Dining at the bar is like being on the frontlines of the culinary divide between diner and chef, where every move is scrutinised and each action performed in the face of a watching opposition. At Joël Robuchon’s Central outpost, we always prefer to sit at the bar, rather than the more subdued and quietly elegant Le Jardin, because the experience always comes with a frisson of excitement. Sitting at the counter means you have a straight line into the heart of the restaurant, where you gain an even greater appreciation for the hard work that goes into crafting your meal.
Dishes are deliciously designed and worthy of an Instagram or two – #nofilter, naturally, since the colours of Robuchon’s plates are already so vibrant – such as the starter titled Le Pêche de Vigne. This take on a gazpacho has a twist in the way of the addition of fresh French peaches, which lend an extra sweet note to the tomatoes and peppers, while fresh hazelnuts and a basil and ricotta sherbet complete it. A beautiful update on a bistro favourite, le haricot vert (sometimes substituting yellow beans) is a salad of fresh crunchy vegetables contrasting with decadent curls of foie gras and meaty smoked duck Another excellent game dish is the Challans duck breast, which comes with a side of those famous Robuchon mashed potatoes – more butter than tuber. The duck has a layer of perfectly rendered, crisp skin, and the meat is blushing and juicy. For dessert, the L’Atelier-style le tiramisu, despite its delicate presentation, delivers the full punch of coffee and rum in one pretty plateful.
L’Atelier’s wine list is still among the best in Asia. Shared with its sister establishment Robuchon au Dôme in Macau, the weighty tome is an encyclopaedia of the world’s best grapes – and then some. Navigating it is a delight, though sometimes a challenge because of its sheer volume; however, as we’ve experienced, the staff are more than equipped to guide you through the fray. Our waiter recommended a glass of the 2002 Clos de la Roche Grand Cru by Domaine Louis Remy, and the juicy, strawberry notes were a revelation when paired with the Challans duck breast.
We were thoroughly impressed by the level of service at L’Atelier, starting from the booking process to staff waving us into the elevator after our meal. The front of house staff are, ironically, behind the bar, where they keep a close eye on each diner in order to discreetly tend to their every whim. On one memorable occasion, our waiter spotted that we had barely touched the other portion of the mashed potatoes, and swiftly replaced it with a cocotte of seasonal side vegetables when we mentioned that we had overindulged.
A meal for two with wine and service will come to over HK$2,500. Considering the Central location and superlative cooking, wine and service, this is a fair price to pay. Lunch is also a good time experience the skills of the kitchen at a lower price point.