I had been looking forward to my dinner at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon for quite some time – I was excited both to experience the food and (foodie geek that I am) to write the restaurant review. The (£25 two course / £29 three course) pre-theatre menu is only available from 5.30pm to 6.15pm (last orders) for tables of up to four people, so the need to book well ahead is hardly surprising. And I have to admit, it was well worth the wait. The décor is sleek, the high tables look slightly intimidating but are surprisingly comfortable once you’re settled in and afford an excellent view of the open kitchen in the centre of the restaurant. As would be expected in a Michelin starred establishment, service is seamless. Staff know the menu inside out and are keen to explain each dish as it is served. They are also very good at catering for vegetarians (of whom there were two in our party).
To begin, our waitress encouraged us to try the cocktail of the day as an aperitif. This was essentially a peach and raspberry bellini. It was simple, but beautifully executed – both fruits came through clearly and it had just the right balance of sweet and sharp tastes to it. After this, we were offered the wine list, and the sommelier helped us to select a light, dry white Picpoul de Pinet which was both delicious and within our budget. Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised by the price of the entry level wines on what was a very expansive list, and at the sommelier’s willingness to guide us through them.
As for the food, we were first brought a basket of freshly baked breads – not wanting to spoil our appetite, we held back with these, but I couldn’t resist trying the olive bread. It was wonderfully flavoured, with large pieces of black olives nestled in the dough. Next came the amuse bouche – sardine rillette, prettily piped onto a Japanese soup spoon, and topped with a miniature melba toast. I’m not a massive fan of sardines, as I often find them too fishy, but this was a delicate rendition, with mustard seeds at once taking the edge off the fish flavour and giving the pate some bite.
To start, I had one of L’Atelier’s signature dishes, “egg cocotte”. A slow cooked egg (whose yolk was still delightfully runny), on a bed of parsley puree, topped with a wild mushroom foam and served with a giant crouton. This was like nothing I have ever eaten before, the flavours seeming to dance on my tongue. It was at once rich and creamy, light and fresh. No flavour overpowered another and all of them seemed to work in perfect harmony.
My main course was less unusual, but just as impressive. Tender roasted chicken breast came perched on top of a rich, creamy, risotto. The rice was cooked to a perfect al dente, and the bitterness of the accompanying braised endive cut through the creaminess of the risotto and prevented it from becoming too heavy. We also enjoyed a side dish of baked cauliflower with a parmesan foam. A cynic might have called this a posh cauliflower cheese, but it was delectable nevertheless. The cauliflower was perfectly soft, and the parmesan foam was deliciously light.
For dessert, I opted for the selection of traditional tarts. This was a collection of bite sized French classics – apple, lemon, coffee, chocolate and cinnamon. All were delightful, with intense flavours and perfectly thin, crisp pastry. The coffee tart was particularly enjoyable, the pastry topped with a rich, smooth espresso flavoured cream.
By the time we had finished dessert, we could sense that the 90 minute turnaround time for our table was approaching so, rather than have coffee, we moved up to the top floor bar for a post-dinner cocktail. The atmosphere here is chic but chilled, with mood lighting and modern electric music playing at a low volume in the background. We sank into comfortable leather armchairs to peruse the extensive drinks menu. Service upstairs was not quite so fluid as in the restaurant, but the drinks were still excellent. I opted for a “Red Moon”, a house cocktail made with bourbon and pomegranate. It was wonderfully refreshing, with a slightly bitter flavour and delicate tannins.
Although it’s not an especially cheap night out (around £70 per head for the three courses, a quarter bottle of wine, two cocktails and service), the sheer quality of it all makes the pre-theatre experience at L’Atelier an extremely worthwhile treat, and well deserving of a big four and a half Forks-Up.
So why not five Forks-Up? Well 5.30pm does feel a tad early for dinner when you don’t have to get to the theatre, and if you decide to make a night of it you might find yourself peckish and ordering bar snacks with your cocktails come 10pm!L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon 13-15 West Street London WC2H 9NE 020 7010 8600