Tuesday, August 24, 2010

[TAIWAN] L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon: No Surprises

For my first ever trip to Taiwan, I had my heart set on dropping by Robuchon’s newest baby – L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Taipei. Strangely enough, I’ve heard and read very little about this new outlet. For a city not particularly known for it’s fine-dining scene, this dinner was bound to be interesting…

(Bad bread...)

Thursday of our reservation, we cabbed up to the stunning Bella Vita (officially my favorite structure in Taipei) and elevatored up to floor number five. The set-up is almost identical to the HK L’Atelier, albeit a tad smaller and a lot emptier.

After being greeted and seated, I eagerly awaited for the waitress to plop down the bread basket. Sad to say - the bread falls far short of Hong Kong’s (a little too “fluffy,” lacking that lovely bit of French rusticity) A shame since the breadbasket is one of my favorite things about Robuchon. Still hopeful, I decided to go with the Menu Club (NT$2680) – after a brief struggle, trying to make sense of the Chinese and French only menu, I made my four-course choices.

(Amuse bouche: citrusy...)

First up was the amuse bouche – a shot glass filled with a tart lemony custard of sorts. It was difficult catching the names and explanations of the dishes with our waitress’s jet-speed mandarin. Moments after downing the amuse bouche, first course arrived at the table in a giant glass bowl. It was a “salad” made with tomato mousse layered with celery jelly and topped off with chilled langoustine. The tart tomato worked beautifully with the grassiness of the celery, creating a Bloody Mary-esque sort of taste. Refreshing.

Salad was followed by La Saint-Jacques – a delicately flavored, creamy turnip velouté adorned with a giant succulent scallop. I was most impressed by the thin round of waxy potato floating on the velouté and the similar round of beetroot that was staining the ivory soup purple. So far so good but no real surprises yet.

("Salad" - Bloody Mary-esque)

(La Saint-Jacques)

The star of the meal revealed itself in the main course, L’Amadai. The fish was prepared à la japonaise, sprinkled with shiso flower buds and Japanese pepper leaves. It had the most amazing crisped skin and the milkiest smooth flesh. In other words – addictive. Of course, it also helped big time that the fish was accompanied by a huge vat of Robuchon’s famed potatoe puree. I am deeply in love with these potatoes and easily polished off every single last spoonful of that buttery, velvety, beautiful beautiful stuff.

Pretty satiated with the savory courses, I opted to go light with dessert. Les Fruits Frais was a summery sweet of grassy green basil sorbet dotted with seasonal fruits. Again – good but no surprises, which seemed to sum up the Taiwan Robuchon experience. It also seemed that the Taipei Robuchon sucked at everything its Hong Kong sister excelled at. Like the breadbasket, the petit four chocolate macarons were, in one word – disappointing. They were soggy and airy without the least bit of crispness and chew. Sad, compared to Nakamura-san’s near-perfect concoctions at Robuchon, HK. Ah well, at least I could satiate my macaron needs at the basement level’s Sadaharu Aoki.

(L'Amadai: Fish done Japanese)

(Potato puree: I LOVE YOU!)

(Les Fruit Frais: Summery)

(Coffee + Macaron = :( )

All in all though, I can’t blame this Taipei branch for the “meh” dining experience. After all, like I said, the city isn’t particularly well-versed in fine-dining and even with all its glitches and disappointments, you could tell they were trying. For one, our waitress forgot to explain the dishes upon arrival – by the time she remembered, we were already up to course number three. But nonetheless, she was friendly and helpful throughout (despite the jet-speed Mandarin). Serious props to sommelier Benoît, who recently joined their team after a brief stint in the U.S (he also happens to have been part of the opening team at Robuchon, HK). Hopefully, he’ll help sort out some of the problems… especially with the bread and macarons.

FOOD: 3.5/5
SERVICE: 3.5/5

5/F, No. 28, Song Ren Road
Taipei City, Taiwan
(886) 2 8729-2628

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