The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Monday, 28 January 2008

French @ L'Atelier, Tokyo

Since I first walked past L'Atelier in Roppongi Hills, I knew we would soon dine at this restaurant by the world's most-starred (by Michelin) chef Joël Robuchon. I was delighted to discover that this restaurant was also recently awarded 2 stars by Michelin, one of 25 Tokyo restaurants to receive this honour (my favourite restaurant to date received only 1 star!). Robuchon's other restaurant in Tokyo received the highest Michelin honour of 3 stars. I hear that it is almost impossible to make a booking at a 3-star restaurant anywhere in the world, and I had a taste of this impossibility when I tried to book Thomas Keller's Per Se restaurant in New York without success. I'm quite happy to settle for 2 stars at the moment.

Like most high end restaurants, L'Atelier require reservations in advanced, even for lunchtime. The menu at lunch time is quite reasonably priced, and it gave us a taste of what to expect should we ever have the opportunity to dine at Robuchon's 3 star restaurant. The menu, by the way, was in French and Japanese, and not a word of English was on it. It certainly forced me to remember all that forgotten French vocabulary I learnt many years ago in high school. The restaurant was already quite full when we arrived for our 12pm booking, and since L'Atelier opens its door at 11:30am, I presume that almost all the diners present were enjoying a late brunch. I was happy when we were seated at the bar because I love watching the hustle and bustle of the kitchen as I eat. The interior decor was beautifully earthy with mainly red tones, which added a warmth to the ambience. Service was, of course, excellent and courteous, and the waitstaff were friendly and informative. One of them was kind enough to honour my request for a copy of a menu, even going to the trouble of printing a beautifully presented copy. There were a few options for lunch dining. There was a basic course offered for 2900yen (AU$29), a 4-course Menu de Jour (Today's Menu) for 5250yen (AU$52), or a-la-carte. We both went for Menu de Jour most probably because we were hungry and didn't want to spend too much time deciphering all the French and Japanese on the menu.

Amuse bouche was a tasty pork paste spread on a slice of crispy baguette. Soon after enjoying this tiny appetiser, our basket of fresh-baked bread was served. This basket was filled with buttery soft brioche and several types of crusty bread, which we enjoyed a lot. Much to our delight, the basket was promptly refilled when it neared empty.

Amuse bouche and bread basket

First course was named Le Crabe, which was a refreshing crab cake made with fresh vegetables and served with a fruit salsa of mango and papaya. This was delicious in a light subtle way, and the fruit salsa was a good accompaniment. The next course was La Chataigne, a delicious bouillon of marron (chestnuts), bacon and celery. We thought it was a strange combination, but the soup was delicious! The fresh aromatics of celery went well with the smokiness of bacon, and the chunks of chestnuts added the extra body and texture to the soup.

Le Crabe and La Chataigne

For the main course, we could choose from three choices: L'Ainame (fish), La Joue de Boeuf (beef) or Le Foie Gras (foie gras for an extra 1600yen). Naturally, I chose fish and Rob chose the foie gras, despite the fact, that he'd already indulged in foie gras two nights before at his company's dinner. The fish was pan-fried perfectly with a crispy skin and served on top of mashed potatoes. The jus vinaigre lended a lovely subtle flavour to the dish. The foie gras was simply served on top of parmesan risotto, and the simplicity of this dish allowed us to savour the fattened liver in all its indulgent, smooth, rich and fatty goodness. It was so good, but oh-so-rich that I could only handle three tiny morsels of foie gras before it felt a bit overwhelming. So three tiny bites was all I had of this utterly indulgent food.

L'Ainame and Le Foie Gras

Dessert course was Le Caramel, a caramel mousse with compote of pear and chocolate ice cream. The mousse was light and surprisingly not overly sweet like caramels usually are, and the ice cream was very chocolatey and its bitterness was perfect to cut the sweetness of the caramel mousse and pear compote. It was an indulgent end to a delicious meal. We were then served tea, and we think they forgot to serve us petits fours because my copy of the menu indicates that petits fours were included. It didn't matter too much to us since we'd already indulged too much at that point.

Our favourite course? Well, Rob declared that the soup was his favourite course. I think I agree with him. This was a wonderful experience topped with fantastic service, but we both think that our experience at Yonemura was a bit better than this experience. Oh, how I love the array of excellent restaurants in Tokyo :)

Yet another great thing about this restaurant is the patisserie - lots of goodies to choose from and take home with you:

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