It’s my birthday. Not today, though.
I’m what you might describe as a multi-sensory individual. I don’t want to see, I want to experience – I want to see, touch and feel things, which is why I was met with a hard writer’s block after transcribing an interview which I had with Joel Robuchon for my publication. You could tell me how beautiful the rainbow is, but for me to truly understand what’s the fuss about, I had to be shown the end of the rainbow. So, I decided that I had to dine at Joel Robuchon. As a member of the media, there are privileges you receive, such as tastings and gifts and all… it’s all part and parcel. I guess it’s a trade-off for the generally lower pay scales we get? Not only had the opportunity for a media tasting come and gone, it was taken by my colleagues, so I decided to pay for it. My birthday had passed unmarked either way, so I thought that if no one was going to remember, then I myself, was not going to forget. So, I sent in an informal email reservation with my desired degustation menu, but it’s not until two whole days before I receive a cheery confirmation reply.
Based on the Michelin guide, arguably the most definitive guide on fine dining, Joel Robuchon is one of the greatest chefs in the world. His dozen or so restaurants have amassed a total of 28 Michelin stars between them, and counting – the most stars for any single chef on the planet. Only Taipei is not rated, but that’s because the guide is not present over there, and neither is the guide in Singapore. His two concept restaurants, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, and Restaurant de Joel Robuchon, are located at Resorts World Sentosa. Despite the decidedly family oriented resort, and its central location in the resort, they feel very private and exclusive the moment you step in. It houses the only Restaurant de Joel Robuchon in the world, and the eighth L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I’d be dining at the latter this evening.
L’Atelier, which is French for “work shop” is modeled after a contemporary sushi bar complete with a chic interior with lush red velvet seating contrasted by dark wood furniture, complete with piped-in inviting smooth jazz. With my reservation appointed at 8pm, the dinner service was well in operation as I was graciously shown to my seat by the bar counter. The service delivery was impeccable from the very start, and I was immediately impressed by the non-judgmental staff. No order was too small, nor too preposterous – it’s all about the food. There is both a degustation menu complete with an 18-course tasting portions set priced at SGD 565, and a more affordable Dinner Menu Appetit which offers 3 set menus of varying prices ranging from SGD 68 to SGD 158, and an a la carte menu which is more of an add-on menu rather than a la carte. I opt for Menu B, which for SGD 98, affords me an Amuse Bouche, Appetizer, two main courses, dessert and a tea or coffee to end – the available 3 to 5 choices for each course differs by season. It should be noted that the menu and the menu’s format on Resorts World’s website is outdated, and now two main courses are offered for all Dinner Menu Appetit sets. The manager in charge of my section displays a wealth of knowledge, and intelligently aids me in my choices – offering suggestions and pairing, but never forcing anything down my throat. With his assistance, I place my orders – I even add a foie gras dish because really, what is French cuisine without goose liver – and await my experience.
Promptly after, the restaurant manager plays his role as sommelier, uncorking the house wine bottle (it’s a cork, not a screw cap), offering a test sip before filling my glass. Completely oblivious, I realize that my glass of sparkling Bardoit Water is poured too, followed by the bread basket. I’m not sure when did it become a thing, but it’s laughable to me, really, that people are concerned about where their bread is made, and where it comes from. I mean, besides beef, no other course receives more scrutiny than the elusive “b-r-e-a-d b-a-s-k-e-t”. But IF you have to know, it’s made at Resorts World Sentosa’s in-house bakery which is helmed by baker chef Yoshihiko Tauchi. The butter rolls were impeccable, as were many breads, but it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking. Still the atmosphere is delightfully cosmopolitan and vivacious – the festivities in the dining area mirroring the hustle and bustle of the kitchen in a symbiotic symphony – I reveled in the dynamics going back and forth.
Almost immediately after I sample each of the variety of bread on the basket, the amuse bouche was delivered and its contents, introduced. What appears to be an underwhelming tease turns out to be quite the cock tease. Like warm liquid gold, the Foie Gras Custard with Red Porto Wine and Parmesan Foam lubricated my throat, readying it for a sensorial experience I can’t quite describe in words, but can’t really forget. It transcends the physicality, and goes straight to the experiential. Each mouth is a rush of emotions to the head – it’s magic, like a conversation between the chef and my soul. You critique not the technique, but the experience of it all, and for food to command such power and hypnotism, it must go beyond impressing – it has to inspire.To any layman, particularly in light of the Chinese New Year celebrations, the appetizer of Sea Bream Carpaccio with Diced Tomatoes and Crouton recalls a certain seasonal celebratory dish – the yu sheng, but what it does here is to showcase the ability of L’Atelier to pull back, to show restraint. It’s awfully easy to pound the diners with courses rich in flavor and aroma, however, it’s painfully difficult to manage expectations – to take the diner on a ride to show us the either ends of the spectrum. The Sea Bream Carpaccio, while greater in portion than the Amuse Bouche before it, is imaginatively eons lighter in flavor and palette yet there’s a brief hint of consistency that carries throughout. It’s fresh and refreshing yet at the same time, it never takes you out of the meal completely.
I would have preferred an upper range menu which includes a soup, but alas settled for a lower tier one so I could sample the foie gras. To me, it was a personal must-try. I mean, how could I step into the restaurant – a French one at that – owned by a chef who has been awarded the most Michelin stars on the planet, and not have foie gras. I had to. I’m well aware that such attitudes are responsible for the (increasing?) inhumane force feeding of geese, but who am I to protest? I’d be a hypocrite if I did. The demand for livestock and vegetation for consumption is just too great, and while the most extremist practices have been brought to the public eye, the truth is that the business of farming and rearing animals for slaughter is not, at all ethical. Plus, I needed to have a benchmark of what good foie gras taste like, and after having this, it pretty much validates my discerning of foie gras thus far. For one, it wasn’t mushy… the less refined places tend to cook this delicacy as if it were a really mushy, medium cooked pork lard with it tasting as such. Secondly, many places like to play a lot with caramelization to mask the taste of the goose liver (not that it’s bad or anything, but it’s rather rich in flavor), L’Atelier manages to walk a fine line between that. The salt and pepper seasoning, along with the citrus, complements and balances up the rich texture of the foie gras perfectly. I loved it, and by far, the best foie gras I’ve been served.
Amuse Bouche of foie gras custard
Appetizer of Sea Bream Carpaccio
Les Foie Gras
For some reason, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon’s Dinner Appetit menu now includes two choices of mid-sized mains, which is great for diners who appreciate variety and have big appetites. On hindsight, the meal was a lot more filling than I expected, but that’s mostly because the food’s so good, you want to finish it. The first of my main course was the L’Atelier Rotisserie which varies by day and season, and today, it was a Guinea Fowl with Cabbage, Thyme and Rosemary. I love game meats, but my biggest pet peeve with them is that if you’re gonna serve it, make sure there’s a fair bit of meat, or give me the whole damn bird (it’s often very small, anyways). While I loved the gameness of the poultry, the combination of flavors and all, I felt like I had been jerked off, teased a whole lot, but left hanging because the portion of the meat was so insignificant. This whole anti-climax was fortunately, saved by the second main course, the Le Boeuf, which is pretty much L’Atelier’s signature dish. Thin strips of flap meat is served in a steak seasoned virtually in nothing but its own juices, and pepper and salt, and topped with young rockette, cherry tomatoes and parmesan. It was to die for. The thin flap meat was cooked to technical perfection, preciously cooked on the outside, but medium, juicy and tender on the inside. And the mash potato… the best ever. I’d come back solely for this dish alone, and for the Le Foie Gras too.
The dessert of warm chocolate cake was admittedly not to my fancy, though. I hate it when French cuisine chefs use, I’m not too sure what it’s called, but it’s some sort of sweet powder that when put in your mouth, creates mini exploding or fireworks sensations – I hate that. It destroyed the dessert for me, but fortunately, the portion was small, and I didn’t linger on my dislike after that. I sip on a rather refreshing cup of tea by Earl Grey Tea as my time at L’Atelier winds down.
Main Course of L’Atelier Rottiserie
2nd Main Course of Le Boeuf
Side of Mashed Potato
Dessert of Warm Chocolate Cake
Dessert of TWG Earl Grey tea and a single Madeline
Beyond my meals with my exes, which I admittedly was blinded by love hence the food tasted great, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon has got to be my best meal I’ve ever had, in terms of atmosphere and food. The Dinner Appetit menu’s great for anybody who’d like a quick initiation into the world of fine dining – you’re not sitting through an 18-course meal with each portion the size of a single spoon, and the food served isn’t unfamiliar, and prices, particularly with each menu coming with two main courses instead of one, is great value. Alternatively, the a la carte menu’s good as well, with a classic selection of dishes, but I think you should only be looking at the a la carte menu if you’re having steak, cured meats while you drink and converse with friends, and as a top-up to your menus, such as the foie gras. I think I wanna come back again. Maybe, in 6 months, when I celebrate another personal milestones that might transpire, or just an indulgent treat.