Atelier Robuchon is part of the ever-expanding empire of Joel Robuchon, the French master chef. When he was cooking at Jamin in Paris, and later at Robuchon when he moved premises, he was producing as good food as has ever left a kitchen, and was elected “Chef of the Century” by Gault Millau. At the age of 50 Robuchon hung up his chef whites and turned to business, opening a series of restaurants, from Robuchon Galera in Macau to Atelier Robuchon in Paris. The latter, modelled on Japanese counter dining but with classical French food, has been rolled out from country to country, with branches in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei and elsewhere. The décor is always a similar style: red upholstery, a central open kitchen with counter and a few tables around the side, The London branch opened in 2006 with head chef Olivier Limousin, who trained at Taillevent, l’Ampychlès and Le Bellecour. In early 2014 he was replaced by Xavier Boyer, who had worked with Joel Robuchon with over a decade. He was previously head chef of the Atelier Robuchon branches in New York and Taipei.
There are various menu options, but if you opt for a la carte you are encouraged to eat three starters per person (these are “tapas” style portions) and a main course. This approach means the bill swiftly adds up, as the tapas are each quite fully priced. A tasting menu was £129, and there was a restricted choice three-course lunch for £33. The wine list spans the world, with wines from Greece, Slovenia and even Japan. The mark-up levels match the global scope. Bernard Fouquet Aubuis Cuvee de Silex Vouvray 2011 was £38 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £12, Leeuwin Estate Prelude Chardonnay 2008 was £84 for a wine that retails at £24, and the mark-ups showed no relief at the premium end of the list, with Vega Sicilia Unico 2000 at a hefty £750 for a wine that you can buy in a shop for about £216.
Foie gras royale with port wine reduction and Parmesan foam was a little amuse-bouche served in a shot glass, rich but very enjoyable, the hint of Parmesan working well with the liver (16/20). Iberico ham (at a meaty £31) was pleasant enough, though not cut very precisely, served with bruschetta topped with tomatoes. Mackerel tart (£19) had good pastry but surprisingly tasteless mackerel, correctly cooked and pretty to look at, but suffering from ordinary quality mackerel; this was topped with olives and Parmesan shavings (15/20). Better was black cod (£19) with daikon and yuzu mousseline, the cod delicate and the yuzu providing just the right level of acidic balance (17/20). Langoustine ravioli (£16) were well made with the pasta having pleasing texture, the langoustines having good but not dazzling flavour (16/20). Veal cheek confit was flavoured with oriental vegetables and spices; the spices were nicely controlled though for me the veal cheek was a little dry (15/20). I preferred quail (£29) stuffed with foie gras, the quail carefully cooked and the foie gras not overwhelming the delicate flavour of the bird (17/20).
Passion fruit soufflé (£24) was reasonable but not great, the texture not as light as some, and for me a little lacking in passion fruit intensity, though a coconut sorbet with it was excellent (15/20). Better was a chocolate sphere (£18), onto which was poured a caramel sauce and garnished with almonds, served with cognac ice cream: a lovely, rich dish, the chocolate sphere pretty and delicate (17/20). A selection of tarts (£14) were also very good indeed: lemon, chocolate with coconut, caramel and coffee, and finally pistachio and raspberry. The pastry with these was excellent, the fillings nicely balanced e.g. the lemon tart was not too acidic (18/20).
Service was polite but not particularly impressive: water was topped up haphazardly, and when we finished the meal no one bothered to say goodbye. Acceptable in a pub, less so in a restaurant to which Michelin have granted two stars. This meal was a little better than my previous one here, and I can certainly see how it is worthy of a star, but the second star seems generous to me. The menu pricing is consistent with a formal two star experience rather than a casual meal at a counter.