Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lunching at Hong Kong's three Michelin star L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

A beautifully presented amuse-bouche 

A main course that looks like a work of art ;b

Mashed potatoes that look like butter, and 
butter that looks like pastry!

"Exceptional cuisine, worth a journey."  That's what the three stars awarded by the Michelin Guide are meant to denote of a restaurant.  And as of 2017, there are just six dining establishments in Hong Kong -- out of an estimated total of over 15,000 in the territory -- that have been deemed worthy of such praise by the inspectors for France's Michelin company that began producing guides for their home country in 1900 but only since 2009 for this part of the world.

Much referenced and cited, the Hong Kong Michelin guide also is fairly controversial; with some of its picks and exclusions being heatedly disputed in local foodie circles, and Michelin-starred chefs often involving themselves in these discussions too.  But while the common consensus over the years has been that the Michelin inspectors seem to not be the best of judges when it comes to restaurants dishing up Asian fare, it does seem to be generally agreed that they're pretty much right on the money with regards to their assessments of those dining establishments that serve Western food. 

Consequently, my expectations were high indeed when I went and had lunch last week at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, the only French restaurant in Hong Kong with three Michelin stars since 2014 -- and, for good measure, a place in the Asia's 50 Top Tables list.  In a nutshell: I was expecting deliciousness galore throughout (along with the kind of professional service that would add to the impeccability of the overall experience)! 

Although I was having it in a French restaurant in Hong Kong, my thoughts early on during the meal drifted to Germany as I dug into some of the most satisfying bread I've eaten outside of those I've enjoyed on my visits to Deutschland, and saw the green asparagus that was the center-piece of the enticing amuse bouche and ate the tender white asparagus (with foie gras rolls and iberico ham) that I chose as my appetizer since, thanks to a visit to the Rhenish town of Schwetzingen, I had learnt that that spring vegetable is a much looked-forward-to seasonal delicacy.  At the same time, I also was floating in the clouds a bit because the food really was tasting pretty heavenly.    

Unexpectedly, however, I got brought down to earth by a bouillon so overly peppery that my first spoonful of it actually caused me to have a coughing fit!  And while the chunks of foie gras and meat, the small whole white mushooms and slices of celery that were in the soup were delicious enough, I was shocked at how bitter the brussel sprouts -- a favorite vegetable of mine that even preparers of boarding school dinners previously hadn't been able to ruin for me! -- included in the mix were.

Fortunately, things did improve after the disappointing soup course.  If I were absolutely critical, I'd feel obliged to report that the saddle of lamb served for my main course was not as easy to cut as I would have liked.  On the other hand, I have zero complaints about the accompanying vegetables (which included flavorful green asparagus and baby potatoes along with the famous Robuchon creamy mashed potatoes).  Indeed, all the vegetables -- bar for the puzzlingly sub-par brussel sprouts -- served during the meal were so wonderfully prepared that I now understand why this restaurant feels comfortable to offer a vegetarian lunch option priced at over HK$1,000 (or over US$130)!

A dessert of ultra smooth chocolate, creamy ice cream and flavorful pear compote followed, with the meal drawing to a close after a generous selection of petit fours was laid out before us.  Free to linger, the friend I was with and I leisurely drank cups of tea (that were needed after the rich food we had had) while continuing to enjoy each other's company as well as the welcoming ambience of this fine dining establishment which, to judge from our observations that day, is a favorite place for people to have their birthday meals.   

Upon leaving the restaurant, we were moved to immediately assess our dining experience.  While L'Atalier de Joël Robuchon received the unequivocal approval of my friend, I have to admit to not being as thoroughly impressed.  In all honesty, I feel that I've eaten better meals -- including lunches -- in some other restaurants here in Hong Kong, including at fellow three Michelin star-rated Lung King Heen, and zero Michelin star The Chairman, Uehara and Godenya.  At the same time though, I can see why the Michelin guide inspectors would find this dining establishment to my liking; something I still can't quite understand with regards to the also three Michelin star-rated Bo Innovation!   

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