The concept behind the Ateliers is a simple one: Set-up to serve simple, well-executed food to a wealthy clientele, they can be found anywhere from New York, to Paris, Tokyo or Hong Kong. The design is identical in pretty much all of them, and you will have trouble spotting differences between the cities, be it in the decoration, on the menu or in the products used. This similarity has inspired some to call them a haute cuisine version of Mc Donald’s.
Whilst such a claim might be pushing it too far, there certainly are quite a few similarities between the two. First of all, a meal here is a rather short affair, at least compared to other two-starred establishments. You can easily eat a tasting menu in two hours, which might be good when you want to go to watch a movie or theatre performance, but certainly isn’t that phenomenal if you look for a great culinary experience.
A second similarity is of course the aforementioned uniformity in style. The rooms all share the red/black design that makes it a little mysterious and sexy.
In addition to this, you can eat a lot of the courses served in Paris for instance in London too. There is the quail stuffed with foie gras and served with his famous potato puree, the lamb cutlets with the same puree, a crispy egg with caviar and the langoustines, deep-fried with basil. One or two dishes are “unique” to the respective city, but you can certainly count them on the fingers of one hand. Yet, even these share are a few common characteristics with the rest. They use relatively cheap products, or come in tiny portions when more expensive ones are used, are very, very simple, and quickly prepared. Take the quail for instance. All that the dish contains is the breast of the quail, which is stuffed with the foie, a confit leg, some jus and the potato puree. During the service, all the chefs have to do, is cook the bird, and heat the other components. A dish that costs a few pounds, no more thus has a healthy profit margin, far from that of other multi-starred establishments. Is that fair or a rip-off?
Good question. It certainly shows that Robuchon is not stupid, as he manages to deliver tasty food, that makes both him and (most of) his customers happy. That being said, the food is tasty, and easy to enjoy. There are no inventive or interesting combinations, techniques or other ideas used here, and the dishes are all relatively well-prepared and quite forgettable. Eating here is pleasant, delightful at times, but at the same time too expensive for what one gets. Kudos for Robuchon to make the first really profitable haute cuisine restaurant, that can easily exported. But, don’t expect great food. It’s good, it’s tasty, but that’s about it.