Below average by Joël Robuchon's global standards, this underwhelming and ludicrously overpriced restaurant delivers on classic dishes and desserts but falls short in many important categories, like service, just to pick one element at random.
I'm generally a huge fan of Robuchon's work globally; I had a great time at his Hong Kong and Macau locations, and I respect that the man has figured out how to caricature 3-star French cuisine across the world and still actually earn 3-star status in many of those cities.
Set in what can only be described as a faux-chateau in the middle of Tokyo, Robuchon's eponymous restaurant goes beyond the bright colors and shiny surfaces of his Atelier sub-brand and simply explodes into a full-bore Disney version of French luxury ready for export. You'll see what I mean in the photos, but I have to say that this restaurant takes luxury into a weirdly overdone dimension that I hadn't experienced before.
If you come for lunch, consider a longer menu than I did, because the (many) dessert courses are all roughly the same length no matter what you get. So, having only a few actual lunch courses makes it feel like the dessert is more than 50% of the meal. Which, given the immense shitload of butter and bread I also consumed (my fault, I'll accept) the meal had a decidedly heart attack-y feel to it.
Another sidenote on service- it was actually terrible. Besides being way, way stick-up-one's-ass formal, it was absent for long periods of time (I clocked 42 minutes between two courses), and at one point straight-up rude.
PRICE PAID: $235 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 6.0/10
A super formal interior space; it felt like a nice place to go if you're interested in impressing someone, but not a very relaxed area. Beautiful, but cold.
The place settings had the look of a delicately-assembled gift. I can only imagine that there is an hours-long course taught on how, precisely, to fold Robuchon's napkins. That work is evident.
Very similar to Robuchon's place in Macau, Tokyo does an awesome hot-fork-on-melted-butter routine that I find fascinating.
First out, an extremely pleasant and aggressively-plated amuse-bouche. Quinoa with tomato served on a bed of... quinoa. The edible parts were warm and crunchy, almost fruity, and beyond the overdone showmanship I quite liked it. 8/10.
At no point in the meal did I ever look around and say to myself, "son of a bitch, I wish I had more bread," because I was foisted no less than approximately five full loaves during the course of my meal. An almost unimaginable array of bread shapes and styles.
Holy. Mother. Of. God. Look at this unbelievably intense opening dish. Caviar, crab meat, and lobster, all beautifully hand-dolloped in a precise geometric pattern. I could not stop looking at this dish and almost felt badly eating it. The flavors were intense and the ingredients were exceptionally fresh, making this a total all-star dish. 10/10.
Oh look, here comes more bread.
Next up, a soup with Botan shrimp (known for their sweetness) with lemongrass, mushroom, and a sweet warm broth.
You might safely call this one of the world's best Tom khar Gai soup. 9/10, I was impressed.
Next up in my short lunch menu, the main dish- Wagyu beef pierogi with duck liver, black truffle, celeriac, and foam. I have to say that the protein part is perfectly cooked. The pierogi is a touch rich but I can live with that; the Pierogi pasta itself is too thin and not cooked perfectly- its a little al dente. There, I said it. 8/10.
A cheese cart that rivals some of the best in the world, I went with some classic soft cheeses including my absolute favorite, Epoisse (the good stuff isn't available inside the USA). Some dried fruit and, unbelievably, even more bread accompanied. 8/10.
In what I estimated was, most surely, the final salvo of this meal, an enormous glass-surfaced dessert cart was ceremoniously trucked up to our table (after the bread cart and the cheese cart, I was already getting a cart-intense feeling from this place). I selected what, I must say, is a damn-fine looking collection of ice cream, chocolate cake, and fruit. 9/10.
Ah, espresso. A pleasant wrap-up to any decent European-style meal, and I must admit that after a few weeks of nothing but green tea I was really jonesing for some powerful caffeine. 9/10.
Wait, what the hell? Yet a fourth cart, completely separate and with entirely different contents than any of the many carts that preceded it. I wasn't going to complain, but this was starting to feel silly.
The theme here, I suppose, was that these desserts were slightly smaller and look as though they came from a candy store. 8/10.
With its distinctive brightly-colored ingredient displays, shiny reflective surfaces, bright red furniture, and seasonally-appropriate panoramas inside the chef's counter, Robuchon's 3-Star restaurant in Hong Kong delivered a quality (if predictable, and somewhat overly traditional) French meal. The dining room wraps around the kitchen in a nice, transparent setup that makes you feel like an observer (but definitely not a participant). Fascinatingly, throughout the entire meal, the head chef barks at his staff in French, and they reply.
HONG KONG, CHINA
PRICE PAID: $98 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
Set inside The Landmark, likely the nicest mall in Hong Kong (a good clue is that Otto E Mezzo, another 3-Star, is right across the hall), L'Atelier is up a set of escalators that sit idly until we trip their proximity sensor and they smoothly start up, bringing us up the short flight. A very nice team of three people greets us and takes us to our seats at the counter.
As many of you know, I tend to obsess over bread, so I got pretty fired up about this bread basket. Every conceivable variety of European breads, accompanied by some damn fine butter. 8/10.
The amuse-bouche came out next- a small soup with Parmesan foam and a base of foie gras. Heavy but flavorful. The small, deep-fried ball of bread was extremely tasty. 8/10 overall.
Next, a very pretty presentation of chilled corn soup- Japanese sweet corn for extra sweetness, smoked duck breast for saltiness, chili powder for spice, and popcorn for crunchy texture. Textures and flavors all pulled together extremely well, and the dish was served quite cold. My only complaint was that this was a huge quantity of soup, but I guess that can't be too bad of a thing. 8/10.
Le Homard soup with a clear, somewhat spicy broth, with strong flavors of ginger and celery. The dumplings are prepared in "Tsukune" style; basically a meatball typically skewered and grilled over charcoal in yakitori restaurants, and typically made with chicken. The dumplings have a "squeaky" texture that feels like they're full of hundred of tiny air bubbles; a very cool effect. The lobster itself is okay- chewy and not terribly flavorful. The flowers off to the left are kind of neat but give the impression that someone was just sort of trimming the hedges and had a pretty stalk left over that they decided to toss next to the soup for no particular reason. I'm trying to say that it looked nice in the same way that any brightly colored thing would have looked nice, and didn't make a ton of sense. 7/10.
Flagrantly saffron-ed, this risotto was danced up with a pretty excellent collection of seaweed, lettuce, and pimiento peppers (the ones that flavor pimento cheese). Rich, big mouthfeel from all the cauliflower and broccoli pieces, which are on the underdone side, which actually further enhances texture. Very fun. 8/10.
The main dish- a Challans duck (known for its tenderness- they grow up along the canals near Vendée in France on a diet of snails and tadpoles, so they're usually pretty tasty). Overall, surprisingly undercooked- I nearly sent it back for another go on the grill. 6/10. A disappointing main dish.
A lovely brick of crispy chocolate with ice cream, nuts, carefully-cut leaf-shaped crisps, and, hey, why not, a small folded bit of silver paper. 7/10.
Lovely, extremely fresh Petit Fours/Macarons/Pâte de Fruits. Bright raspberry flavors from the Pâte de Fruits. 8/10.
I don't usually partake, but they offered complimentary coffee on the way out, which was completely lovely. All in all, a pretty amazing meal for less than $100!