Thursday, March 25, 2010

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - Hong Kong

A year of procrastination had to end some time and that time is now! Seeing how busy you bloggers have been (to the point of necessitating a cyber version of crowd control), I thought I'd grab my 3-4day posting window.

At the end of my 2008-2009 South American trip, I was heading back home via Hong Kong and decided to stop in and sample the cooking of Monsieur Robuchon. After years of educating friends and acquaintances of his place in the culinary pantheon, I was eager to sit down to a meal that was in some part, created by the acclaimed 'chef of the century'.

Entry to the restaurant did not give a great first impression as we made our way through a multi-story shopping mall, it felt more like I was walking towards a Westfield food court. However, once at our destination, the black and crimson interior, accented with bowls of brightly coloured fruits/vegetables made for a very sleek and sophisticated atmosphere.

Eyeing the menu made my hands tremble as I'd never seen the words truffle, foie gras appear so many times on a single menu. Deciding on what to eat what difficult given the choice of so many wonderful sounding dishes.

To start, we were presented with a basket of house baked breads which consisted of mini sourdough and brioche rolls (with a thick slab of butter of course!).

Next was a complimentary starter of white asparagus mousse with tomato gazpacho. Dotted with slivers of almonds and asparagus, the mousse was silken and melted in your mouth to reveal a subtle, but not overpowering taste of the slender vegetable. The gazpacho, was the yin to the asparagus' yang in every sense. An intense tomato flavour grabbed your taste buds and gave them a good throttle.

Celery and chestnut soup was next on the menu. Slightly frothy on top, the soup was rich and earthy. The depth of the flavour was amazing. A
forage around the depths of the bowl was rewarded with a treasure trove of sunken riches: an inch cube of tender bacon, an inch cube of juicy foie gras and the advertised chestnuts. Was this the best soup I'd ever tasted? Yes.

I always find it hard to go past quail on a menu and this time was no exception. "Free range quail served with mashed potato" as it appeared on the menu didn't sound that exciting, but since it contained Joel's signature mashed potato, I had to order it.

When it arrived I was stunned. On top of the blobs of mash were discs of black truffle. Beside them were some juicy looking quail legs balanced against two deboned breasts. The first incision of my knife into the breast revealed that it had been stuffed with foie gras. It didn't get much better than this. Succulent quail smothered in rich artery clogging goose liver...... The potato mash was excellent. I lament having tried potato puree imitations/tributes to this prior so the wow factor had been knocked out. It was creamy, buttery and so viscous, it was almost like eating a savoury cake mix. The truffle was a little disappointing. Being my first experience with fresh truffle, I was expecting an intense flavour hit. However, there was neither a pungent odour or flavour to be experienced. The texture of the slices were what I remembered most. A corky, raw mushroom feel. The flavour was bland it only seemed to accent the dish visually. With that said, it did not detract from the excellent flavours of this brilliantly executed dish.

Dessert is always my most anticipated dish of a meal. I ordered the strangely named "Surprised Chocolate ball with dacquois and caramel ice cream". When the waiter approached with the plate, it was a spartan arrangement of a single large chocolate sphere and a few chocolate discs/stars. He then produced a small jug of warm chocolate sauce and poured it over the ball. Instantly, the chocolate sphere disintegrated revealing the ice cream sitting in a 'biscuity' dacquois basket. No doubt Heston Blumenthal took a few pages out of Joel's book for gastronomic theatre and showmanship. I wish I could have captured the moment when the sauce was poured over the chocolate ball. However, it was over in a split second and that would have taken all the fun out of it.

The dessert was delicious, smooth and creamy ice cream mated with molten chocolate and some berry sauce underneath for a flavour contrast. For those of you who intend ordering it in future, sorry for ruining the surprise! At least you will have your cameras ready. I suggest taking a video of it as there is a high probability you might miss the shot if taking a photo.

So in conclusion, it was a most fantastic and expensive lunch. The polish and refinement of Robuchon's cuisine has, I think, driven many chefs into the science labs. It's no wonder he holds the most Michelin stars of any chef even though its probably been years since he's sweated in front of a stove.

*A big thank you to my generous brother who paid for this treasured dining experience


  1. OMG, OMG, OMG! Look at those thick slices of truffle! I can't believe you were at the cyber traffic lights waiting for a green! You should have just busted in, gazumping posts only applies to non starred establishments, hehe! Glad you eventually posted though as I wouldn't have missed this vicarious meal for the world! Thanks MSG and B!

  2. What a fantastic brother! :o And I hear you on the mash, it's absolutely divine. Although it's best not to know how much butter is in it! :P

  3. I dine at L'Atelier recently and absolutely LURRRVE the quail dish! But I agree with you, the truffles slices are quite mild in taste based on my previous experience with the prized fungus.

    Pity that my brother didn't pay for my meal. Ok, he's forgiven because he wasn't there.

  4. aww such a nice generous brother! the food looks fantastic and oh man the quail sounds awesome!

  5. Wow what an incredible experience and what a lovely brother :) A shame your truffles weren't mindblowing but oh the dessert. I love it when your meal comes with a surprise element of theatre as well!

  6. the name Robuchon is so sexy! LOL... what a shame that the truffles didnt live up to your expectations. Now only if i wish thre is a Westfield food court that serves truffles.. LOL

  7. I suppose that's a lesson learnt - eat/drink as close to the source as you can. You don't see too many French Oak trees in Hong Kong so the truffles must have travelled far and wide (to the detriment of it's freshness and flavour) to reach my plate. I guess that's why Guinness really does taste better in Ireland!