When the first L’Atelier Robuchon opened in Paris in 2003, it was the hottest spot in town. Now London has got its very own new L’Atelier to get excited about, taking over from the former Le Comptoir Robuchon site in Mayfair. Marble and mirrors were replaced with ruby red banquettes and black plates in this sexily sleek update, where the decadent food is just as glorious as the relaxed ambience. Here’s why L’Atelier Robuchon is our restaurant of the week.
When the late French chef Joël Robuchon opened his comeback concept L’Atelier in Paris in 2003, it was the talk of the town. Here was a chef who’d won Michelin stars in multiples for his haute cuisine but who railed against the formality of it all. His new restaurant was different. Guests ate at a counter, the kitchen was open, there was music, there was even a burger on the menu. It was sexy. It was clubby. It was rad. Twenty years later, how does L’Atelier Robuchon stand up?
The new L’Atelier takes over from what was Le Comptoir Robuchon. The reno took just a month, during which time the marble-clad, mirror-hung space was brought in line with the other L’Ateliers across the globe from Paris to Las Vegas to Taipei. Without a full glow up, it’s never going to feel quite like the old L’Atelier in Covent Garden with its slick postmodernist interiors in red and black lacquer, but the little details like the ruby red water glasses and shiny black plates bring the memories flooding back.
What brings L’Atelier Robuchon up to date is the music programme (there are DJs and live music in the evenings) and the new bar at the entrance, where bar manager Renaud de Bosredon Combrailles is mixing cocktails unheard of 20 years ago. His Champagne cocktail involves whey, and vetiver, while ‘Le Pays Basque’ celebrates piperade and saffron. The non-alcoholic sparkling tonka bean assam chai he makes in-house is seriously good. They should bottle it. There’s also a fun bar menu with snacks like shrimp waffles, mini gyros and mini madeleines, made fresh to order.
Executive chef Andrea Cofini has modernised the menu introducing of-the-moment dishes such as spaghetti with caviar (Enoteca Turi and Jackson Boxer at Selfridges both do a version), sea bream carpaccio with poppy seeds and lemon, and beetroot, apple and avocado with green mustard sorbet. They all sound delightful but, in truth, my gastronaut friend and I don’t go to Robuchon restaurants to eat lightly. One sniff of Burgundy and we’re crying out for truffles, foie gras and lobster, all of which L’Atelier Robuchon offers in abundance.
You don’t see bread baskets like L’Atelier’s very often now. We grab greedily at a cornucopia of pinstriped squid-ink rolls, salt-flecked laminated brioche, petite baguettes, and buns stuffed with melted Comté. It makes a change from sourdough. The amuse bouche, a silky foie gras custard with a Parmesan foam, tells us this is going to be a ‘proper’ lunch, a late-back-to-the-office sort of lunch. The sommelier eggs us on – the front of house staff are real characters – with his perfect wine matches: a Loire chenin with crunchy rice, egg yolk and wild mushrooms; and Macon-Villages with the signature langoustine ravioli, two silky hummocks napped with foie gras sauce and finished with black truffle. We dine à la carte but there is also a tasting menu at £159 and a lunch at just £49 for three courses.
One reason we’re here is to try the famous purée de pommes de terre, whipped potato purée made ethereal with a 2:1 potato to butter ratio. It’s served with the signature quail stuffed with foie gras (matched with Saint Emilion), but we spoon on even more for good measure. The rest goes with a roll of tender suckling pig (paired with Morgon), topped with a lacy squid-ink black tuile that might have been crafted by Philip Treacy. The ambience may be relaxed – cries of “Oui Chef!” punctuate lunch (we’re tempted to join the chorus) – but the cooking is as meticulously wrought and surgically precise as any in London, or Paris for that matter. Avant-garde it is not, but great produce, warm hospitality and clever cooking never go out of style.