We booked reservations at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon several weeks before our actual trip to Hong Kong. This three Michelin star restaurant was pretty high on my list of places to try – but I couldn’t find a single person who had actually been to the restaurant. I read a ton of reviews and was excited about visiting. The restaurant is right at the Central Station – just a quick walk from where our Shuttle dropped us off.
This isn’t like any other restaurant I’ve been to – the main seating area was a high top bar around the centralized kitchen where you watch the chef and the souses prep and plate the meals. There is an outer ring of high boy tables that offer additional seating – none of which was needed the Friday night we visited. The one main thing I constantly saw/read about L’Atelier was about their wine list. It was hugely extensive – with hundreds (thousands?) of bottles from all over the world, but a huge selection of French wines. The best part – the markup wasn’t the standard 3-5 times retail upcharge – much of the wine was increased between 25% – 100% (estimate). Definitely one of the best wine lists I’ve seen – and I hear one of the best in Hong Kong.
I was really digging the interiors – sleek, modern, dark, yet welcoming. I was not at all sold on the whole bar only seating area. I don’t like eating dinner at the bar – it isn’t conducive to a good conversation among friends and is nearly impossible if there is more than 2 people together (lucky for us, it was just two of us). I don’t mind watching the inner workings of a world class kitchen — in small doses. The idea of watching for the entire meal wasn’t too exciting for me either.
We sat at our bar area and EAD decided to order a couple glasses of Dom Perignon. The by the glass vintage was 2004, which in my mind is head an shoulders above the 2003 (which is served on Thai Airways A380 Flagship Service). This was EAD’s first time trying Dom. It was definitely good, but I think you are paying quite a bit for the name versus the quality of the product. I actually prefer Krug over Dom, but I’m not all that discriminating when it comes to bubbles.
While we finished our champagne, we reviewed the outrageously extensive wine list – dozens upon dozens of pages of wines. Since we were in a 3 Michelin Star French Restaurant, I figured we should have a French wine and since I had just returned from Burgundy a few weeks prior, I figured we should stay within that region. We asked the sommelier to join us and offer some guidance. This is where the meal started to go off the rails.
We started by telling him which menu we had chosen for the evening and that we were looking for a Burgundian red. We further explained that we love Pinot Noir for the lightness, but want something bolder to fit well with the beef entree. We then quietly pointed out our price point — even though the restaurant doesn’t mark their wines up 5 times, there was a selection of bottles priced over $100,000HKD and we didn’t want to pick up one of those. The somm spent about 3 minutes going through pointing out several bottles (but not telling us anything other than “this one is good…so is this one.”) He pointed out items that were priced half what we suggested up to 4 times the price. He added absolutely no value to the experience. The interaction with the somm was something I was looking forward to. I don’t expect someone to know everything about all the wines on a 135 pages wine list, but I expected much more than we got. We ended up just picking a Burgundian wine in the price range we were reviewing with no further guidance. Disappointment number one (the service, not the wine).
For dinner we opted for the 6-course menu. Which started off with smoked salmon and pureed watercress. I am probably the only person I know who doesn’t like smoked salmon. That being said, whenever I am out and it is an option on a tasting menu, I will often try it. I’m waiting for the time that it just wows me. Growing up I didn’t like fish in general, but now we eat fish a few times a week and if I could eat just one type of food for the rest of my life, it would be sushi. The roe served with the salmon was salty/briny and had a great pop of flavor. I did not really dig the salmon. I also forgot to take a picture of the amuse bouche and since I can remember nothing of it, I guess my bouche was far from amused.
The next course was crawfish, which I found to be better than the salmon. It had a nice coralline emulsion with it and I will admit, I felt a bit like Babe, Pig in the City. I didn’t know what coralline was, so I Googled it. Seaweed. Got it. I thought this dish had started to put us back on track – following a rough start with the somm and the salmon.
Next up was the entree in which we had a selection of either lamb or Kagoshima beef. The beef had an up-charge to it and if we wanted to have the highest grade beef possible we could do so for a secondary up-charge. We both opted or the beef but without the secondary up-charge. I struggle with beef at restaurants. I blame my father – beef or steaks in general were always thought to be the best of anything one could eat. In my day job, we are often taken out for a meal and steaks are the go to option – it shows how important we are as clients if they pay for big filthy steaks — or so it seems. I don’t often eat beef at home or order it at a restaurant unless it’s a work function. When I do, I am often left thinking about how I’m missing out on the other item. I am never happy.
Unlike the previous dish, I knew about Kagoshima beef and while I’ve had it a couple times before, I figured tonight would be another good night to try it again. The black cows of Kagoshima are world famous. This dish also came with a portion of foie gras. Be prepared to roll your eyes — I’m not a big fan of foie gras either. I can handle it in a small portion as long as it is accompanied by something else — my perfect portions are 1/3 foie and 2/3 something else.
The beef was perfectly prepared and had very nice flavor as was the foie gras. There was a ton of foie on my plate – nearly 2/3 of the amount of beef. One thing I love about beef outside of the US is that you get a real portion – not an enormous 24 ounce cut of meat. No human should consume that much of anything in sitting.
After the beef and foie gras, our waiter mentioned that we could add a cheese course if we wanted. C’mon! Anyone who has eaten with me knows if a cheese course is offered, I will take them up on it. Plus, this 3-starred French restaurant should have a fab selection. The layout of the restaurant was not conducive to have the cheese trolley actually move from table to table. Instead it was set back in the corner and we, instead, were paraded in front of it. There were approximately a dozen cheese selections – goat, sheep and cow. Firm, semi-firm to soft. As we were guided through the various options, I saw on calling out to me. It was inside a small round wooden cheese box. I eagerly awaited while our host made his way to this cheese…but he never did. I saw the little box labeled Époisses and my heart skipped a beat (probably equally because after eating it twice daily over Thanksgiving in France my arteries were clogged and because I had missed this beauty so much). How could the cheese guide skip it? I asked him if there really was Époisses inside and he confirmed, but said that Americans really don’t like that cheese and they often see it go to waste, so he usually doesn’t mention it to us. Ok – I get it. An unpasteurized, soft, aromatic cheese is a far cry from the Kraft Singles most people here eat, but c’mon! I responded to him by saying: “Escusez-moi…mais j’aime l’Époisses. Il est le meilleur fromage bourguignon. Mon ami n’a jamais essayé. Nous allons asseyer” – or “Excuse me, but I love Époisses. It is the best Burgundian cheese. My friend has never tried it. We will have it”. Oh my – it was wonderful. It was stinky, it was runny, it was fabulous.
We split a cheese plate as we weren’t especially hungry at this point. Our lovely cheese guide took the liberty of sprinkling some herbs over the various cheeses to help expand the flavor profile. So good. Did I mention how great l’Époisses was? In the picture below it is in the 15h00 position — see it starting to melt at room temperature? Heaven.
Next up was the dessert. It was unmemorable. So unmemorable in fact, I have no idea what it is. I checked the current menu, which shows the dessert as Japanese Strawberries — this sure isn’t that. I ate most of this dessert, I know that. I have no clue what it is and I know when eating it I wasn’t really into it. It looks pretty though, right?
As we finished our dessert (whatever it was) and sipped the last bit of our wine, our check was delivered along with some petit fours / macarons. At this point in the meal, I was pretty full, but it sure didn’t stop me from eating a macaron or a Madeleine, both of which were very good. I wish every restaurant would leave you some of these little treats as they drop off your check.
Those who know me or read this blog from time to time know that I love fine dining, although I am equally at home at a 3-star Michelin restaurant as I am at a squat stool on a side street eating off of a semi-clean spoon (that was lunch the day after this meal here). I was very much looking forward to eating at one of Hong Kong’s only 3 Michelin star restaurants (there are 3 others). L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon has three stars, but honestly, I have no idea why. The service was pretty good. The sommelier was very disappointing, the courses were almost completely forgettable. The cheese course divine. This meal was by far the most expensive per person meal I’ve had in my life. It ran us more than 500USD/person all included. Alinea, in Chicago – what use to be the world’s best restaurant – was cheaper. Let’s be clear – I am very happy I visited and I don’t regret the decision for a moment, but I just don’t see how this is a 3-star restaurant.
I am very happy I took photos of (almost) every course and that the menu remains online, because almost everything we had that night at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon was forgettable (other than the unimpressive somm and the Époisses). When I return to Hong Kong – and I guarantee I will – I will not return to l’Atelier.