We’ve never had to wait in line to get into a Michelin-starred restaurant before. But there is a first time for everything as that is what greeted us when we arrived at the footsteps of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon – a line up full of disgruntled would-be patrons long enough to pack the entire restaurant’s first seating.
When the clock finally struck 6:30 p.m., the place was moving and shaking as if it were the middle of lunchtime in the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid. This is what we get for needing a place to eat on Sabbath in the Old World and consequently choosing the bar with the name of the Chef of the Century attached to it, as will it attract an international clientele. True to form there was not one local in our vicinity. To our left of was a trio of English men, to our right was a couple from Venezuela, to their right was a couple from Hong Kong and right in front of us was our server from Spain.
But with such an international make up, one would think that the establishment’s internationally inspired dishes would be better. Such as the gyoza, which naturally caught our attention when looking at the menu, and quite conceivably turned out to be the worst dish of the evening. Everything about it was unforgettable. It was one note and lacked so much of the essence that makes gyoza a staple in certain Japanese or Chinese restaurants. Then to state that it lies in an “Asian broth” is further dumbfounding. What part of Asia? Do they think an all French menu would deter anyone from noticing such a misnomer? There are just too many regions within Asia each with its own culinary idiosyncrasies to generalize the broth into an entire continent. I wonder at all why they would include such a dish not only on their à la carte menu but in their tasting menu as well.
The egg course that followed was another disappointment. More flash than substance, there was so much going on. Served within the inconvenience of a martini glass, this was very hard to eat. And as I made my way through the curtain of unnecessary foam that lay atop, I reached a bed of sour chanterelles blanketed by the richness of the egg. This had potential, but unfortunately, the vinegared mushrooms were just too much for the egg and completely overpowered it in every way. If you call a dish l’œuf, the egg better be the star of the show.
The bookends of this meal however were absolutely fantastic. Caviar was served with salmon cooked perfectly raw in the middle with a nice outer crust. And the passion fruit soufflé was refreshingly light and zesty. It was great cuisine to start and end our first dining adventure in Paris. But as we pondered on these dishes a little more the following days, most were eerily similar to the meal we had at the Joël Robuchon’s Las Vegas restaurant three years ago. Even the bread was exactly the same, just on a smaller scale, and I remember biting in to the very rich and earthy langoustine ravioli in Paris and feeling a sense of déjà vu from the meal in Las Vegas three years ago. All of it was great the first time, but if this was a representation of where Joël Robuchon is today, then it is easy to say that his cooking has become stagnant.
For all the Michelin-rated restaurants we’ve eaten at in Europe, we have found more or less a certain consistency to their rankings. What we had experienced up until that point gave us a good understanding as to why a restaurant in Europe was given a certain number of stars. However after this meal, we we were left perplexed. With inconsistent execution, such as overcooked pieces of quail, to say this restaurant is in the same Michelin realm as Noma in Copenhagen or Mugaritz in Errenteria is almost an insult to the two aforementioned. But perhaps we just didn’t get it.
To view pictures of our meal in its entirety, please click here.
Thanks for reading and happy eating,
Carla and Sonny