Dinner on my first day in Tokyo was up in the air. I really wanted to try Sushi Saito but I didn’t have a reservation, the plan was to walk in and try my luck. Unfortunately, I was (politely) turned away by chef Saito himself, it is the smallest 3 star restaurant I have seen to date, a 6 seater restaurant with barely enough room for the customer to walk in. Feeling slightly disappointed, I called Joel Robuchon to try my luck with a reservation, I was surprised that I managed to get a seat without much difficulty.
I have been meaning to go to a Robuchon for a long long time, I almost picked a Robuchon restaurant over Guy Savoy when I was last in France, but people have often said the same thing to me, that most Robuchons over the world are consistent enough that you will not encounter bad food, but at the same time, the there isn’t much distinction between the different branches all over the world. I have a friend that calls Robuchon the “Mcdonalds of French Michelin food”, not that he means any disrespect, it is an nod to the consistency of food served at all Robuchon restaurants. I had been putting it off for so long, it was probably a good time to break the Robuchon virginity.
The Tokyo branch of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is located at Roppongi hills, which is a beautiful dome shaped shopping center, a Robuchon bakery faces the interior of the mall, while the Atelier’s entrance faces an outdoor sitting area.
Green Pea, mint gelee, parmesan cheese puff
A smooth, cold green pea puree over a refreshing mint gelee, served in a shot glass; this was a great way to start the meal. The green pea was unbelievably sweet and you could almost taste the freshness in it, mint gelee could have been slightly stronger, although that cooling sensation on the tongue is not something you would want to carry forward into the next course. Kind of an amusing side note, it was probably a coincidence, but there were two halves of a pea suspended in the pea puree, and I managed to get 1 of each half in the two scoops I needed to finish the dish, it seems kind of dumb on hindsight, but I was amused enough to write it down in my notes at the time, so I will honor the words of my notebook. The parmesan cheese puff was very thinly rolled and hollow in the center, it just crumbled and disappeared, but the taste of cheese was prominent. Okay-Good
This was the only piece of bread I took from the bread basket, there were 2 others if I recall correctly. The bread was crisp on the outside, very soft and assertive taste and aroma of butter. I’m usually impartial to bread courses, but this, along with the soft roll I had in Per Se, really stood out to me. Good
Dublin Bay prawns, carrot, blood orange sauce
This doesn’t look like much, but the combination of the briny sweet prawns, the earthy sweetness from the carrots, and the complex acidity and citrus-y notes from the blood orange sauce was an absolute revelation. The flavors just complimented each other on levels that I can’t even explain coherently in words. The bounciness from the prawns and the crunch from the julienned carrots were a brilliant contrast in texture as well. The mascarpone quenelle added a creaminess to the dish. I would have given this a superb if not for the asparagus components, I felt that the woody taste didn’t really go well with the rest of the dish, the whole asparagus components did absolutely nothing for me. Very Good
Pan Fried foie with 3 kinds of onions (Roasted, pickled, onion leaf)
The dish smelled very citrusy for some reason. Unfortunately, there was a connective vein that’s present in all foie gras that wasn’t removed properly. It made cutting the foie quite annoying. The onion leaf and pickled onion worked well to balance out the richness of the foie, the roasted onion was too heavy and took things a little too far. Okay
Amadei with colza coulis and a ginger flavored butter sauce
They were using a large Amadei(tilefish) to push the degustation menu at the restaurant, it didn’t disappoint. This was seared with its scales still on, the the scales sort of curled outward and crisped up, it wasn’t just crispy, it sort of shattered. The scales, contrasted by the perfectly cooked fish meat which fell apart with ease, was amazing. I didn’t really care for the green Japanese flower sauce, it was a little too pungent, but when mixed with the ginger butter sauce, it was a lot more palatable. I was also surprised by how well the cabbage paired with the fish, it seemed to bring out its natural flavors nicely.Good
Spicy roasted lamb with ras el hanout, accompanied with gratinated cannelloni, and bamboo shoot
The lamb was perfectly cooked, absolutely perfectly. I don’t know if Robuchon utilizes sous vide cooking, but if this wasn’t cooked sous vide, or roasted at very low temperature for a long time, I’d be pretty surprised. The meat was cooked perfectly end to end with almost no ‘doneness rings’ around the edge, very tender and had good flavor. I didn’t like the bamboo with the rest of the dish, but the tempura style ‘kogomi’ had a nice sticky texture that I thought played well the with the meat. The spice had a robust spiciness that made the dish smell a lot like curry, but it also carried a sour tang that balanced the richness of the meat. The cannelloni didnt do much for me although the addition of pig ear was a nice contrast with the soft pasta. The lamb was enough to carry the dish for me. Very good
Pre-dessert: Lime basil sherbet with raspberry, blueberry
It wasn’t particularly inspiring, the lime-basil sherbet had a nice aroma and strong sourness. Served its purpose and cleared the palate. Okay
Strawberry panna cotta with a condensed milk sherbet and a froth of pistachio
The texture of the panna cotta was a little lost in the dessert, but the dish had an addition of meringue ‘rice’ (broken up baked meringue) that was absolutely genius, it added an interesting crisp contrast that you would not expect to find in a dessert like this. The taste of the pistachio wasn’t very strong and the foam made it look like I had made a mess at the end, well I did make a mess, but it made it look like I had made a bigger mess. Good
I was blown away by Robuchon, the Atelier is a brilliant concept- you’re seated at a tall table overlooking the kitchen, watching chefs warm up proteins at the back, passing it to chefs meticulously plating at the pass, attentive wait staff right in front of you, making sure the meal goes smoothly. Its casual, its relaxed, but the setting is classy, the service is professional, and the food is of incredible quality. At one point of the meal, all the staff in the restaurant stopped to sing Happy birthday to a birthday girl, it was beautiful, warm and so personal, a touch that many fine dining restaurants fail to achieve.
After this meal, I was seriously considering returning to the Atelier again during one of my remaining few days in Japan, that’s how good it was. The degustation menu had a lot of Japanese influences, and it was surprisingly cheap as well, one of the wait staff confirmed that the menu was specially built around the produce available in Japan, and why not? Japan has some of the best produce. There may be Robuchons all over the world, but if you’re holding off on it for that reason, I suggest you buckle down and have a meal there, you will not be disappointed.
Menu for the night