L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (London)

This is a new opening in London and it has already got a lot of good press so I was looking forward to lunch there. Even though some of what we ate was very good, I found myself ultimately a bit disappointed by the experience.

We had a table in the ‘studio’ downstairs, they only take bookings up to midday, and then it is first-come, first-served. The dining room was a dark, modern kind of place, with stools around a central open kitchen and some tall tables also with stools in the rest of the room. I have to say I am not much of a fan when it comes to perching on stools whilst having a relaxed lunch. I can see this lends itself to speedy dining and so getting more covers in, but I did not enjoy that aspect of it.

The offered a tasting menu, a three-course a la carte and a menu of small dishes from which you could choose as many as you want. This is what we had. The wine list was short, but had some reasonable wines on it; shame the mark-ups where so high. They have some good wines by the glass if you are only having a light lunch. The Sylvaner, Schloss Vollrads Riesling (both white) and the Crozes-Hermitage (red) are good drinks. I did ask when sitting down if they had any dry Sherry, which took them an age to search the restaurant to determine that they had none.

My first dish was sautéed squid with sun-dried tomatoes and tiny cubes of ham. This was adequate, I liked the tomato and ham, but the squid failed to satisfy due to it being over-cooked. The next course was quite brilliant, pig’s trotter with ham and Parmesan shavings. This tasted divine, the combinations of flavours and quality of ingredients really stood out.

They then gave us an extra course, a scallop cooked in its shell with red peppercorns and salt. This was good too; the scallop was perfectly cooked (ie. pretty raw) and the red peppercorns had a most intriguing flavour.

I cannot help ordering ris de veau when I see them on a menu, this was ris de veau with stuffed Swiss chard and foie gras foam. The sweetbreads were very rare, and had a mouth-coating richness that made me writhe with pleasure. The foam did taste of foie gras, which was nice enough.

The final ‘main’ course were two little beef burgers with a lump of pan fried foie gras and roasted peppers in them. I liked the bread, burger and foie, but found the favour of the roasted peppers dominated it.

A review had mentioned that the soufflés were worth having, so I had green Chartreuse soufflé with pistachio ice cream. The ice cream was delicious, but not a patch on the extremely high quality of the soufflé, with its light airiness and delicate Chartreuse flavour. They gave us two free dessert courses, strawberries with basil sorbet and raspberries in eau de vie. The strawberries were good and I liked the sorbet, but the raspberries were screamingly unripe and it was clearly an eau de vie producer who makes evil filth.

I did mainly like the food and it is a good idea to have many small courses to choose from, I can see that making for a speedy lunch. However, I don’t like speedy lunches, I like huge, baroque feasts. I could have had a hilarious time with all of those little dishes if I was able to sit back and stretch my legs for five minutes now and again, rather than balancing on a stool. I’m sure it’ll do well with allowing people to roll up and take the next free table, but I’ll be avoiding the ‘studio’ when and if I return.

Contact: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, 13-15 West Street, WC2H 9NQ. Telephone: 020 7010 8600