Joel Robuchon’s Ateliers revolutionised the world of fine dining when the first opened in Paris. By having diners eat around a bar, facing the open kitchen, they brought a sense of conviviality, and warmth to a genre of restaurants that formerly operated according to a set of unwritten rules.
During the past decade, Robuchon’s Ateliers have sprung up across the globe from Tokyo to Las Vegas. This has led to criticism of the concept being standardised, and not much more than an upmarket version of a fast-food chain. As the design and much of the menu is the same from one Atelier to another, such criticism does make sense in the way that the concept hardly takes into consideration local products, eating habits, etc.
Yet, Robuchon’s first restaurant in Mainland China shows that this is a restaurant that is head and shoulders above any other in the country (when it comes to Western cooking). Whilst this Atelier could easily be dismissed as ‘another’ standard Atelier, a meal here quickly proves this wrong. Head chef Francky Semblat who has followed Robuchon for years and General Manager Nicolas Defremont, who has worked with both Ducasse and Robuchon have been brought in to run the restaurant, and they and their team have created a menu and wine list that are hard to beat in the country.
Certain classics are on the menu here in the same way as elsewhere at Ateliers. Think of the quail stuffed with foie gras, caviar with crabmeat, cauliflower and lobster jelly, and others. And yet, there is a part of the menu that features variations we have not seen in other Ateliers.
Wagyu beef comes with poached foie gras and a port reduction. This dish used to be served with duck breast, and the ‘upgrade’ to beef makes it an interesting interpretation of a classic Rossini (and working around the poor quality poultry available in China). Another classic that is celebrated in all of its brilliance is the classic caviar serving that has been copied over and over again. This combination of caviar, crabmeat, cauliflower and lobster jelly is quite simply an utterly brilliant, balanced plate of food. Execution-wise this is so much more precise than pretty much anything served elsewhere in the country, and therefore quite surprising for a diner having eaten around in China.
The combination of perfectly cooked, carefully sourced food and a warm, knowledgeable team in front of house-whether that be sommelier Tristan Pommier or a Chinese member of staff-is refreshing in China, where such a restaurant experience is hard to come by. Therefore, we applaud Mr Robuchon and his team for having chosen to do things properly in his first restaurant here, and showing the world that it is perfectly possible to create a fantastic restaurant in this country.