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Atelier Robuchon Shanghai

Bund 18, 18 Zhongshan East 1st Road, WaiTan, Shanghai, China

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This branch of the Atelier Robuchon chain is within number 18 The Bund, a grand, building dating from 1923 along this bank of the Huangpu river in Shanghai. It is easy to find since there is an Atelier Robuchon pastry shop prominently located in the ground floor of the building, though you need to take a lift up to the restaurant itself. The decor of all the restaurants in this group is pretty much standardised across the globe, so you have seats lining the counter looking into the open kitchen, as well as a number of regular tables. It opened in March 2016, seating 70 or so diners at capacity.

The head chef here is Francky Semblat, a long time associate of Joel Robuchon who cooked with him at Robuchon’s original restaurant Jamin in Paris, before working with him again as the head chef for many years of three star Robuchon Dome in Macau prior to moving here to launch this restaurant three years ago. Sadly Francky was not on duty this evening so I missed my chance to catch up with him. Normally there is a choice of a la carte or a tasting menu, but it turned out tonight was an unusual evening, of which more anon, so there was only a special tasting menu was available.

The wine list had hardly any offerings under about £50 and climbed all the way up to bottles the price of a new car. It featured labels such as Rheinessen Keller Trocken Riesling 2016 at CNY 520 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for CNY 190, Basserman Jordan Pfalz Riesling 2016 at CNY 750 compared to its retail price of CNY 106, and Gigondas Les Racines Domaine Les Pallieres 2011 at CNY 1,300 for a wine that will set you back CNY 263 in a shop. There were prestige wines too, such as Pol Roger Winston Churchill 2004 at CNY 4,700 compared to its retail price of CNY 1,600, and Richebourg Gros Frere et Souer 2014 at CNY 8,880 for a bottle with a current market value of CNY 3,608. As can be seen, the markups range from high to outrageous. 

The meal began with a pea veloute flavoured with mint, dotted with jelly and Parmesan cream and garnished with caviar, which was sourced from China. The peas had excellent flavour, and it transpired that these too were sourced from China rather than being imported. This was a pretty dish, the texture silky, the deep pea flavour complemented nicely by the briny and fairly mild caviar (15/20). On the side was a selection of bread, made here, and this was excellent, from a delicate mini croissant through to a lovely bacon bread (18/20).

This was followed by king crab and avocado cannelloni with artistic dots of citrus emulsion along with a garnish of sea urchin. The crab and avocado is a classic combination, the slight acidity from the emulsion providing some balance, and the Hokkaido sea urchin of high quality (16/20). The next dish was soft-boiled egg florentine resting in a coulis of aged Comte and black truffle. This was a pretty dish, with its concentric circles, and the rich taste of the cheese and the earthy aroma of the truffle nicely lifted the flavour of the egg (16/20).

Following this was slow cooked Scottish salmon shaped into a neat cylinder, resting in a broth of ginger, extra virgin olive oil and artful triangles of sorrel leaves, along with a garnish of caviar.  This was another very attractively presented dish, but although I liked the balanced flavours, with the gentle flavour of ginger lifting the mild taste of the salmon, the fish itself had fairly limited flavour and was pretty clearly farmed rather than wild, which was the limiting factor here. There is only so much that can be done to enhance the rather bland taste of farmed salmon, however good the sauce with it is (15/20).

The main course was quail stuffed with foie gras and glazed with the cooking juices of the bird, served with a little salad and a dollop of the famous buttery Robuchon mash potatoes. I am very fond of quail, which rarely seems to turn up on menus these days. The flavour of the bird was fine, though the foie gras taste was subtler than I anticipated. The salad nicely balanced the richness of the meat, and of course the mash, made with ratte potatoes and more butter than it is wise to think about, was silky smooth (17/20). The meal concluded with strawberry compote with thin kirsch flavoured pastry leaves and honey ice cream. The strawberries were from China and had reasonable flavour, and the dish was another attractive and enjoyable one, the ice cream having lovely smooth texture (16/20).

Service was impressive, especially in a city not exactly noted for its warm and cuddly service ethic. Our local waiter spoke excellent English, and was friendly and professional. The bill came to a hefty CNY 3,586 (£407) for the tasting menu at CNY 1698 (£193) plus a bottle of nice J.J. Prum Spatlese and a glass of good dessert wine. The bill was larger than usual because I had managed to stumble in here on a night that was the Chinese equivalent of Valentines Day, so there was no a la carte and only a special tasting menu, with special prices to match. If instead you came on a normal day and ordered a la carte and shared a modest bottle of wine then a more typical cost per head might be around £150. Even this is hardly a bargain, but then Robuchon restaurants never are. The standard of dishes was highly consistent throughout the meal, and the technical side of the cooking very good. Atelier Robuchon dishes are always pretty, and rarely disappoint. Why the food here was assessed by Michelin as one star higher than most other Atelier Robuchons around the world is puzzling, given that this is literally a restaurant chain and so the standard is intentionally intended to be as identical as possible. Despite this Michelin give them anything from one star, as in London, to an absurd three stars in Hong Kong. A strong one star is, in my view, the correct assessment. Whether you are comfortable with the price for this is another matter.

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