Saturday, 5 March 2016

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon Hong Kong - the tasting menu

Right, just about everyone who loves French cuisine knows who Joel Robuchon is, so I'm not going to bore you with too much detail, suffice to say....  He's good.

If you want the full low down, you can check out more detail at some of my other posts - here.

I've been on a bit of a Joel fixation of late, mainly because of his incredible mashed potato, which it must be said is the best I've ever had.  So, as indulgent as it sounds, we booked into the three Michelin starred L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon just so I could have some more of that fantastic mash.

We've been to the Hong Kong outlet for L'Atelier before, and to be honest, I'd been just a little bit disappointed with the meal (see post here).  Don't get me wrong, it was good, but just not what I'd come to expect when dining at a Robuchon establishment.  

The last time, we'd selected our meal from the a la carte menu, so this time we wanted to sample the menu decouverte, or discovery menu, Robuchon's famous tasting menu.  I'd had the tasting menu at the Singapore outlet and had been blown away by the meal, so was hoping for the same for our latest visit.

After being seated at the bar style seating with superb views of the open kitchen, it wasn't long before the girl had a glass of champagne and our selection of breads (placed nicely in an Alessi bowl) was in front of us.  I always love the Robuchon bread selection, especially with the specially imported butter with that distinctive 'JR' stamped on top, but I almost always eat too much!  

Our amuse bouche arrived and it was a variant on the usual foie gras custard with parmesan foam, differing from previous visits with a couple of chunks of pork sausage included for good measure.  The foie gras custard was creamy and delicious and the sausage added some nice texture.  Accompanying the foie gras was a truffled potato puff, which was light and deliciously sweet from the earthy truffle.

I was stunned into silence when our first course of 'Le Caviar Imperial' arrived.  The presentation was simply breathtaking, with the level of detail in the dish drawing the eye to the dish and holding your attention.  Remembering to breathe, the details of the dish started to imprint on my mind.  A round of caviar sat perfectly on a thin layer of Alaskan king crab, with tiny concentric circles of crab foam on top of a golden layer of lobster jelly.  It was beautiful to look at and wonderful to eat.  The sweetness of the crab was offset by the saltiness of the caviar and the slightly tart lobster jelly.  On it's own, the jelly was a little harsh, but when you carefully scooped up a little of each component, it was simply perfect.

I'm not sure where a meal can go after such an incredible dish, surely it would be hard for any dish to follow?  I guess the 'La Truffe Noire' suffered a little as a consequence.  Again quite beautifully presented, the soft boiled egg sat atop a round of pearl rice and was covered in a generous amount of black truffle and shaved parmesan.  The yolk from the egg was a creamy viscus texture that exploded over the plate and worked nicely with the umami flavour of the truffle. There was something missing from the dish though, a pinch of salt was really needed for the egg, which was just a little on the bland side as a consequence.  I'm sure the parmesan was there to add saltiness, but it needed just a little more....  As I said, perhaps the dish suffered by coming after the powerfully flavoured first course!

We were back on song with the powerful and well balanced flavour of the 'Le Foie Gras', pan fried foie gras, served with little mango balls, coriander and a crispy peanut chip.  The presentation was quite old school, the triangular plate shaping the look of the dish, mango balls in each corner dominating the presentation.  The expertly cooked foie gras was creamy and working spectacularly with the fresh mango balls, and a surprising hit of chili from the mango sauce.  I wasn't sure how the peanut chip would go, but the texture and the sweet nuttiness of the chip really complimented the earthy foie gras.

It wouldn't be a Robuchon meal without an asparagus dish and the 'L'Asperge Verte' didn't disappoint!  A deep bowl was presented with a little twice-baked cheese soufflé, asparagus tips and Iberico ham pieces, before a pale and velvety looking velouté was poured at the table.  Wafer thin toasted croutons finished off the dish, which looked quite pretty for a soup.  I've had the asparagus velouté many times before and the dish never fails to please.  The addition of the cheese souffle was a great choice, with the light and salty cheese contrasting so well.  It was devoured in quick time and I wondered if I dare ask for more?!

As with asparagus, there's always langoustines on a Robuchon menu, so I was really interested to see how the current iteration of 'La Langoustine' would present!  The roasted langoustine was served with home made pasta and was finished off with a pepper jus.  This dish divided the girl and I, with the slightly harsh pepper flavour not sitting so well with SC.  There was a seafood foam that was probably intended to balance out the sharp peppery jus, but it probably didn't quite go quite far enough.  I didn't mind the hit of pepper so much, but agreed that it was perhaps a little overpowering for the langoustine and the quite benign pasta.  Not a fail by any stretch of the imagination, but not as well balanced as it could have been.

One of the reasons why Joel Robuchon restaurants have their stars is due to the main course and star of the show at a L'Atelier.  The 'La Caille' is the free range quail stuffed with creamy foie gras and served with that simply divine creamy mash.  I've had it many times and know the dish intimately, so I was a little disappointed with our main course on this occasion.  There wasn't the same attention to detail that I've experienced at all of the other Robuchon meals I had the pleasure of enjoying.  The quail was overcooked and just a little tough, there didn't seem to be enough foie gras to balance out, leaving the dish a little dry!  Even the wonderful jus couldn't raise the dish to expected levels.  Worse though, was the mash potato, that seemed a little over worked, and it must be said, a little stodgy!  I wasn't sure if it had been sitting around for too long, but it didn't feel as fresh as I've had previously.

It was time for our first dessert, and I couldn't believe the detail that was on display for the 'Le Ruby', a cassis 'dome' with red fruit coulis and pear jelly.  Looking every bit the beautiful rose, the clear bowl in which the dessert was presented allowed the stunning presentation to shine.  The texture was quite firm, and when combined with the softer pear jelly provided a fresh and light hit to the palate.  The sharpness of the berry coulis rounded off the flavours, ensuring the dish was not too sweet.

We were down to our final dish of the evening, the aptly named 'La Tuile'.  Two wavy tuile pieces were placed carefully on a bed of chestnut mousse and then were covered with a quenelle of refreshing lime ice cream.  I was a little nervous about the dessert, I'm not a huge fan of chestnuts, and while it was perhaps not as sweet as I'd have liked for a dessert, it was a very nice way to finish the meal.  The crunchy tuile pieces were quite sweet, with the lime ice cream and earthy chestnut mousse did work well together.  It was an OK way to finish a tasting menu from a L'Atelier, but in all honesty, I'd have preferred a soufflé - which for me, is the only way to finish off a Robuchon meal!

Of course the meal was completed with the required petite four, which was a lovely little selection of macaroon and chocolate, as well as a lovely parting gift of a rum cake to take home.  Those elements are a given when visiting any restaurant from Joel Robuchon.  It would also be no surprise to learn that the service on the night was faultless, another trait from a Robuchon restaurant, but a minimum expectation in a three Michelin starred restaurant.

The problem for me was that it wasn't a faultless meal, and while it may be a little unfair to pick on the very small issues with the meal, L'Atelier is a three star restaurant with a price to match.  The meal should be faultless!  Most disappointingly was the quail main and the substandard mash, for such an iconic dish, it's almost hard to believe that was the big fail point!

Maybe I'm just a little bit Robuchon'd out, I mean, I've had the L'Atelier meals in Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong recently and perhaps I've become accustomed to the food.  Maybe I'm like a drug addict, chasing that first high over and over again, never to quite reach the magical heights of the first time (Lorenz, you've spoiled me!)

Maybe I should give Robuchon a rest for a while!  Oh wait!  I'm hitting up Robuchon au Dome in Macau next week...

Chasing the high..

That specially imported butter - so #noms
Executive chefs Julien Tongourian (foreground) and David Alves were in clear control of the kitchen
Atelier means 'workshop' and that's the set up in L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Mesmerising - but you wouldn't want to suffer from trypophobia!
A pinch more salt and the egg dish would have been sensational
Slightly dry quail and the mash was stodgy!
Also, the usually generous extra helping of mash was almost non existent - was the team almost out of mash?
A beautiful rose!

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