After years of slaving away over the proverbial hot stove, Shanghai has worked its way up the ladder of gastronomic importance and become the latest city to be graced with the presence of a Robuchon restaurant: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.
A little context: Joël Robuchon is, unequivocally, the world's most successful chef. To date, the guy holds 25 Michelin stars, more than anyone else alive (or dead). He's also famous for having a volcanic temper, and once threw a plate of langoustine ravioli at Gordon Ramsay when the latter worked in his kitchens, an experience Ramsay recalls as "like being in the SAS."
Set on the third floor of Bund 18 (home to Mr & Mrs Bund, Bar Rouge, Hakkasan), L'Atelier is impossibly smart. A menacing red and black theme runs throughout, Robuchon's way of distancing himself from the white tablecloth 'formality' of old world French fine dining.
The irony being that this place sure ain't no dive.
L'Atelier is essentially a chain restaurant, and the dishes here are the same cooked at the other Ateliers across the world. That is to say, you don't get to where Robuchon is without having a few 'signature dishes,' all of which are available here.
Life is usually too short to talk about bread baskets, but not in this instance. The one here is hands down amazing, with over six different kinds in it and salty butter with 'JR' stamped on it.
Robuchon is famous for his caviar dishes, which are stunning in terms of aesthetics and price. 'L'oeuf de Poule' (RMB498) features a crispy, battered egg surrounded by smoked salmon cubed and topped with a quenelle of imperial caviar.
It's faultlessly prepared, but not necessarily better than the much cheaper 'Le Caviar' (RMB328), which features king crab, slightly salty crustacean jelly and teeny, evenly spaced dabs of cauliflower cream.'La Mozzarella' (RMB378) is a beautifully vibrant and substantial salad of king crab legs, gooey mozzarella, endives, tomato and avocado. Yes, you could probably assemble this yourself, but this dish is about the quality of ingredients, all of which are stellar.
Other high points include an opulent uni and poached egg spaghetti (RMB258). They definitely don't skimp on the uni (nor the cream for that matter), and we'd definitely order this again.
Roasted quail is so easily ruined, but 'La Caille' (RMB178/348) is gorgeously juicy with a sweetly caramelized outside, the breast stuffed with rich foie gras. On the side is Robuchon's famous mashed potato, said to contain a 'golden ratio' of just milk, butter, salt and potatoes. Heartstoppingly good, perhaps literally if you eat enough of it.
'Le Boeuf Rossini' features tenderloin steak slow cooked together with foie gras. Fellow celebrity chef/rival Jean George Instagrammed this dish after eating it here so we figured it had to be good, although maybe he was making a veiled jab at the diminutive portion size. For an eye-watering RMB488 it ought really to be bigger, though it does taste damn good.
Unfortunately Robuchon's signature sole meunière (RMB488) left us a little cold. The texture of the fish was tender and cooked well, but we took issue with the 'southern pistou' of diced mediterranean vegetables and pine nuts that come atop. It's a little olive oily, which overrides the flavor of the fish itself.
Other than that, there's nothing wrong with the way it's cooked.
Food verdict: 2.5/3
Over two visits, the service at Robuchon was flawless. Chairs pulled out, polite smiles, recommendations offered (for the cheapest house red wine no less, RMB88/glass), there's not a lot to dislike. Head chef Francky Semblat even serves some of the dishes himself if you're sitting at the bar.
Vibe verdict: 1/1
Value for Money
You don't get to 25 Michelin stars without having a formula. Robuchon has one for his Atelier restaurants and sticks to it unwaveringly. The benefit is that on a technical level, the food is often flawless. These people really know what they're doing, and the quality of the ingredients is excellent.
On the other hand, L'Atelier perhaps lacks a little of the spirit and individuality that make one-off places like Mr & Mrs Bund so exciting. We'd like to see Robuchon's talented chefs flex their culinary muscles with a few Shanghai-specific dishes in future.
Value for Money: 0.5/1
TOTAL VERDICT: 4/5
Price: RMB800-1000 per person (à la carte), RMB758-1388 per person (degustation set menu), +10 percent service
Who's going: well-heeled locals, French expats
Good for: special occasions, dates, impressing guests, French food, fine dining
See a listing for L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Shanghai
Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews