Sure they exist in cities throughout the world, from Vegas to Tokyo to Paris, but L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, the French haute cuisine signature chain of the recently deceased, Michelin-starred chef Joël Robuchon is still a “must visit” restaurant for many foodies (or would-be foodies).
Hardly minimal, the Bangkok location features the low lighting and pops of red against black that all the outlets have. The Bangkok version is even darker than most, with a long wall of eerily backlit green seedlings behind diners and windows only at the back and rear of the restaurant, far from the hallway-like bar area where most diners sit.
We recently had a chance to stop in for lunch at the four-year-old Bangkok branch, located in Silom’s Mahanakorn building, and here are our thoughts.
The Bangkok outlet is in great shape since it’s just a few years old and the look is similar to all the other locations. Though the decor is reported to be inspired by the late chef’s love of Japan and that culture’s fondness for bar-style dining, it feels dated, like eating a power lunch in an Asian restaurant in Manhattan in the ’80s, which is strange since the first L’Ateliers didn’t open until 2003 (in Paris and Tokyo).
However, unlike some other big name restaurants in Bangkok, which are bright and sunny with starched white tablecloths and no vibe for miles, you do feel like you’re having an experience when you step into Robuchon, even if it’s not a completely modern feeling one.
The long bar setup, standard at the L’Atelier chain, does offer a nice view of what the countless kitchen staff are doing to prep your meal — and you can make sure nothing falls on the floor.
On the day we visited, we had a three-course lunch (THB1,450/US$45), which started with L’Atelier’s always plentiful and well-made bread and an amuse bouche.
For starters, we had Le Betterave, an apple and beetroot tartare with guacamole and green mustard sherbet. It was tasty enough that I wanted the people I was with on both sides to be quiet and leave me alone so I could enjoy it fully. They didn’t comply but it was that good, providing a sweet, crisp crunch from the beet and fruit, creaminess from the avocado, and a bite from the mustard. The mixture of crunchy, creamy/soft, and cold was also highly pleasing.
For a main, I had Le Cabillaud, a steamed cod fillet with green asparagus on a sea lettuce velouté, which should have been a mild-mannered little fish dish. However, this fish fillet tasted… fishily fishy. Fishy enough that I didn’t finish it, at least. The vegetable and sauce were subtle, possibly by design so as not to overpower what should have been a delicate fish element.
To save the moment, though, a waiter also presented a ramekin of Robuchon’s famed Creamy Potato Puree on the side, a dish that the chef claimed made his career and one of the things he’s best known for. Though reportedly only containing potatoes, butter, milk, and salt, they are velvety in a way that other mashed potatoes are not. They’re as good as people say and no, we have no idea why. The chef has said something about peeling the boiled potatoes while they are still hot.
The food mood picked up again with the arrival of dessert. The Le Chocolat Tendance is served in a small black-and-gold covered bowl. Once revealed, it’s a delightful little capsule of Araguani chocolate cremeux, dark chocolate sorbet, and gold leaf-covered Oreo cookie crumbs. It was dark, sweet, rich, indulgent, and not small — everything a dessert should be.
So, was it worth it? It’s certainly an experience and one worth crossing off your foodie visit list, especially in Bangkok where the price can be a bargain compared to the Manhattan, Singapore, Hong Kong… OK, probably all the other branches. My set lunch came out to about US$45 (THB1,450). The New York Times reported this year that a salad at the New York branch can cost US$34 and a dinner tasting menu can top out at US$325. So, at the very least, it’s definitely better to get your kicks in Bangkok if a L’Atelier visit is something you’re after.
A dinner tasting menu in Bangkok currently tops out at THB6,950 (US$214) for 7 courses and the menus around the world feature many of the same (or similar) dishes.
While the decor and the main left us a bit flat, the starter and dessert were excellent. And it still may be a worthwhile place to take an out of town guest or parent, but there are certainly cooler and tastier choices in a city as varied as Bangkok.
If we head back to L’Atelier, we’ll say two things: We’ll be wearing an ’80s power suit and we won’t be ordering the fish.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
MahaNakhon Cube Building, 5th Floor
96 Narathiwas Rd.
Open daily, 11:30am-2pm, 6:30-10pm
BTS Chong Nonsi