I’ve not done Michelin dining before but it was London Restaurant Week so I thought I’d splash out on a three-course for £35 deal at L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon. As it turns out, they run the same deal anyway as a pre-theatre menu. But never mind. I was off to eat at an award-winning two Michelin star restaurant in Covent Garden. The website boasts that Joël Robuchon’s restaurants have gathered a total of 25 Michelin stars, more than any other chef.
This was serious business; this was the pinnacle of gastronomy.
This was also a trip to the circus.
Why the circus, you ask? Because L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon takes pretension to the level of blatant performance, leaving the entire experience hollow at best and discomfiting at worse.
Let me explain. The inside is dark. Very dark. Green leaves line one wall. There are a few tables and a sleek counter with high, red stools, focused around a central bar and kitchen. This is the stage for the evening’s entertainment – the waiters.
Highly aware of the pretensions and expectations of their wealthy customers, the waiters camp things up to the extreme. Their accents thicken, they glance knowingly at each other before executing some flamboyant gesture, and they call out “OOH LA LA” at every opportunity. Getting louder and louder in some form of competition.
I wanted to shout “BOOBIES” very loudly because I’m pretty sure that was closer to the original version of the game. You know, the game where you start saying something random/rude and get louder and louder to see which one of you will dare to shout it the loudest. Somehow though, I think “BOOBIES” would have been frowned upon in L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon, but maybe if I adopted French swear words it would have been acceptable. In fact, I think I might return just to see how loudly I can shout “Casse-toi, con!” and get away with it.
We perched onto the counter seats and awaited some food. They provided us with a basket of bread. This is a necessity in Michelin-star restaurants: it is to ensure that you don’t faint with hunger from the small portions and can at least make it out the door without collapsing.
We were served an amuse-bouche – a Parmesan cappuccino with foie gras and a port reduction. The Parmesan flavour was strong but expertly balanced by the sweetness of the port and the richness of the foie gras. It definitely amused my bouche, although my dining partner was less amused. However, our evenings clowns were not going to be forgiving.
“Is something wrong with your amuse-bouche, monsieur?” A waiter inquired, a little too loudly and a little too directly.
My friend hastily ate up. “I got told!” he muttered.
For starters, we took “Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli”. The velouté (a creamy sauce) was very mild and delicately flavoured and the goat’s cheese provided a stronger contrast of flavour. Definitely tasty, but three pieces of ravioli somewhat limited the enjoyment. Literally.
Then the mains. I wish – I wish – I could remember them well enough to describe them properly…but the fact I can’t probably is a good enough review in itself. I ordered beef in red miso, which was unspectacular. My dining partner took some kind of rolled veal,which was a lot tastier than my beef but a little chewy. I really can’t remember because, to be honest, the unfolding self-mocking cultural parody somewhat detracted from the food. At first, I found the scenario highly amusing, but it grew tiring.
The evening was saved by the fact that L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon was not too posh for straight up chocolate and a big portion of it. It may not have been the richest, most chocolatey dessert I’ve ever consumed, but it seriously elevated my happiness levels.
By the end of the meal, I concluded that maybe Michelin-star dining just isn’t for me. I can cope with that, and so can my wallet.
L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon 2/5 – Yawn. Unmemorable food in a ridiculous environment.
Food 3/5 – It was pleasant but not tantalising to the taste-buds.
Value 2/5 – It was good quality. That’s what saves it from getting 1/5.
Atmosphere 2/5 – Counter seating and smart-casual dress code means it’s not super-posh, but the weird performance by the staff awkwardly co-opts diners into the role of part-audience, part-participants. Not the most relaxing.
Service 2/5 – Stop the ooh-la-las. Please. And don’t try to embarrass your customers. That is not a clever strategy.
Where: 13-15 West Street, London WC2H 9NE
When: Every day 12pm-2.30pm, 5.30-10.30pm