Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Art of the Prix Fixe (L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon)

Razor clams fricassee with confit tomatoes, sweet onion, and macaroni

With NYC's Restaurant Week in full swing, I can't help but feel a twinge of regret at not being able to partake in the promotion (Restaurant Week is such a misnomer when it lasts for two weeks). But after thinking about it a little bit, Restaurant Week really isn't that great. Many restaurants in NYC that participate in Restaurant Week offer cheap dishes (chicken, hanger steak, ice cream) not normally found on their regular menus while cramming additional tables into their dining rooms. All of this detracts from the dining experience and means that the few restaurants that are actually worth going to -- The Modern and Maialino, for instance, reportedly have very good menus -- are going to be fully booked. Fortunately, many restaurants in NYC these days are offering year-round prix fixe menus, allowing diners the option of enjoying nice meals consisting of dishes that are actually off of the regular menu at top restaurants without breaking the bank. My lunches at Del Posto, Bouley, Aldea, and 15 East are some of the most memorable meals I've enjoyed, and all were reasonably priced. Always in search of a good prix fixe menu, I was looking up restaurants in London when I came across the lunch prix fixe offered at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Color me intrigued.

Potato-white fish purée

Joël Robuchon is kind of a big deal, as he's pretty much the most well-respected chef of his generation and was named "Chef of the Century." He's got restaurants all over the world, most of which have one or two Michelin stars. The two-starred London location is right by Piccadilly Circus, and upon arriving for my 1:30 pm seating, I took a seat at the bar, which is set right in front of the open kitchen. After placing my orders for the £28, three-course lunch prix fixe menu, I was served an amuse bouche, which is another thing about fine dining that appeals to my inner cheapass (more food!). Consisting of a spoonful of a potato-fish purée, the amuse bouche tasted very much like a white fish spread, and it was a tasty first bite. Served a bread basket consisting of white, wheat, and olive breads, I found myself going back for the olive bread again and again. I must have gone through four or five pieces of the olive bread before my meal was done; that's how good it was. And also because, well, unlimited bread!

Egg cocotte topped with light wild mushrooms cream

For my first course, I went with what the waitress described as one of the restaurant's signature dishes. Described as "Egg cocotte topped with light wild mushrooms cream," this dish was mind-blowingly good, and it's no wonder that it is a signature dish. A soft-poached egg nestled in a bath of creamy soup along with mushrooms and asparagus slivers, this was the highlight of the meal and had me using bread to sop up every last drop of soup.

My entrée, described as "Razor clams fricassee with confit tomatoes, sweet onion, and macaroni," (pictured at top) was like a refined version of a pasta dish that you'd find at The Cheesecake Factory. I don't say that to slight the dish, but it just wasn't as creative or elaborate as the other courses I enjoyed. The creamy sauce actually tasted very similar to a vodka sauce, and the razor clams were cooked nicely. While I usually am not a huge fan of cilantro, I found the cilantro-bread crumb mixture on the razor clam shell to be quite refreshing.

Fresh strawberry and pistachio cream cake with mascarpone ice cream

For dessert, I ordered the "Fresh strawberry and pistachio cream cake with mascarpone ice cream." The beautifully-presented dish was just as appealing to the taste buds as to the eyes, as the moist interior of pistachio cake was really quite tasty, especially when paired with the fresh strawberries and sweet ice cream. I wasn't particularly crazy about the outer pastry layer, which I found to be a bit tough, but everything else about the dessert was superb.

Walking away from my meal at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, I can say that I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the food and service, which was friendly and helpful throughout the lunch. Okay, so perhaps the restaurant would be better served by not applying foam to nearly every dish, and £28, or about $45, is definitely close to the maximum amount for how much I'd be willing to pay for a three-course lunch prix fixe, but all in all, I was quite pleased with my lunch. Whereas Restaurant Week prix fixes tend to be disappointing and underwhelming, year-round prix fixe deals at restaurants like L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon mean that there's no need to fight the crowds and muck your way through mediocre food. So do yourself a favor: avoid the crowds at Restaurant Week and instead opt to try out some of the many great year-round prix fixes that are offered.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
13-15 West Street
London WC2H 9NE
United Kingdom

1 comment:

  1. I know I commented on this - shit was long too. Not sure what happened. In any event, I would have done the same just to say I ate there.