“In forming new friendships, forget not old friends.”
– Roman Proverb
As somebody who loves food and lives in London, it is remarkably easy to form new “friendships” with restaurants – on average, between 100 and 200 new restaurants open every year in the city! But there is always something comforting and reassuring in returning to a restaurant that you love or where you had a particularly good experience. One such place is L’Atelier Robuchon which reopened in a new location in London late last year, just over five years after closing in its original location in 2018.
After opening his eponymous fine dining restaurant in Paris in 1994, the late and much celebrated chef Joel Robuchon later travelled to Japan and Spain, which influenced him in 2003 to open the first “L’Atelier Robuchon” concept – a counter seated, chef driven restaurant where diners could be immersed in the kitchen experience and where the French cuisine incorporated Japanese and Spanish influences. The concept has since been rolled out internationally and the original London L’Atelier Joël Robuchon was opened in Covent Garden in 2006 – a wonderful multi-level, low-lit space with a sumptuous black lacquer and red colour palette and one of the first living walls I had seen in London. I visited on several occasions and loved the (then revolutionary) concept of counter dining and an open kitchen in a fine dining restaurant, and the legendary potato puree (two thirds potato, one third butter!).
Happily, L’Atelier Robuchon London has now reopened in a new Mayfair location, occupied since 2019 by its more casual sister concept Comptoir Robubchon. The elegant room has had a makeover to bring in more deep oxblood red as well as a profusion of plants (both as a nod to the original venue) but has retained the beautiful marble dining counter – a feature common to all of the L’Atelier restaurants. Heading up the kitchen is Andrea Confi who has worked at Robuchon outposts in Paris and Shanghai. The menu features a number of classics dishes from the original restaurant as well as a regularly changing array of seasonal dishes, and follows a classic starter-main-dessert format without the separate menu section of small sharing plates that the original had. There are very posh bar snacks (available in the bar area); an a la carte menu; an eight course tasting menu for £190 per head; or what we had – the prix fixe lunch menu for £47 or £55 for a 2 or 3 course meal. There is a cocktail menu (fairly eye-watering £18 and up per cocktail), an extensive wine list starting from about £9 for a 125ml glass, and a limited number of bottles in the £40-£50 price range all the way up into the price stratosphere. As we all wanted something different, we each ordered our own wine and I opted for an excellent glass of Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) which was a great match to my food choices.
We were offered a glass of Champagne from a very elegant Champagne trolley on arrival (but do be aware that this comes with a £20+ per glass price tag!). We started with a complimentary amuse bouche of Jerusalem artichoke veloute with mushrooms and tiny crispy croutons. This was accompanied by one of the highlights of the meal, a.k.a. carb heaven, a.k.a. The Bread Basket of Dreams. Robuchon restaurants are rightly known for their breads and it is easy to see why. In our basket mini Comte cheese baguettes; croissant twirls; fougasse-like plaited chorizo breads; impossibly beautiful striped squid ink milk rolls embossed with the Joel Robuchon logo; and plain baguettes all served warm and accompanied by fabulous butter also bearing the Joel Robuchon logo. I could happily have subsisted on this and the cheese trolley!
For our starters, we ordered the ox cheek pate en croute with pickles and bitter herb salad; and the “La bettrave” – a beautiful little tower of beetroot with apple, avocado and green mustard sorbet. The beetroot dish definitely won the award for prettiest plating and the earthy beetroot was nicely offset by the crisp apple and the tart sorbet. The pate en croute was a substantial slab and tasty if not earth shattering – but oh, those little pickled vegetables were sublime and balanced the rich meat perfectly.
For main course, we had the Guinea fowl supreme with “banana” fingerling potatoes and small wedges of charred, dressed cos lettuce; and Asian-inspired cod in a ginger broth with confit bell pepper and a parsley “gyoza”. Alongside these we were also served some of the restaurant’s iconic puréed potato, which was as good as I remembered. The aesthetic winner was definitely the cod with its delicate colours and the fish draped in a single parsley leaf encased in 2 gyoza wrappers. My Guinea fowl was flavoursome and incredibly moist although a touch more greenery on the side would have been nice.
For dessert, Gail had the “Le parfum des iles” – a layered glass if passion fruit cream, coconut mousse, exotic fruit salad, and a moijito granita. This was a generous portion and deliciously fresh – not too sweet and a great palate cleansing end to the meal. Greg and I shared one dessert and one cheese course (sucking the marrow out of life and all that jazz…!). The dessert we settled on was the creme brulée of potimarron squash and vanilla, accompanied by Monkey Shoulder whisky ice cream. Again, full marks for presentation – the circle of creme brulee sat atop a buttery biscuit base and was topped with an undulating sheet of sugar glass and caramelised pumpkin seeds. It was rich without being overwhelmingly sweet and the caramelised topping had a satisfying crunch. The cheese trolley is another old L’Atelier tradition that has been reinstated, much to me delight. The very knowledgeable fromager talked us through the 10 or so cheeses on offer from which we could choose four. We went for a creamy soft rind goats cheese (did not record the name – mea culpa!), Morbier, Beaufort and Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese, all of which were excellent.
With our coffee, we enjoyed excellent petit fours – a fresh lemony white chocolate truffle, a zingy passion fruit jelly, and a dark chocolate truffle with a delicious crunch (puffed rice?) – like a very grown up bite-sized KitKat.
Did it live up to my memories of the original restaurant? A difficult question to answer. The venue is far more of a standard restaurant set-up rather than the multi level original venue, where the dark and louche bar and the slick modern restaurant space were accessed by elevator and (I always thought) provided the perfect sexy, low-lit space for a secret liaison. The current venue is a large and handsome but a single room, with no physical division between the bar area and the restaurant area. I believe there is also a live DJ in the bar at weekends, which may be fun if you are in the bar, but would be my idea of hell in the restaurant. The menu (especially the prix fixe) leans far more towards classic French than the original’s interesting mix of French with Japanese and Spanish influences – and I miss the selection of interesting small plates. Although everything was delicious, I can’t say that any of the dishes will live rent-free in my memory (although I may have felt differently had I eaten off the a la carte menu) – with the exception of the Bread Basket of Dreams and the potato purée. On the plus side, the service is professional and excellent; the lunch prix fixe is well priced and available every day; the cheese trolley is a treat; and we were not evicted from our table despite lingering for 3 hours. As is always the way, you end up paying quite a bit more than the headline 3-course price once you add drinks and coffee, but overall I felt it was fair value for money, given the setting and the food. It did not knock my socks off like the original restaurant, but it is definitely worth a visit for a special occasion.
Cost per head: approx. £90 for three course lunch prix fixe, a glass of wine, a coffee and service
Nearest Tube/Train station: Green Park
6 Clarges Street
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8076 0570
E-mail: [email protected]
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday lunch 12:00 – 15:00 (last booking at 14:45) and dinner 18:00 – 22:30 (last booking at 22:15). Sunday lunch 12:00 – 15:00 (last booking at 14:45) and dinner 18:00 – 21:45 (last booking at 21:30)
If you enjoyed this post, why not have a look at my other London restaurant reviews.