Acclaimed French chef Joël Robuchon has expanded his restaurant empire to Bangkok, marking another major turning point in the city’s dining evolution.By Thomas Sturrock
Bangkok’s dining scene is unrecognizable from just four years ago – the rate of change, as it has grown increasingly sophisticated, has been rapid to say the least. It wasn’t so long ago that the city’s hotels had a monopoly on fine dining. Of course, that landscape has already been altered and the capital is now home to dozens of top-shelf stand-alone restaurants, and this is part of what makes eating out in Bangkok such an exciting experience.
And so may the arrival of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (5/F, 96 Mahanakorn Cube, Narathiwat Ratchanakarin Rd; robuchon-bangkok.com; 02-001-0698) be another watershed moment.
Joel Robuchon has more Michelin stars to his name than any other chef: 25 of them at the last impressive count. And now, Bangkok joins the list of cities to host one of Robuchon’s L’Atelier restaurants. As the dining scene in Bangkok continues to strive for that extra element of refinement, this may well be the development that raises the bar even higher – and the stakes.
As with all L’Atelier outlets, this new arrival in Bangkok makes an immediate impression; a super-slick, ultra-modern foyer unfolding through to the main dining area and open kitchen. Diners sit at a bar that stretches the entire length of the venue. Only a narrow walkway, where the waiters and sommeliers work, separates them from the open kitchen. Decked out in L’Atelier’s trademark black-and-red color scheme, it’s laid out like a stage, with spotlights trained relentlessly on the food to highlight the dishes.
It sends a clear message to diners: ‘Sure, there’s a performance element at the heart of the L’Atelier experience – but it’s still unambiguously, obsessive about the food; about technique, produce, craftsmanship and flavors.’
With that in mind, perhaps the best way to get a sense of Robuchon’s distinctive modern French cuisine is by settling in for the degustation menu (B5000 for five courses, B7500 for seven courses; wine pairings B3000 or B4000 depending on menu choice).
Proceedings start with a chilled green kale veloute with a spicy tomato jelly to set the tone. It uses a mastery of flavors, combined with cutting-edge presentation. That’s followed by salmon tartar with imperial caviar, and the salmon’s rich but also delicate flavor is offset beautifully by saltiness. This dish is also about mouth-feel, as the buttery salmon is complemented by the texture of the caviar.
So far, so very assuring. Seared scallops with kumquat condiments follow – velvety on the tongue at first, with a sweet citrus aftertaste that doesn’t overshadow the all-important tang of seafood. But it’s the glazed egg, black truffle, and golden rice with shaved Parmesan that delivers the first knockout. It’s not easy to pinpoint the exquisite effect of good truffles – richly aromatic with earthy notes – when used well, but they can heighten other flavors in the same mouthful while also delivering a delicious punch of their own. And this is achieved here, with this deceptively elegant combination.
Next, it’s hot chicken curcuma jelly over goose foie gras and seasonal vegetables. In many modern restaurants, the trend is to serve foie gras spiked with a citrus offset. This plate, though, seems like a nod to more traditional French combinations: rich, creamy, and undeniably satisfying.
This brings us to the stand-out offering: roasted lobster, baby spinach and black pepper sauce. Given the mild flavor of lobster, it is a risk to serve it with something as powerful as black pepper – if that is allowed to dominate it’s a badly-balanced dish and, frankly, a waste of some very good lobster. The key to the success of this dish, then, is the inclusion of lobster stock, as opposed to beef stock, in the sauce, creating a connection between the first taste of the lobster and the sauce that succeeds in heightening it. It’s exceptional.
Lastly, a succulent free-range quail stuffed with foie gras, served with potato purée and herb salad. Again, there are some traditional notes in this dish, reminding diners that while Robuchon may be a thoroughly modern chef when it comes to technique and presentation, he remains anchored in traditional flavors – the non-negotiables that make French cuisine so refined.
We finish with a papaya coulis, served with guava mousse and blackcurrant sorbet, which bursts with fresh fruity flavors that cleanse the palate.
It completes a truly memorable, thrillingly ambitious meal. Of course, this style of food and this style of dining will not necessarily be to everyone’s taste. Inevitably, some people will prefer a more familiar, more straightforward approach. But for anyone interested in the way Bangkok is developing as a culinary hub, this is an important restaurant. And, what matters more, the food is inspired.