L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon is a French restaurant with Japanese influences in the heart of Covent Garden. From the imposing décor on the outside, and the stunning hues of red and black inside, complemented by the living wall of plants and clever use of mirrors, it impresses from the word go. Or rather, from the moment the doorman escorts you in. Upstairs is a decadent cocktail bar and a fully-fledged restaurant. On the ground floor is a Japanese-inspired counter bar, where you can enjoy your meal whilst having an impressive view of the chefs who are preparing it, and all the flames and whooshes that go with cooking at this level. You either sit around the counter in the centre or have a table to the side, but for more than two people, the counter is not practical despite the awesome sense of being inside the (much more attractive than usual) restaurant kitchen, so we sat on a table next to the living wall.
The menu in the restaurant upstairs comes in at approximately £250 per person, which you’d expect of two Michelin stars. Downstairs is somewhat cheaper (though you can still have the full range of food), but the best-kept secret which perhaps I should not be telling you, is that L’Atelier does an amazing pre/post-theatre menu for as little as £35 per head for a four course meal. The only downside is you have to order by 6pm pre-theatre, and I think after 10pm for post, but this never bothers me as I only work around the corner and you can almost always persuade people to slip out early from work on the promise of such gastronomic delights! You start with an amuse bouche of foie gras, red wine reduction and a parmesan foam topping, served in a shot glass with a little spoon. It really sets the tone for what’s to come – usually incredulity that something so small and simple looking can pack such a punch in the flavour stakes.
The menu at the moment is very heavy on fish and seafood, which unfortunately I don’t eat, but there is plenty to delight meat eaters and vegetarians as well. And the bread. Oh wow. The fig and almond bread was fought over at our table! The black olive bread and white breads were lovely too, but the fig and almond is spectacular, and something I will one day try to re-create at home. To perfect that would be to guarantee popularity at dinner parties for life.
For my starter I had l’oeuf de poule, or a poached egg, in crispy rice batter, served with Iberian ham on a bed of parmesan mousse. It was divine. It might sound like the ingredients of your average breakfast, egg, and ham, with a bit of cheese, but it was far far from it! The egg was perfectly poached, oozing gold liquid into the parmesan and ham, and the crunch of the batter cage it was served in was a great contrast.
My main was a beautifully tender onglet of veal, with a butternut squash velouté. I wasn’t asked how I wanted it cooked. In a lesser restaurant this might have annoyed me. At L’Atelier, I want to eat it exactly as the chef wants me to!! And I was right. Perfection.
Dessert was an apple and cinnamon clafoutis which was wonderfully sweet and not too heavy. My friends chose the vanilla crème brulée which didn’t disappoint either.
I washed the meal down with the house red, a South African from the Western Cape, which at a very reasonable £6 for a 250ml glass doesn’t break the bank either, but for a special occasion the wine list caters to all budgets and tastes.
We walked to the tube station in silence, with only the occasional “Wow” between us. L’Atelier makes every other meal forgettable, and for the same price as pushing the boat out at Pizza Express or Café Rouge, why would you eat elsewhere?