This is not the first time in a Jöel Robuchon for me. I had dined at his L’Atelier in Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore and his flagship Jöel Robuchon in Singapore and Paris. In all these places, the food can only be described with one adjective – decadent.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Shanghai has the largest open kitchen in Asia surrounded by 32 seats in the signature open kitchen, as well as 16 seats at the tables around, where customers can observe the preparation of Joël Robuchon’s signature dishes by Executive Chef Francky Semblat who has been working alongside Joël Robuchon for 19 years and his team.
The decor was opulent in its burgundy tone and plastered gold all around. The menu was similar to other L’Atelier and Jb, featuring foie gras, caviar, waygu, langostine and other expensive ingredients. This seemed a bit out of its time, given that more and more seeked purity in ingredients and simplicity.
We tried three ways of ordering – a 6-course set menu that featured what the chef wanted to offer, a pick-your-own 4-course set and a la carte. The names of the course were the main ingredient used in the particular dish and nothing left to imagination. But the intensity and variety of the other ingredients in there – foie gras, butter, sweet wine, more butter, more cognac, more caviar, gold foil – just blew your mind away.
All menus started with an Amuse Bouche. I knew lunch would be fabulous the minute L’Amuse-Bouche arrived – my bouche was definitely amused by the Foie gras parfait with port wine and parmesan foam. It was all kinds of earthy, creamy richness balanced by aerated parmesan.
Pour Commencer (Starter) was a Cherry gazpacho, pistachio flakes and frozen ricotta. It looked far more pretty then how it tasted. It tasted like Moschino cherries. I could not taste any pistachio. Given it was Summer and gazpacho was a great idea. But Chinese don’t like cold soup.
Le Caviar was the signature of every JB outfit – Imperial caviar and king crab refreshed with crustacean jelly, cauliflower cream. How good it was, I tell you next time. My companions decided not to share any with me.
La Langoustine (Claw Lobster) was Langoustine ravioli with Chateau Chalon emulsion and fresh peas. This is more like a soup than the gazpacho that came before. The piece of lobster was floating in an emulsion that was savoury that made the peas totally out of place, being the only ingredient that was not specially treated. And the Vietnamese mint made it tasted a bit like a non-spicy laksa.
Le Turbot was Pan-fried turbot, stewed baby leeks and lemongrass foam. I got the whole plate, which meant that the girls didn’t like it. There was only only one piece of leek, so I didn’t understand the plural form in the menu. And the lemongrass foam was more buttery than lemongrass.
A palate cleanser in between was a Consomme with a small little foie gras and truffle ravioli. How small it was – about the size of a Singapore 20¢ coin.
The piece de resistance for the Signature Set was Le Boeuf Wagyu – Wagyu beef tenderloin cooked in duo of foie gras, vintage port reduction and fresh herb salad. OK, when you read salad, you would expect a salad. That small heap of herbs in the photo was all you got. The beef was heavenly and melted in your mouth.Anything with foie gras was good. But due to the richness of all the courses that we had so far, this literally became a course of resistance from all of us because it was too rich.
And for dessert, Le Mango-Mango – Luscious mango cream with exotic coulis, strawberry jelly and coconut ice cream. I can imagine in Europe or US, this would be an exotic dessert – all the tropical fruits in the dessert. But we were underwhelmed because you can get this for a quarter of the price here from anywhere in Asia.
Do-it-yourself Lunch Set (4 courses)
You choose from a special menu of 4 types of appetisers, 2 soups, 4 mains and 3 desserts.
So for appetiser, I chose La Dorade – Sea bream carpaccio with lemon dressing, Espelette pepper and caviar. The sweet, tangy lemon dressing was smothered liberally across thinly sliced sea bream placed on an oval plate the size of a regular baguette. This was sprinkled with pepper, olive oil, chives and dusted with caviar. For regular Singaporean friends, you would remember the Tiong Bahru market Teochew Yusheng, where you are given a plate of thinly sliced Shang Yu (carp), doused with cooking oil, coriander and a couple of lime. This was similar 🙂 except for the caviar. I guessed the uncle in Tiong Bahru had not discovered caviar would compliment this dish.
For soup, I chose Le Homard Cardinalise – Roasted lobster, stewed peas with bak choy and a spiced lobster bisque. You can hardly see the bak choy (hidden from view under a crispy cheese and more of their Parmigiano foam. The lobster bisque was poured at table side. It was delicious even without the slice of lobster claw. A couple of Holland sweet peas rounded up the dish. I find that the greens were unnecessary and stole the limelight of the really excellent bisque.
For the main, I chose Les Spaghettis – Roasted Maine Lobster spaghetti, slow-poached egg and coral emulsion. It’s a crustacean spaghetti with bisquey sauce with a creamy, cheesy foam, topped with an Onsen egg. There was no coral reef that got destroyed in creating this dish. The coral emulsion described the colour, not the ingredient. Obviously, it was used everywhere in JB’s universe. In Singapore, coral emulsion was used for their scallop dish, and in Taipei and Hong Kong, the same spaghetti was featured on their menus as well. So it has to be good and categorically repeatable. No, it did not disappoint. Order this wherever and whenever you can.
And lastly for dessert, the waiter recommended La Girafe – “The girafe“, on a raisin and blackcurrant jelly, with Perroquet mango. It was definitely cute, with little chocolate giraffes on sweet sticky rice. The jelly was the very thin layer that the mousse sat on. It was tart and tasted like Ribena gelatin sheet. The mango mousse was a repeat on La Mango-Mango. So same same, but different presentation.
A la Carte
To round off orders for 3 pax, I order Les Huitres – Poached baby Pacific oysters with French Echire butter. The warm butter did enhance the taste of the oysters, intensifying the saltiness and seafood taste of the oysters.
And for mains I order Le Crabe Royale – Spicy king crab, shiso leaves tempura and squid ink risotto. This was a complex dish with many components – tempura king crab legs and shiso leaves were very lightly battered and perfectly executed to the same high standard of a tempura restaurant in Japan. The squid ink risotto was nicely salted and cooked al dente, which meant that it was still a bit too hard for most Asians. Nevertheless it was delicious. I realised, in a lightbulb moment, that JB risotto and pasta dishes were really very good.
Petit Fours – Mango macarons and chocolate crisps
You would expect the lunch to come with complimentary coffee or tea at dessert. No, it was separately charged. And because this is China, we would only drink bottled water. And that would be another charge.
There you have it, L’Atelier in Shanghai. Was it worth it? Not really, given that it was the same formula as the rest of the L’Ateliers I have been to. A “workshop” of culinary ideas it was not. Nothing innovative from the team here. It stuck close to the tried and tested menu Jöel Robuchon did with his other restaurants. It became an alternative branch to his über-expensive flagship restaurants. It did have a lot of Instagrammable moments, so would be a perfect date destination.
And I would say this concept of Haute dining is getting quickly out of fashion. I guess he was capitalising on the rising wealth of the Chinese clientele. I wondered how they have held up with all these anti-corruption going on around them and showing wealth is not in vogue. For an alternative, not-so-flattering review of this restaurant, here’s an article from Smart Shanghai.
This restaurant was awarded Michelin Shanghai 2016, 2017 2*
Reservation highly recommended for dinner.
L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon
18 Zhongshan East Road
Tel: (86 21) 6071 8888
Date visited: Jun 2017