The concept of the Ateliers de Joel Robuchon around the world was quite revolutionary when it was launched. It changed a few people’s perception of gastronomy, and as most new things do, upset a lot of them. As they are now present in every major city in the world, Hong Kong of course has to have one too.
However, in Hong Kong there is more to the Atelier than just the Atelier. You can decide to sit at these famous black and red counters, where you eat little plates of perfectly executed tapas, but you can also choose other options. They have a superb pastry and sandwich shop and a unique thing: Le Jardin de Joel Robuchon. Just walk through the room of L’Atelier and you will have a slightly different experience.
This is where the Hong Kong Atelier differs from the others, it takes things a little more seriously. Most of these Ateliers use fairly mediocre quality produce and glassware, which cannot really be said here. As this franchise is owned by the people who run the Lisboa Hotels, you can expect really serious attention to detail. This attention to detail starts with the stemware: Most restaurants use the cheapest glasses available, there are exceptions, but those tend to be limited in number. Not so here, what you have here is the whole line-up of Riedel Sommeliers glasses to drink the 3000+ wines on the list from. For the discerning drinker, this is definitely something to note. Apart from having pretty much every wine with a reputation on this massive list, you can also drink superbly well by the glass. Prices are steep, but the quality is there, which is not always the case in Asia, or elsewhere.
However, what makes the Jardin so different from other Ateliers is that it allows you to sit down, take your time and enjoy the meal. Also, it is a bit more of a fine experience, with more polished service and more space in general. Food-wise its exactly the same however, without the small plates menu. Thus, you can find a lot of the signature dishes of Joel Robuchon, such as the quail with foie gras or the caviar. Luckily enough, you do find a few other things on this menu, which are not necessarily present at every Atelier around the world. There would be a sea urchin custard, topped with sea urchin tongues. This dish is so balanced and flavourful, it nearly tastes sinful. The sea urchin has the perfect balance between briny/salty/sweet and iodine flavours we all love, making it a stunning dish. In general, you will find more dishes featuring urchin here than at European Ateliers. However don’t stop there, because Michel Del Burgo (yes!) who heads the kitchen here does quite a few other dishes quite admirably. A piece of roasted foie gras with cherries, is simple, perhaps too simple, but it works. The flavours and texture complement each other and you don’t think there can be more added. Generally, these dishes, as with the caviar and quail are executed very well. Technique never has been a problem at Robuchon restaurants, as the stunning peach dessert shows. So delicate and complex, this dessert is as close to perfection as you could ever hope a dessert to be. There is that famous sugar ball that Robuchon popularised a while back. What you wonder is how they managed to fill it with the various elements that it hides. It’s a piece of artistry that doesn’t only look good, but also tastes superb.
However, with superb service and wines, very solid and good food, L’Atelier and Le Jardin do have one little issue that can appear. With dishes that are so simple, with food of such simplicity, it is the quality of the produce that determines if a dish will work or not. Most dishes have no problem living up to that test, however in the case of scallops with coriander the products are unfortunately not of the very highest order. Again, it is a dish, which you can’t criticise for its technique or flavours, but much more for the less excellent quality of scallops.
This however is a small problem, considering that the restaurant is so strong in every other respect. You can clearly see that this is not an average Atelier, as it nudges towards the quality of the Macau outpost in terms of ambition. Compared to some Ateliers around the world, this one certainly counts among the best.