Don’t fear the franchise – L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Singapore
Paris is in the air in Singapore (or should that be Singapour?) with Greedy Girl spying two Eiffel Towers in two days. The first, with the space between the first two ‘stages’ filled with a litre of frozen beer and a rather incongruous-looking tap bolted on the side was at a bar in the ION building and the second was made of a biscuity cocoa and adorned Greedy Girl’s ‘special’ dessert at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at Sentosa’s Resorts World.
Having sampled the delights of Joel Robuchon’s food in Paris previously – and adored every mouthful – heading out to the Singapore version felt a bit risky. The grinding traffic and torrential downpour added to pre-dinner jitters, especially as Greedy Girl had just emerged from five hours at the hairdresser with an admonition not to get a drop of water on her do for the next three days. But I digress …
Everything about the restaurant is as you’d expect in Paris (now referred to as L’Atelier Saint Germain to differentiate it from the ‘new’ Atelier on the Champs-Elysees). The signage, the awnings shading the windows, the wait and kitchen staff uniforms, the high chairs perched next to the high counter, a la sushi train, from where one can watch the skilled manoeuverings of a legion of chefs – all operating in virtual silence apart from a somewhat less than convincing ‘Oui chef’ when an order is called.
As in Paris, the degustation style dinner or ‘menu decouverte’ offers nine courses with the only choice for the meat. Not ‘chicken or beef’, but quail or lamb. More on that later.
It’s perhaps misleading to hold out Paris as the epicentre of Joel Robuchon’s ‘Atelier’ approach. His first such venture was actually in Tokyo (hence the nod to the sushi train seating style) but given the Paris restaurant got ranked 12th in the world in the latest San Pellegrino listings and Tokyo didn’t rate a mention, well …
Greedy Girl and her gluttonous husband love sitting up high, watching the kitchen machinations. The technique to try to place linguini elegantly in a bowl was interesting as was the almost hypnotic quality of watching a strong-armed chef whisk mashed potato to creamy ribbons. It’s not for every diner though. The first domestic of this trip was obvious when diners were shown to the high chairs a few stations down. The blonde she was extremely unimpressed and let it be known. The dark-haired he gave a gallic shrug and proceeded to pay his mobile phone very close attention. The next issue was her vegetarianism – something when booking obviously didn’t rate a mention. It must suck to be front of house in a lot of restaurants.
Singapore generally has a very diverse workforce and that’s in evidence here. The chef is German, the sommelier Austrian, the Maitre D from Spain and the waiters from Malaysia. The customers are a mix of locals, expats and families with young kids who seem to have worked up an appetite from their day trip to Universal Studios across the way.
So let’s get to the food (hear, hear). Each course is presented across the top of the bar and placed by your friendly neighbourhood waiter. Unless you have 20-20 vision (nope) you rely on the waiter’s descriptions of each course rather than try to read the very small type of the menu left behind for your reference.
The amuse-bouche was foie gras custard with red Porto wine and parmesan foam. The aroma as foamy thimbles were passed over the glass bar was exceptional and matched beautifully by the flavour. Light, tasty but not overpowering. A great start.
First of the starters – ‘la tomate’. Fresh tomato pulp and marinated sea bass with lime. It was almost a soup but had amazing texture – crispy croutons, dotted with olives and crunchy little pieces of shallot and the softness of the sea bass. Each flavour could be discerned. Yum.
Le Crabe Royal was next – a cannelloni filled with king crab and daikon wrapping. What the menu doesn’t tell you is it floats in a litle pool of lobster bisque. Yum to the power of two.
The next course was named L’Epinard. Having been exposed to enough French to be able to understand the base ingredient, we knew we were in for some spinach. It was here though that gluttonous husband became confused with the various accented English surrounding us. Husband was insisting the spinach veloute in this dish accompanied some ‘pork pie’. When I dipped my spoon down below the creamy surface, I did encounter another texture but it didn’t look or smell (thankfully) like ‘pork pie’ – it was, rather, a custard flavoured with nutmeg. So, ‘pork pie’ you ask? What our lovely waiter was trying to convey to us was ‘Popeye’ – i.e., the world’s most famous spinach consumer. OK. ‘Nuff said.
Then came ‘le foie gras’. Could it be possible to go to any self-respecting French restaurant and not have it? At Le Bernardin in New York last year, Greedy Girl chose four courses from its repertoire featuring foie gras. If there’d been a dessert with foie gras too … Hmmm. Perhaps not. Here, we were told the dish was a recent invention by the great chef himself. Wrapped in a green cabbage leaf, with some tiny fronds of rocket, the foie gras was steamed inside the leaf. It was a play on textures. The foie gras was soft perfection, while the cabbage and a wafer-thin slice of toast underneath gave crunch. A smear of roast chicken jus on the plate was finger-lickin’ good.
Our final fish dish ‘La Barbue’ was the only course Greedy Girl didn’t finish (but gluttonous husband came to the rescue). Small medallions of brill sat on a smoked eggplant relish (referred to as eggplant caviar on the menu) dressed with tomato and fresh mint. Greedy Girl is of the opinion that mint belongs only in her toothpaste or a chocolate slice. Hey, every gourmand needs to have one philistine trait.
The very last savoury course was our choice. Greedy Girl had lamb while gluttonous husband had quail stuffed with foie gras. Welsh spring lamb was skewered with a rosemary sprig and served with a rich jus, peppers and eggplant, roast garlic and a pot of creamy mash on the side. The rosemary flavour of the lamb, cooked pink, was extraordinary. The quail, regarded as the restaurant’s signature dish, featured a leg with a slight crispness to the skin as well as a tiny breast, stuffed with the foie gras that oozed forth with a mousse-like texture. Again, it was accompanied by mash as well as a tiny herb salad. Now, if Greedy Girl wanted to be picky, she would say the mash lacked a bit of seasoning. Quelle horreur.
The speed with which the above courses are prepared and presented is breathtaking. This is their style and although I’m sure in Singapore if you asked for the pace to slow you would be accommodated. In Paris, however, when you are required to be present at 6.30pm promptly, be prepared to be out the door around 8.30. The pace is what it is. Get used to it. We did manage to have a break before our two desserts to continue to sip a lovely bottle of Pol Roger. First dessert was a mango sorbet for Greedy Girl, who isn’t fond of coconut, while gluttonous husband tucked into ‘L’Exotique’ – coconut ice cream with pineapple shavings and a citrus jelly, served with a caramel disk.
Our next dessert was worth the price of admission alone. ‘Le Chocolat’. Textures galore. Crunchy little beads of both chocolate and fruits nestled among an Oreo cookie-coated chestnut ice cream. Yum to the power of … Well.
That was pretty much all she wrote. Gluttonous husband paired his chocolate dessert with a stunning Pedro Ximenez sherry and we were all set to have a cuppa to aid digestion when the moment every woman dreads took place. Remember my opening gambit re: cocoa Eiffel Tower? There it was, on a plate, accompanied by three sorbets and a lit candle. Yes, it was Greedy Girl’s birthday and, to her mortification, the restaurant broke out in a rousing rendition of ‘Bonne anniversaire’. Would you have expected anything else?
A wonderful experience and proves the franchised chef is not necessarily anything to fear.
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Resorts World, Sentosa Island, Singapore