It’s a bit spooky heading into L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in the St Germain district of Paris. Having been to the Singapore edition (see the blog Don’t fear the franchise) as the first stop on this gastronomic tour less than two months ago there was a distinct feeling of deja vu. The same dark colour scheme. The same ‘vegetables’ artfully displayed in glass venues. The same dishes … Er, come again?

Yes, indeed, two of the dishes on Monsieur Robuchon’s menu decouverte in Paris were also featured in Singapore. Greedy Girl shouldn’t be surprised. Singapore cuisine is rarely about ‘local’ produce given virtually everything is imported.

Dinner at this Paris favourite starts promptly at 6.30 and as Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband approach, there’s a queue forming outside the door. Essentially, this is the only way (unless you’re in the know) mere mortals can get a booking. Come later and, as is the case in many Parisian establishments, you’ll have to bide your time waiting for an opening. Having said that, the staff is not shy about pushing you through the menu apace to try to get the ‘first shift’ out the door by around 8.30 – nine at the latest.

So, settling in to your piece of rarified Joel Robuchon real estate while the sun still blares outside, it’s time to get down to serious eating. Greedy Girl, luckily, had a wall to her right and gluttonous husband to her left. He was playing the restaurant version of the fight over the airline seat armrest with a Gen Y American to his left. Said American was fond of trying to expand his area of influence. Gluttonous husband was having none of that. More on our American friend later.

Having ordered a bottle of Egly-Ouriet champagne, the amuse bouche arrived promptly. It was a pea and asparagus cream. While Greedy Girl has had her fill of asparagus on this European sojourn, she still gulped it down and mopped with a selection from the bread basket (that seemed to be replaced anew the moment you took a slice). The tastebuds were alive.

Next up was ‘La tomate’ – effectively gazpacho but as refined as you can get with lovely crunchy, golden croutons and little flecks of herbs and edible flowers. It would be spectacular to find out how they prepared the tomatoes – that recipe alone would form the basis of at least a dozen dishes at home.

This was followed by ‘Le caviar’. This was delicious – a quenelle of black caviar sat atop a slice of potato cooked in olive oil and drizzled with a sour cream based sauce. Not a speck remained.
Up next was the chef’s homage to Asian cuisine, ‘Le gyoza’. While Greedy Girl has most often found these yummy little pan-fried dumplings to be stuffed with pork, these were chicken, served on a little ‘soup’ consisting of what the menu described as ‘parfum d’Asie’ but was largely hibiscus. Light, refreshing and again, yummy.

What self-respecting French chef offers a menu without foie gras? Happily, not Joel Robuchon. Duck foie gras was grilled and again served with a hibiscus sauce, as well as poached cherries, almonds and another sprinkling of seeds that looked suspiciously like pumpkin seeds. Greedy Girl is sounding like a broken record – delish.

One of the highlights of the bar style of seating is being able to watch the chefs go hammer and tongs in the kitchen and look at the various dishes going out. While most diners seemed to go for the tasting menu, there were plenty of a la carte orders. One in particular went to a young Asian fellow dining with his parents – mini hamburgers and french fries. The sight of that whizzing past had Mr American in raptures – he promptly asked the waiter for a serving of fries to go with his ‘main course’. Hmmm.

The next dish was ‘l’oeuf’. This was served in a martini glass and it came as a bit of a shock to find how hot it was. The barely-poached egg sat on a parsley jelly and topped with girolle mushroom cream and flecks of girolles. It was interesting but the sheer runniness of the dish made it hard to get all the flavours together on the one spoonful.

The fish course was ‘le rouget’ – red mullet. This was really the only disappointing note of the night. Served with sauce vierge, a quenelle of olive tapenade and a cucumber emulsion, it didn’t reach any heights. The tapenade was very strong, the fish flavour underwhelming and there were – shock – bones. Michel Roux Jr, presiding over the judging on the British TV show Masterchef – the Professionals always makes a big deal about filleting fish. One bone he says is a shame, two bones is shame on the chef. Well, Greedy Girl got two bones in a fillet of fish not much bigger than a matchbox while gluttonous husband found one.

The ‘choice’ of main course was between lamb cutlets, black angus beef and quail. Greedy Girl chose the quail – this was the identical dish offered in Singapore and devoured by gluttonous husband. It also came with, sigh, truffled potato mash which was heavenly. The quail is presented in two pieces – a leg and a breast stuffed with foie gras. Delicious. This is the course our American friend decided to pair with french fries.

Gluttonous husband’s lamb had two tiny cutlets – he was rather disappointed with the quantity – and it was salted, soft perfection. No wonder he wanted more.

Into the desserts. First up was wild strawberries (tiny little ones) dotted with meringues not much bigger than a full stop. This was served with a square of poached rhubarb, mango sorbet and a very different toffee made of Tahitian vanilla and olive oil.

The final dessert was the same dish as Singapore – ‘le chocolat tendance’ – a ball of ganache coated in Oreo cookie crumbs with a disc of chocolate on top. The only difference in Singapore was the addition of a few drops of fruit coulis on the top of the chocolate disc. Delightful. Done.

Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband (who was into his second glass of dessert wine) ordered coffee to finish. Our American friend, also asked if he would like a coffee or digestif, promptly ordered a Coke. Maybe he needed to be able to ‘give his compliments’ to the chef.

The relative strength of the Australian dollar has made dining in top European restaurants much more approachable but, for a restaurant listed at number 12 on the last San Pellegrino list, this was a great feast for a very reasonable cost. There are many restaurants in the world where you go once and ‘tick’ it off. Greedy Girl will be ‘ticking’ L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon as many times as she can.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

5, rue de Montalembert, Paris

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