The Italian asked me out the other day, much to my surprise! Since the birth of RN, we’ve not had much time or energy to do the couple dating thing. Of course, we’ve been out a few times, only when people have done the inviting or when we’ve organised a night out with friends, which by the way is really rather rare too! So what a rare treat it was for me when my husband of 6 years asked me out on a date! I was starting to forget just how romantic he could be!
Well, I’ve been wanting to eat at Joël Robuchon for a long time. The Italian surprised me by taking me to L’atelier de Joël Robochon on the Champs-élysées. The dinner reservation was for 9:30 which for me is rather a late one but it was the only time slot available on a Saturday night. We were early since the babysitter arrived at 8. Champs-élysées is only a ten minute walk from our appartement so we grabbed the opportunity (or as the French would say, il faut profiter des bons moments) to have an aperitif at the bar next to the L’atelier which is located in the basement of a hip drug store over looking the arc de triomphe.
The summer evening was bright and the sun was still shining even way after 8 pm. However, it was a rather chilly evening for July though and I was glad that I had my Marni overcoat on me. I dressed for the occasion, as you would expect. I dragged out my 20 year old orange and lime green Christian Lacroix summer dress; the one I wore to a friend’s wedding in Singapore many moons ago and I remember being looked twice over by the folks because this frock is really rather risqué to be seen in at a conservative church wedding. This dress has a sash that you tie at the back which leaves some flesh showing – trés sexy, if you ask me! But maybe not appropriate for a church wedding, peut-être.
We were seated by the very friendly maitre’d and the Italian was surprised to be placed at the bar because the last time that he was there with 6 other people, they were shown to a room with tables. I quite liked being seated at the bar really because there we were right in the middle of the action.
I could see how the chefs prepared the dishes, all orderly and neatly with no one flapping anxiously like you sometimes see on some cooking programs. The kitchen consisted of an island where the meat/fish/foie gras is pan fried. They call this the tepanyaki after the Japanese style of cooking. There are heat lamps which are used to keep the dishes warm whilst they are waiting to be served. I could also see how the dishes are plated and decorated with one leaf of salad here, a dash of sauce there, a drizzle of oil on the corner and a sprinkle of pepper here and there. The chefs were like artists, I thought, painting beautiful looking dishes with their bare hands.
Here is how our first dish looked – Le Caviar Imperial. This consisted of a velvety chilled soup made of sweet corn accompanied by a jelly of beef stock and topped with crispy golden breadcrumbs. I really loved this soup and the adjectives that were used to describe the ingredients, for example, the beef jelly was described as la geléé tremblotante which means, quivering jelly. It rather resembles the way the Chinese would describe their kung fu strokes or dishes – “fist of the crowning crane” or “buddha jumps over the wall soup”.
This soup was refreshing and strangely odd at the same time because I didn’t expect how chilled and sweet it actually was. The quivering gelatinous beef stock married well with the sweet soup, leaving a mélange of sucrée/salée on one’s tongue, a taste sensation that the French absolutely love. The caviar which crowns a dollop of créme frâiche added a savoury crunchiness on the bite when combined with the thick sweet corn soup. This crunchy goodness was further enhanced by the 3 croûtons purposefully placed inches apart to decorate the soup ensemble.
Our next dish was named Le Crabe which as the name suggests consisted of a portion of minced white crab meat accompanied by a bunch of crunchy French green beans. The plate is decorated with 3 dollops of wasabi flavoured sauce and a path of minced boiled eggs.
A sliver of parmiggiano sits by the side of the haricots verts and this when eaten with the sliver of radish was absolutely delicious. Just look at the chapeâu shaped potato crisp lending this dish a picture perfect perfection. It looked almost too good to be eaten. But no regrets there – the dish also tasted as good as it looked – perfect.
La Girolle came soon after. This is again another absolutely delightful dish. The pan fried mushrooms were served in a martini shaped glass sitting atop a frothy parsley mousse.
Now, this has to be my favourite dish – Le Foie Gras. This is a thick piece of pan fried foie gras de canard served with 2 poached apricot halves and fresh almonds. The combination of the warm foie gras and apricots were simply sublime. Then take a bite of the fresh almonds and you are at once in food heaven. If you’ve never tried fresh almonds before, you must! The oleaginous aftertaste of the almonds when masticated leaves you coming back for more.
After this highlight, the next dish had much to live up to. Le Bar was rather unexciting for me, malheureusement. I thought that the sea bass, although very fresh, was a little on the bland side. I am not a fan of pea soup so this dish didn’t do very much for me. The Italian felt the same way.
Next was a choice between the lamb or la caille which is a type of small bird. I chose l’agneau de lait since the Italian had the bird. The lamb cutlets were minuscule and sat in a circle enclosing a sprig of thyme and a clove of roasted garlic. These were really baby lamb chops as suggested by the name l’agneau de lait– milk lamb. So the meat was sweet and tender with no traces of lamb at all.
We had two servings of dessert which I thought was one too many. But still, we persevered and ate them even though by then both of us were really quite full. Dessert number one is aptly named le mango-mango.
Look, they even had a special Perspex dish made for serving this sweet. The dessert was principally a dressed up mango mousse with a coulis of yellow fruits. I couldn’t make out what the ‘fruits jaunes’ were but I wasn’t thrilled by this dish. I thought it was very well plated and a delight to the eye more than the tongue. I especially liked the sprig of gold leave covered chocolate that stood in for a fruit stem sitting in the scoop of mango sorbet made to look like a peach or apricot.
The second dessert – Habillé Rouge– was a meringue enrobed in a gold dusted red hue sitting on an island of wild strawberries surrounded by a caramel chocolate sauce. The crimson meringue resembled a toadstool usually found in the woods, only a prettier one. I loved the strawberry flavoured chocolate twirl that sat on the left side of the dessert bowl. If you’ve never had wild strawberries before, you have to try them. They are usually hand picked and have a very intense strawberriness to their taste. I love them immensely accompanied by chocolate.
We’ve come full circle in terms of the colour theme at Robuchon. As soon as we had placed our order for the dégustation menu and our bottle of wine, we were served an amuse-bouche that consisted of a gazpacho of cherries. It was very appetite whetting, if it did anything by way of amusing my mouth, which is the principal function of the amuse-bouche.
I love this L’atelier, kawan kawan. It is really aptly named because the kitchen is opened planned where customers can see the chefs at work. This is a fine example of a workshop and a wonderfully romantic place to go on a date night.