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He’s like the Anthony Hopkins of the gastronomic world- much acclaimed- and some say he resembles actor Kelsey Grammer. We’re talking about legendary chef Joël Robuchon, who not only opened one, but two restaurants at Resorts World Sentosa.
While the movie industry award their best with shiny Oscar statuettes, the culinary world recognizes their finest with Michelin stars. And Robuchon has 26 Michellin stars under his belt, making him the most Michelin-star decorated chef in the world.
Those in the business will agree he’s a legendary figure who has inspired many fledging cooks to achieve greatness in the kitchen. TV celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey was once the maestro’s humble apprentice. (But maybe not so ‘humble’―according to Robuchon, his temper was already brewing.)
His two restaurants in Resorts World―L’Atelier (pronounced letter-lee-a) de Joël Robuchon and the Joël Robuchon Restaurant, opened in April, so what’s the big fuss?
Stepping into the Robuchon reception at Hotel Michael (next to the Sentosa Express), you’ll see L’Atelier on your left and Joël Robuchon Restaurant on your right. A stark contrast of retro chic and avant-garde, the classic 1950s yet modern design of the reception gives a hint of what to expect from Robuchon, who’s not one to bow to the conventional.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (meaning The Workshop of Joël Robuchon) is a life-size Japanese bento box. With a striking red and black colour scheme, it is every photographer’s dream. Red for Robuchon represents passion and fire―apt since the restaurant thrives on fire (check out the roast piglet on the spit of the flaming rotisserie!) while black is a symbol of night.
Inspired by Japan’s dining culture, Robuchon observed how the usually stoic Japanese became liberated when they dined at sushi bars, and similarly how the tapas bars in Spain brim with vivacity despite unpalatable food.
To capture and re-create that atmosphere of conviviality, Robuchon dreamt up the concept of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (The Workshop of Joël Robuchon). He designed a ‘live’ kitchen as centrestage where the magic comes alive. Separated by jet black granite countertop, guests get to witness the chefs cook their dinner and interact freely with the chefs and servers.
At L’Atelier, the servers are more than happy to stop and chat. I wonder how they do it; as if providing tip-top service is not demanding enough, they need to have a knack for socialising. There’s no escaping to the kitchen either, because it’s just there!
The Atelier in Singapore is the 9th in the world. Other restaurants may have tried to emulate Robuchon’s concept, none has achieved the success that Robuchon has. His attention to details in the restaurants is meticulous, from studying the optimum height of the high chairs at the counter for maximum comfort to how he’s created a le petit menu where guests can have small tasting portions of his classic dishes. Venturing into the scent department, he’s even concocted an air freshener that permeates the restaurants with whiffs of green tea and mint.
I’ve dined at L’Atelier several times, thanks to my foodie portfolio. The one dish that always beckons me is the unpretentious La Caille, which is essentially quail stuffed with foie gras and Robuchon’s world famous mashed potatoes on the side.
Its simple, rustic presentation belies the rich flavours and meaty juices ready to dance on your palate. The creamy stuffed foie gras melts in the mouth and forms a perfect marriage with the tender quail. Combine that with a heaped scoop of mashed potatoes and I promise you’ll be in heaven. The photo of the dish shown above is part of a set menu. A bigger portion is served as main course at $51. You can have a 3-course dinner not going over $100, at Robuchon’s world famous L’Atelier no less.
I’m not sure if it’s the banter with staff, watching the chefs slice, chop and slather, or the anticipation that builds with each dish; but taking it all in as the night wanes, the Robuchon experience is simply magical. Perhaps it’s the dim lights, the heady scent or the irresistible brioche that had me at ‘hello’, but for the dining experience of a lifetime, this is where you want to be.
Here’s masterchef Robuchon in his own words: