Sunday, August 19, 2018

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Hong Kong

While I might not be old enough to eat at Jamin, Joël Robuchon's legendary restaurant prior to his early retirement in 1995, I have been fortunate to have visited several of his formal gastronomy restaurants in particular the ones in Asia. On the contrary, I rarely ate at his more casual restaurant - the L'Atelier - a concept Robuchon created upon his "comeback" in 2003, inspired by the sushi counter / tapas bar. In this 'workshop',  the setting was more relaxed with an open kitchen, emphasizing more direct interaction between the staffs (including the chefs) and the customers. The food was generally still serious but the atmosphere was more convivial. The tradition of gold and white in classical and luxurious French gastronomy was replaced by the bold colors of red and black. One of the main reasons I eventually came this place was because L'Atelier JR Hong Kong has been in operation for more than a decade and somehow managed to gain and keep the 3-star Michelin for 10 years or so albeit HK Michelin is 'very generous'. I thought perhaps there's something special here, therefore I decided to have a meal here in March this year.

It has been a while for me to dine and be seated in a counter for eating non-Japanese food. I already made up my mind that I would order the tasting menu (I often "study" the menu a few days before visiting any gastronomy restaurant) as I have not tried more than half of the dishes there. The meal began with the staff brought a bread basket, freshly baked daily in the premise. The variety and quality were actually about on par with the ones found in JR restaurant served in the trolley. To ensure I could fully enjoy my degustation menu, I only tried a few of the bread such as cheese, tomato, spinach and bacon baguette. Following that, the kitchen delivered an amuse-bouche. That night, it was a bowl of white asparagus espuma served with chorizo, bell peppers, croutons, asparagus, and basil. It was refreshing, light yet full of (early Spring) flavors. Then come the 'real' dishes below,

Menu Découverte (Discovery Menu)

Le Caviar Imperial de Sologne servi en surprise (A surprise of Sologne Imperial caviar) - A meal at any Robuchon's restaurant would almost always start with a caviar dish. It was a familiar plating of Sologne caviar served in a tin; underneath the salty roes was predominantly lobster jelly. There were also some cauliflower cream and a little Alaskan crab. It was good though I found the ratio of the jelly vs crab meat was not balanced (too much gelee) and I slightly preferred the one in the past when served with (plenty of) fennel cream and perfumed by star anise

La Saint-Jacques la noix juste poêlée au coulis chaud de truffe et ses graines de potiron en cristalline (Pan-seared scallop with black truffle coulis and crispy pumpkin seeds) - The Hokkaido scallop was perfectly cooked, sweet and a bit raw inside. It was beautifully complimented by slices of the earthy Perigord truffle, musky and rather intense truffle coulis, as well as creamy + savory pumpkin sauce. It was an elegant dish displaying 'late' Winter specialty - the black truffle 

La Truffe Noire sur un œuf coque sans coque doré et nacré aux copeaux de parmesan (Soft boiled egg on golden pearl rice with black truffle and parmesan shavings) - Another and more serious Perigord truffle dish. The egg was perfectly cook and its runny yolk was in harmony with earthy and pungent shavings of Tuber melanosporum and crisp sticky rice cake. The parmesan, a little lemon juice and spinach provided accents to this delicious dish. To let the black truffles shine, a simple course was often better

Accompanied by wine: Ruinart brut Rose NV (tasty and round champagne with fine structure, soft & creamy; fruity, fresh and vibrant with pretty pink color)  

Le Homard cardinalisé au beurre salé, petits pois princesse et baby bok choy, escorté d’une bisque épicée (Grilled Maine lobster with green peas and baby bak choy) - My picture of the dish was probably not as good as its taste. The beautifully salted grilled lobster was firm and savory; even better when you put the lobster with the rich, piquant and creamy bisque (+ saffron taste). The flavorful dish was balanced by the fresh & sweet peas, thick & mild bak choy and cabbage + squid ink tuile. Meticulously cooked lobster with wonderful sauce ... that's all you need for a very comforting dish

Le Black Cod ravigoté au poivre noir de Malabar et son émulsion au lait de coco (Black cod with Malabar black pepper sauce and coconut emulsion) - The cod, previously marinated in miso, was succulent and flaky. It was the kind of fish that people easily fell in love with. The pepper sauce and coconut emulsion made this dish to be even more flavorful and rounded. Delicate fish served in the right size - an a la carte portion would be too much for me

Accompanied by wine: 2016 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Clos de L'Oratoire (relatively young white, full body, delicate, apple and pear aroma, good minerality, nice pairing with the black cod)

Le Bœuf japonais tranché, mitonnée d’asperges vertes et oignons nouveaux (Pan seared Japanese A3 Wagyu beef with green asparagus and baby onions) - A3 was sufficient for me and I thought it's more ideal for a steak. The beef (sirloin) was still tender and a bit burnt on the outside. By itself, the meat was alright - would be better when combined with the sauce made of black pepper and the beef jus. Good and safe main course though not necessarily memorable ... perhaps, I should opt for the La Caille in the future

Accompanied by wine: 2013 Chianti Classico, Il Grigio Gran Selezione (refined red fruit & intensity, smooth and elegant in the palate, balanced in tannin & acidity; an awesome Italian red wine and it's even enjoyable to drink by itself as it's already 'mature')

Coco des Iles gelée de citron vert, croustillant de riz soufflé, sorbet noix de coco (Exotic-fruits with coconut mousse and sorbet) - The fruits (jelly) were mango and passion fruit; both were a little acidic on the contrary to the sweet coconut stuffs. A light creation that could act as either a dessert or a palate cleanser

Le Chocolat en bavarois à la Williamine et chocolat “JR~10~HK” crispy de Peta-Zeta (Pear compotes with Williamine, “JR~10~HK” chocolate shell and Peta Zeta) - I enjoyed the dark chocolate part - good flavor and texture. The pear was delicately sweet and a bit crisp, good by itself. The combination of the two ... more of interesting rather than a 'match in heaven'. I expected a better / more sophisticated dessert creation by Chef Robuchon  

The meal would include mignardises and non-alcohol digestive in the end. The petit fours were nice; I had vanilla macaron, banana chocolate, chocolate tart and madeleine cake. It was accompanied by an intense and good quality hot chocolate. The wine list was remarkable as the restaurant also owned by the Lisboa group whose collection in Robuchon Macau receiving Grand Award from the wine spectator's - of course matched by high price tag. The wine by the glass also showed an array of choices; as per above info, I drank 3 glasses. The food was overall well executed, flavorful, and presented in an elegant way. The simple but still felt opulent ambiance created a sense of comfort. The front of the house staffs were warmed, discreet and helpful, these made the experience even better. Adriano Cattaneo, chef de cuisine, as well as Anthony Au Yeung, the restaurant manager also made efforts to entertain me. I think I was one of the customers who left the latest. I may have preferred the Joel Robuchon fine dining food, but all aspects considered, I truly enjoyed my meal in this chic restaurant. I hope the L'Atelier and all other Robuchon restaurants would still be able to perform at the high level even after the master himself passed away earlier this month. Picture of the dishes: Robuchon HK Mar '18

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 94/100