Tuesday, October 17, 2006

L'Atelier means workshop, you know.

On Friday, the Boyfriend took me out for lunch at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, the kind of place that makes me want to say, "It's so hot right now" Zoolander-style.

On paper, it sounds brilliant. One of the world's best chefs comes to London with a formula that's succeeded in Paris and Tokyo, opens restaurant on the same street as the Ivy, plaudits and Michelin stars follow. Except somewhere along the line, it went wrong and is now getting some distinctly cool reviews.

So what was wrong with it? Well, for a start, it had gone with this new fifteen-bazillion-menus-in-one thing that seems to be all the rage in London's hottest new restaurants. We could have had the tasting menu, or another tasting menu, or an indeterminate number of tapas sized dishes, or a proper starter and main.
The tasting menu was £55, but the only thing I really wanted on it (quail with truffled mash) wasn't available. Or not on the tasting menu. It was still available on the proper mains menu, and perhaps even on the tapas menu. Or not.

By this point, with my searing hangover, I was hopelessly confused and inadvertently ordered the lobster salad to start (£32!) which arrived in a little cake, like one of those prawn cocktail rings. Now I appreciate lobster is expensive, but there was about 25g of - admittedly delicious - crustacean here, and three inches of iceberg lettuce.

It turns out that iceberg lettuce is the Achilles heel of haute cuisine - there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can do to it to make it taste any more exciting than it does when you pluck it from your salad tray at midnight and arrange a few disconsolate leaves in a ham and margarine sandwich.

Boyfriend, meanwhile, had had soup with foie gras ravioli in it. Approximately two spoons of soup and four ravioli - and remember, this was the 'big' version. They probably have to give you a magnifying sheet like they sell to old people to read books if you get the tapas-sized one.

Somehow, he had managed to cajole some quail out of the waitress too, leaving me to flounder around for a different main. Eventually I went with roast chicken.

Now, as I was toying with the last hundredweight of iceberg lettuce, I noticed the serving staff were eyeing up our plates. Oh, that allows me to mention the other 'USP' (standing for 'unfortunate seating position'): we were sitting on high stools around the kitchen, which is separated from the ravenous masses by glass boxes about a foot high. This means the waiters have to elaborately lean over bodily with your plate. It's a lapful of foie gras ravioli waiting to happen.

Anyway, I put down my fork on the plate, and the waitress practically rugby tackled the glass box to snatch it away. Odd, I thought: then I realised why, as our mains arrived in a span only measurable with an atomic clock. Clearly, they'd had them racked up under the heat lamp waiting for my lettuce odyssey to finish.

Now I was cross and determined not to like anything. The chicken was nice (if faintly dry, I insist) and there was a little chunk of foie gras with it, and some unfeasibly small potatoes. Veg took the form of a hewn-off bit of cabbage, which I forked aside with disdain. Irritatingly, the guinea fowl was much nicer, and the truffly mash potato everything we were promised, and more.

Anyway, I was so dispirited by the experience I couldn't summon the enthusiasm, or the second overdraft, to have pudding. Gah.


In other news, Decline and Fall in site update shock!


Blogger andi said...

If their food was a fraction as good as your writing then their right to michelin stars would be beyond doubt!

I don't move in circles where £32 starters are a reality though...

10/17/2006 9:23 pm  
Anonymous paul haine said...

"It's the hard-knock life..."

10/17/2006 11:40 pm  
Blogger Léonie said...

As someone for whom having a pudding AND wine at Pizza Express is 'a bit fancy' I cannot really comment on the restaurant-critique element, but what I will say is that from now on I am going to start forking everything, and everyone, aside with disdain.

10/18/2006 10:43 am  
Anonymous lb said...

Well, I'm definitely striking the "Workshop" off my list, then.

I note that M O'L was lambasting Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (why the Frenchified syntax? Are we in 1980s New York?) in today's Metro, also saying that her guinea fowl, or lark's brains or whatever she had was 'dry'. Top-end London restaurants seem to be suffering from an outbreak of Dry Meat.

10/18/2006 1:31 pm  
Anonymous the missus said...

Ahh, girlfriend: While I'm honour-bound to agree with everything you've said, of course, I feel some defence of the food should be made.

Firstly, they clearly weren't expecting anyone to go for the lobster avec horrid lump de verdure. I'm thinking this mostly because they put the price on the menu, next to its description - as a sort of test to see if people would note the discrepancy.

Secondly, my two dishes were, I think it's fair to emphasise really, really bloody good - worthy of stars. Possibly gold ones rather than michelin ones, mind, but certainly a set of pointed-device-tastic.

But yes, I can't see this place ever earning proper stars. To add to all the other stuff, the light's horrible as well. It's that sort of murky dark you get in pub basements, with similarly over bright fluorescents picking out the weird ivied (see what they did there) walls.

Still, twas good fun - and it's nice to have something to have a proper moan about.

10/18/2006 6:57 pm  
Anonymous galatea said...

You're not wrong, paul. In fact, I was so worn out from all the eating I had to spend the afternoon hanging out with juvenile deliquents in the Trocadero, shooting zombies with an uzi.

Also, there is nothing worse than Dry Meat, except perhaps pan pipe music. When will restaurants learn this?

10/18/2006 8:07 pm  
Anonymous lb said...

Pan pipe music is pretty bad. The only possible excuse for it I can see is in the kind of uncompromisingly Andean restaurant that would serve spatchcocked guinea pig (i.e a restaurant no-one would actually visit).

I much prefer no music, light jazz, or the distant sound of the chef verbally abusing the washer-uppers.

10/19/2006 11:28 am  
Blogger galatea said...

Can one eat guinea pig in London? I would definitely do that if so.

Otherwise, I suppose, there's nothing for it but a visit to the pet shop.

10/19/2006 1:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know posh people do it because they have to, but why call a dessert a pudding if you're normal? It's all very confusing Pudding is a type of dessert, but a cheesecake is obviously not a pudding. It's like calling all main courses roast beef.

Unless of course you actually were talking about pudding, in which case ignore all of the above

10/23/2006 4:02 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

Excuse me for being technical here, but the words 'dessert' and 'pudding' are what are sometimes referred to as synonyms. See definition three here if you doubt me.

10/23/2006 4:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dog and canine are synonyms whearas Dog and Airedaile Terrier obviously aren’t, do you see my point? I sometimes think that people missed the point about U and non U, it was a joke at the expense of the upper classes not at everyone elses(ain’t no-one gonna outpatronise me!).

10/24/2006 4:57 pm  
Anonymous lb said...

What's for afters?

10/25/2006 11:42 am  
Blogger Pen Pusher said...

why would anyone want to eat a guinea pig? (wheek wheek). Although, if you find one on offer, remember all the good times in Deep Pan Pizza girlfriend...

11/01/2006 8:21 pm  

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