miniature, which was as good as a croissant could get, airy with delicate layers.

Amuse Bouchée - Pumpkin Custard with Bacon Foam
This was beautiful. The pumpkin custard reminded me of Japanese steam egg, only with much intensified flavours and a luxurious velvety texture. Bacon foam was extremely mild to gently lift the nectar-like pumpkin. The breadstick was ever so feathery. Upon the crumbliest crunch, it dissolved instantly to leave a faint trace of olive oil. The whole piece was a magnificent display of masterly skills. And we were still at the starting point.

Le Foie Gras (Foie Gras flavoured Crème Caramel with baby corn and Popcorn)
I deliberately chose the most nonsensical appetiser on the list. Nothing would have prepared me for this. The syrup first meets the tongue, so my taste buds were tricked into expecting the familiar dessert, only to be surprised by a foie gras attack. The liver pate was infused into the pudding, its sweetness was a pleasant alternative to the typical plum/port reduction. It was more ‘room-temperature-Harrods-cheesecake-smooth’ than a crème caramel smooth, if it makes sense.

The popcorn and baby corn granted a more solid touch to the dish. I felt the popcorn unnecessary, but no harm done. It got too heavy towards to the end, it was a struggle to finish.

Les Saint-Jacques (Scallop Carpaccio with Black Truffle Oil, Baby Leek and Croutons)
Portions are shockingly large, no? I wasn’t too sure about this one. The leeks were young and pungent, which overpowered and dominated the dish. While the scallop slices were creamy, their charm was lost in the sharp, pithy combination, along with the black truffle oil. In my humble opinion, it needs toning down.

Our server offered to top up our breadbasket, which was only half empty. Despite the persuasive croissants, we politely declined.

La Poitrine de Porc (Braised Vallegrain Pork Belly with caramelised Roscoff onions and crispy Agria potato peels)
The meat blocks collapsed into shreds with the slightest touch of the knife, then blended with the half-melting blubber. It was harmonious. The sauce was soy sauce based and quite simple, leaving the sugary onion to relieve the grease and intense pigginess of the pork. The first piece was sensational, then the lard and crispy potato peels got to me. It was my second struggle to finish.

Le Pigeonneau (Roasted Bresse Pigeon with sweet corn mashes, chanterelle and port reduction)
We were forewarned the pigeon would be cooked to bloody rare unless otherwise instructed. Mum can’t quite handle the bloodiness, and asked for a medium instead. As our server presented the dish, he suggested using fingers instead, as rare meats tend to cling onto the bones strongly. Felt strange, but okay.

The cooking was immaculate, burgundy centre with a scarlet periphery, wrapped in crispy shiny skin. My bite was tremendously gamey and pleasantly chewy. The silken sweet corn mash neutralised the gaminess. Beautiful composition.

Mash Potato
This was a complementary little teaser, as our server explained the mash is legendary and described it as a must-try. Damn he was too right; it was love at first bite. The mash was so luscious and buttery that I knew it wasn’t my arteries’ best friend, yet I couldn’t resist the gentle, fluffy killer.

Cherry Compote with Honey Ice Cream
Again, cherry is an unusual choice for me. I often find cherry-related food akin to medicine, must be the artificial flavorings. Not this one. The cherries were halved and drizzled with its reduced juice.  The cream cheese compote was meekly sweetened, matched like a dream with the honey ice cream.

Warm Chocolate Tart with Almond Ice Cream
Like a semi-fondant, gooey with bits of fruits in the middle and a crispy cookie bottom. The lemon foam helped to alleviate the richness of the chocolate, but I preferred my honey ice cream to almond.

It was more than just food, it was an experience. Our server, Edmond was most professional, greeting us as we were seated, introducing and timing each course with a confident smile. The French Head Chef was busy throughout the lunch service, announcing orders and quality checking each item before it was sent out. I saw him frown and discussed the possible faults with his juniors; I saw him smile as he caught sight of diners grinning ear to ear at his food; I saw him joke with his sous-chef after sampling what seemed to be an innovative creation from the latter. It was strangely pleasing to watch my meal being prepared in front of my eyes, as opposed to the usual faceless cooking.

Lunch came to HKD 1300 including tip. Ain’t cheap for a weekday lunch. Then again, Mum’s approving smile is priceless.  I have promptly put L’Atelier in London on my list. Menus differ vaguely as in-season ingredients differ in countries. It’d be interesting to see how the Michelin 2 Star compare in the continents.

1 3-15 West Street,
Tel: 0207 010 8600

Shop 315 & 401
The Landmark
Hong Kong      
Tel: (852) 2166 9000


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