Buzz - The Return of Joël Robuchon

By Margaret Kemp
Joël Robuchon. This time it’s more virgin olive oil, caviar and excellent wines, than a Texan oil company; no not “that” JR. It’s Joël  Robuchon, once described as the 20th century’s greatest chef  who just returned to his pianos after seven years of reflection, fame in Japan with Taillevent Robuchon, Tokyo, TV cooking, frozen and pressure packs bearing his name. So he didn’t really retire, he just explored other avenues and realised what ze hell am I doing? JR’s happiest in his own kitchen.

The left-bank L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, with interior design by Pierre Yves Rochon, is not your formal watering hole waiting to be sprinkled with 3-Michelin stars; it’s more a sushi-tapas bar where high stools replace chairs and a counter replaces the tables. Thus everyone chats away, even offering tasty morsels to new best friends. Unknown in uptight outasight Paris! “I wanted to do something friendly in Paris, I am always surprised to see how the Japanese, usually very reserved, relax and chat in sushi bars”, observes Robuchon. Times have changed, people want simple, inexpensive, cholesterol free dishes.

“Here the product is the star, not the chefs!” insists JR. The kitchen is open-plan, the five chefs, toqueless, wear black; which is the new white. Just walking through the door, past the magnificent gnarled olive trees, it’s obvious there’s a culinary revolution in progress. Hike yourself up on the red leather stool, there’s a bag-hook under the counter, snitch a sausage from the baskets of goodies suspended over the counter-top, order a glass of wine, and tap into JR’s new philosophy. The menu (and there are several) begins with, say, 20 “petites assiettes degustation” and if that’s all you feel like eating, so be it. No problem. Among them I tested an excellent tarte fine de lisette (baby mackerel) aux copeaux de Parmesan, the gleaming transparent pastry base a work of art, a flavour sensation. Other mouth-watering mini-starters (not really small and priced between 6€-15€) include baby red mullet, with black olives, drizzled with olive oil, a panché of ris de veau and lamb’s rognons (rognons/kidneys you can’t go anywhere without being offered rognons, since they were reinstated on the Gallic safe list!). My neighbour, the chef Jacques Le Divellec, approved heartily of his fresh marinated anchovies with confit of aubergines, and he should know a fresh poisson when he sees one! Millefeuille of vegetables with basil, excellent, as are the tiny cotelettes d’agneau de lait à la fleur dy thym. There’s a dish with avocado and crab which I’m sure JR pinched from L’Astrance! Service is quick and efficient, although they’ll have to lower the counter or hire a chiropractor, the staff have to contort to serve!

“La Carte des Plats” includes eight conventional starters (10€-53€). Fancy caviar? you’ll pay 200€ for 100 grams of Oscietre and the Lobster salad will set you back 53€. Interesting mains include a soft boiled egg with Oscietre caviar (40€). Four fish dishes, include the signature Merlan frit Colbert (23€) and six meaty mains such as steak tartare with chunky frits (25€) and vitello tonato au Coeur du romaine (29€) are perfection. Two other menus worth noting: “Le Petit Plateau Degustation du Jour” (13€) and “Le Menu des Cherubins” (9€). A nod and a wink to the fact that Robuchon did seriously contemplate becoming a monk in his youth. There’s always a “suggestion du jour”, so I suggest you get on over there and discover the wonderful new world of JR, while he’s having his 15 minutes.

Some say that the dessert rum baba (6€) is a direct hit at JR’s “friend” Ducasse. “Not true said one of the staff, ex-Spoon:Ducasse. “Here you can’t choose your own rum!”

There’s a wonderful tray of patisserie, just as before in rue Longchamp and at avenue Raymond Poincaré (which JR handed over to Du-du when he retired – remember?)

The wine list is divided into two parts, read “affordable” and “dream on”. And interesting to note that JR has set up La Cave de l’Atelier so if you appreciate the “Chateau Paloumey 2000” a marvellous Medoc, you can order a few cases.

Don’t miss the loos – a museum to gastronomy. I’d eat my dinner down there any day!

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5 rue Montalambert, 7th
Métro: rue de Bac
T: 01 42 22 56 56
Open:   Lunch 12-3pm
Dinner- 18.30 – 23hrs 7/7
Reservations only taken 1 hour in advance of arrival.

La Cave de l’Atelier
45 rue de Babylone, 7th
T: 01 40 62 73 79
e-mail: vinius@ilta.com
Next week special from the 56th Cannes Film Festival. So you’ll know where to take Bobby de Niro, Tom & Penelope, Madonna, Sting, Trudy & Co.

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