L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

  • Restaurants
  • European
  • French
18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu

Joël Robuchon is more or less a culinary god. With Michelin-starred restaurants spanning the globe and awards including Chef of the Year in 1987 and Chef of the Century in 1990 under his belt, his first foray into Mainland China was hotly anticipated, only heightened by the fact that the renovations were a long time in the making.

After the initial opening buzz died down, we were surprised to find the dining room only half full when we arrived on a Saturday night for dinner. Perhaps because the man behind the brand isnt actually here; or maybe because LAtelier is already a well-established brand, giving the new opening a (sort of) chain restaurant reputation. Whatever the reason, this new addition to Bund 18 is going to have to work hard to establish itself as a revisit-worthy destination rather than a one-off experience.

Interiors are dark and somewhat broody, with a boudoir-esque black and red colour scheme. Overall, its well executed despite elements including rubber placemats (that are not wiped during service) and paper napkin holders tending to cheapen the vibe.

With the majority of seats set around a teppanyaki bar 32 to be precise its likely youll sit there, even if youve reserved. Why its called a teppanyaki bar is beyond us theres nothing Benihana about it; more accurate would be an open bar. Directly in front of our seats is a glass cabinet thats home to a display of astroturf, quail eggs and plastic chickens. If we cock our heads to the right, we have a view over the open kitchen, but we certainly dont feel among the action. If anything, sitting at the bar just makes it difficult for the wait staff to place dishes and fill drinks.

Nevertheless, on the food side, Executive Chef Francky Semblat (former chef de cuisine at Robuchon au Dôme, Hotel Lisboa Macau) has absolutely excelled in putting together a solid team of chefs successfully cooking up the LAtelier menu, an achievement that can be attributed to his 19 years experience working with the brand.

Meals commence with a generous basket of bread, served with butter imprinted with JR initials (helpful if you momentarily forget where you are). Given it is homemade, we were expecting more from the bread, but other than the miniature baguettes adorable and crusty youre better off saving the stomach space.

A better indication of the kitchens capabilities is offered with the amuse bouche. A light and fluffy foie gras parfait with port and Parmesan foam, this little cup has become somewhat of a LAtelier staple.

The menu is a manageable length (unlike the wine list, which is huge), and its a relief to see a range of prices, meaning you can experience the food without completely draining your bank account. The first page opens onto a selection of small tasting portions perfect for sharing and sampling a range of dishes. Highlights include Le Foie Gras (188RMB) a large seared liver served with delicious cherries and fresh cherry compote with Kriek beer for an additional fruit burst and LOeuf de Poule (158RMB). The latter offers a pan-fried egg atop a pearl rice galette served with succulent, juicy morel mushrooms and fragrant, fresh green asparagus. If youre a baller, opt for the 498RMB luxe version of this dish from the appetiser menu that sees a crispy soft-boiled egg topped with a heaving pile of caviar and plated with cubes of smoked salmon.

Across the menu page are the options for cold and hot appetisers and fish and meat. The lobster Le Homard Frites (488RMB) plates a whole roasted crustacean on a bed of aromatic rosemary. The rich and fleshy flavour of the lobster is offset by a zing from sliced green chillis, while on the side is a dish of super thin-cut fries. Its generous for the price, especially considering its actually less expensive than the aforementioned luxe egg with caviar.

Also from the mains, the caramelised black cod is perfectly cooked and served with fresh pak choy, a Malabar pepper sauce and sweet coconut foam (308RMB). Although theres nothing offensive about the dish the flavours work well together the side of sweet coconut foam ends up being the most memorable element.

Desserts introduce a little more creativity into the menu, with only cryptic descriptions to guide your choice. La Pomme (118RMB) is described as a Granny Smith apple like a tatin, slightly. Were pleasantly surprised when presented with a beautifully stacked pile of wafer thin but juicy apple slices. The dish is teamed with a smear of caramel sauce and a quenelle of ice cream. Its delicious.

The brand LAtelier de Joël Robuchon is a pretty well-oiled machine, and as such, the menu design is tried, if not perhaps a little tired, and very well tested. Its expensive yes, but the food is very good, the views spectacular and the service excellent. Whether wed be willing to drop this kind of cash again here is harder to say. Once for the experience will probably suffice.

By Victoria Brownlee

Venue name: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Opening hours: 11.30am-2pm Sat-Sun, 5.30-11pm Sun-Wed, 5.30-11pm Thu-Sat.
Email: atelier.bund18@joelrobuchon-china.com
Metro: Nanjing Dong Lu
English address: Bund 18, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Nanjing Dong Lu, Huangpu district
Chinese address: 黄浦区中山东一路18号外滩十八号,近南京东路