There are few meals that I pine over long after I’ve eaten them. And even fewer which have landed in the “best meals of my life” category. Dining at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon is unmistakably in that category. My only regret is not having more time to eat at this world-class establishment more than once during my visit this past March.
While in London on a birthday holiday treat to myself, I decided I would see a show on the famed West End (London’s equivalent of Broadway), and take myself to a lovely dinner beforehand. I did a quick Yelp! search of all the best reviewed places near the theater in Covent Garden; I wanted to make sure I was within walking distance so I wouldn’t be late for the show. When I came across the name of French chef and restauranteur Joël Robuchon’s restaurant L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, I was completely impressed by the positive reviews.
Living in New York City, there is no shortage of celebrity chef restaurants and magnificent food. After all, The James Beard House is here, and so are several food empires, food magazines, food cable channels, and food festivals to match. I can’t say that I have the most developed and refined palate in the world, but over time I have continued to challenge myself on what and how I eat. I also endeavor to eat delicious, high quality, outstandingly presented food. This is where celebrity chefs shine, and let their many years of schooling and/or practice in the field speak for them.
After I decided to see the musical adaptation of my favorite book by my favorite childhood author, I was relieved to find that the restaurant is located right around the corner from the theater. I knew that seeing the show would be a treat for me as someone who still reads the book from time to time, and still enjoys watching Danny Devito’s masterful homage. But I couldn’t cap off such an amazing birthday present like a quintessentially British story in my favorite British city with a lousy meal. After reading the reviews and restaurant website, I had made up my mind. I made my online reservation quickly and easily.
When I arrived to the restaurant, I was greeted by a very pleasant hostess, and sat at the large, bustling bar where I could see straight into the center of the kitchen in a setup similar to Japanese and sushi restaurants. I chose the pre-fixe theater menu, and alerted the maitre’d that I was heading to a show afterwards.
I started off with an amuse-bouche of parmesan custard topped with a port wine reduction and parmesan foam, followed by updated version of a traditional French frisée salad. The frisée was replaced with delightfully bitter dandelion stems, but the crispy, salty lardons and creamy soft egg remained. Halved grape tomatoes and parmesan-crusted croutons added texture and crunch to the salad.
The next course was not only a palate cleanser with a light, fragrant broth, filled with miniature mushrooms and chicken meatballs. It was a soup with delicate Asian-inspired flavors, and a French execution which created a seamless transition to the following course.
My third and final course was a braised beef cheek cannelloni. The melting, tender beef was surrounded by a perfectly al dente, handmade cannelloni shell, placed gently in a red wine sauce with parmesan foam, pearl onions, and small button mushrooms. The best part, as the maitre’d had warned me, was the creamy, cheesy heap of whipped potatoes served as an accompaniment.
The food was almost too delightful to imbibe. The courses were generous enough to leave me satisfied but not stuffed, and the pace was based on my own natural rhythm of eating to enjoy the meal comfortably. The price was surprisingly affordable, but the experience of sitting with a bird’s eye view of the kitchen and watching skilled chefs work in buzzing harmony like a well-oiled machine was remarkable. I felt special; grateful to witness such a pleasurable experience. The staff was attentive to my needs and expectations, and kept the courses coming at just the right time and temperature. No detail was spared, and I will forever remember such a magical birthday in a city I love. The passion that makes Chef Robuchon a respected veteran in the food industry is evident in the interesting dishes offered at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. If you’re in London and headed to the West End to see a show, their theater menu simply cannot be missed. I have but one final, strong word of advice: make enough time to savor dessert.
A special thanks to Alexandrina Arabadji, Revenue and Communications Manager at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, for all her kindness and help.