Review: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Saint-Germain, Paris

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that Joel Robuchon is known as one of the leading luminaries of the international culinary world. With restaurants located in top cities around the world, it’s become a feather in the cap for many people to be able to say that they’ve eaten at a Joel Robuchon restaurant in Paris, Hong Kong, London, Las Vegas, Tokyo… We joined that elite group when we were in Paris, with lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Saint-Germain. I had originally thought about booking for L’Atelier in Etoile instead as its website listed a budget-friendly set lunch menu, but after advice to book for Saint-Germain instead, I decided to bite the bullet.

Truth be told with hindsight, I do wish that I had booked for Etoile instead – a $43 Euro per person set lunch (amuse-bouche, entree, main, cheese or dessert) would have been a lot more budget-friendly than the $271 Euro ($400 AUD!) we ended up paying for lunch for two people. Providing that it’s a similar menu and of a similar standard, I would advise the budget-friendly amongst us to consider booking for L’Atelier Etoile instead of L’Atelier Saint-Germain in the future.

As you enter the restaurant, you’re shown to your seat. While there are some normal tables in the back of the restaurant, all guests for the lunchtime service are seated around the high bar that goes around the whole restaurant. There are some benefits to this seating arrangement, with the key one being the ability to see into the open kitchen and see the chefs at work. At the same time though, you lose some intimacy as a special occasion lunch with your loved one becomes a shared experience with the ten other people seated around the bar.

The first disappointment of the meal came with the drinks. Wine is easy to order in France, even if the extensive wine menu at L’Atelier made it hard for K to narrow down his choice. Non-alcoholic beverages are a lot harder to order in restaurants though, and the main offerings are soft drinks or juices. Unlike Tetsuya’s or Sepia who offer a tea pairing, or Fat Duck who offer a juice/tea pairing, the bar staff at L’Atelier simply offered me an orange/grapefruit juice mix. Not quite the five star experience I was hoping for!

What did the actual meal look? We opted away from the degustation menu (couldn’t justify close to $200 Euro per person with drinks!), and ordered a few individual dishes instead.

  • Shared Tapas-style small plates / Entrees
    • L’Aubergine – confite en mille-feuille a la mozzarella et au basilic ($26 euro)
    • Le Jambon “Iberico de Bellota” – escorte de pain toaste a la tomate ($29 euro)
    • Le Pigeon – en supreme au chou et au foie gras ($43 euro)
  • Mains
    • La Morue – fraiche en imprime d’herbs aux sucs de legumes et basilic ($49 euro)
    • Le Foie de Veau – aux rouelles d’oignon croustillantes et son jus acidule ($49 euro)
  • Dessert
    • La Sphere – en chocolat aux fruit de la passion ($19 euro)

The language-adept amongst us will no doubt be looking at that second listed main dish and marvelling at our bravery in ordering veal liver. Readers, all I can say is that I played no part in that decision, and K ended up kicking himself for not picking up the fact that ‘foie’ meant liver. Neither of us are big fans of offal – while we can stomach it (ha ha!), it’ll never be our first choice. K gallantly offered to eat the whole rare liver by himself so that I wouldn’t have to, and painfully ate bite after bite until it was finished. At $49 euro for the dish, he couldn’t bear to let it go to waste even though he wasn’t enjoying it!

The other dishes of our lunch were much more satisfying. K loved the salty savoury Iberico jamon (a nice precursor to the time we would spend in Spain!) with its little palate cleanser of a tomato salsa on toast. He particularly liked watching the chefs  in the open kitchen carving our slices straight from the giant leg of jamon which must be worth at least $4000 AUD!

I was a little disappointed in my first choice of the aubergine for entree – although it was a fantastically tasty dish with lovely fresh mozzarella and smokey grilled veggies, I didn’t feel as though it warranted the price tag. The pigeon was a much better choice – although pricier, the presentation of the dish was just stunning, and it was particularly helpful that the kitchen divided the single serve onto two plates so that K and I could share the entree more easily.

What really sold me was the small serve of the house specialty mashed potato which was presented to us initially for the pigeon, with a second serve offered for the main course as well. It’s ridiculously buttery, creamy and more-ish, so much so that I would even venture to say that there’s more butter and cream in the dish than potato. Needless to say, I scooped up every last mouthful of this delicious mashed potato!

I loved the presentation of my morue, or cod fillet, with the printed dumpling skin on top to dress it up as a springtime dish. It was really flavourful and more-ish as I started eating it, however the intensity of the broth increased dramatically with every mouthful, meaning that the latter half of the dish was far too salty. I have found that though with many restaurants that we’ve visited while in Europe, where the salt shaker seems to have been used far more liberally than in Australia.

By far the stand-out dish of the whole meal was the dessert, which drew oohs and aahs from our fellow diners as it was brought out to us and finished off at the table. The white chocolate and passionfruit sphere had the mist of liquid nitrogen billowing around it, which was further enhanced when hot passionfruit syrup was poured over the whole dish, melting the chocolate and creating a delicious little island of tropical chocolate dessert. Absolutely stunning!

Overall even though we loved the dessert, I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t amazed or blown away by our dining experience at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Some bad menu choices may have contributed, but I don’t feel as though it was value for money. If we had gone in 2012 when the AUD was strong against the Euro, the exchange rate may have made it a more worthwhile meal – as it was, I think we had better meals for a much lower price, with even De Jonge Dikkert in Amsterdam being a better meal.

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