A change in style today, forget the historical Paris of days gone by, we are dining in the Paris of today. Everything about L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Etoile is very modern, for a start it is located inside a drugstore. The Publicis Drugstore is on the Champs Élysées, at the Arc de Triomphe end.
This is no pharmaceutical store, my eyes are wide with wonder as my love leads me into a fascinating eclectic mix of bookstore, gift shop, deli where you can get artisan cheese and charcuterie, or perhaps a takeaway burger. Turning in circles to try to take it all in, I am led to the top of a wide spiral staircase, red walls on the inside and the right side fully lined with mirrors. It feels like we are descending into a nightclub rather than a restaurant.
Red and black leather features on chairs and walls. Soft ambient lighting of the red walls further enhances the nightclub feel. It’s a very sexy and interesting colour scheme, like 1970’s chic with perhaps a touch of Asia.
One of the fantastic things that we are looking forward to here is Monsieur Robuchon’s concept of allowing the customer to observe the preparation of their meal. My love has reserved seats for us at the bar that surrounds the kitchen. We are perched high on red leather stools, seated perfectly to see the incredible team at work. It is beautifully done. The kitchen area is dark, the team all dressed in black with red halogen lamps hanging low over the cooktops and plating areas. The effect is like that of a high quality puppet theatre production, the staff moving quietly and discretely in the background like puppeteers keeping the audience’s attention only on the food. We are conscious of the quiet impeccable behaviour of the staff.
There is a young lady running the pass, we guess that it might be Melanie Serre one of two head chefs that recreate Monsieur Robuchon’s dishes here. She is quiet and controlled, perfectly timing dish after dish. The kitchen crew are respectful and immediately responsive. There is no Gordon Ramsay carry on here and it just goes to show you don’t have to be an aggressive arse to be a chef.
The menu options all sound wonderful. There is an option to have the three or four course menu, the four the being an extra entrée; or a set degustation menu. They also offer the option of smaller portions a la carte so you can make your own degustation.
After a chat with our waiter about what he recommends we land on the 4 course festival. We both choose Le Zephyr- cheese soufflé as one of our starters and then we diverge for second entrée with La Betterave – a cold apple entrée and Le Shiitake – a chicken and mushroom soup. For mains we both opt for Le Boeuf.
We sit back, sip on our Chablis and watch enthralled the kitchen performance and the incredible looking dishes that are prepared before us and presented to our fellow diners. There is whole fish that just looks amazing. It is fried with tail curled up so it sits animated and lively on its plate. I love watching, like a silent film, people’s faces as they receive their dish and take their first bite. There is a young lady across the way who looks as excited as I am about being here and rolls out her best when Harry met Sally (you know that scene) impression upon tasting something…..whatever it is it must be wonderful. It reminds me of how powerful food is in its ability to bring joy to people.
Well…. some people, the other part of the entertainment for the afternoon is sadly a poor love near us who’s clearly high maintenance beau has decided to throw a tantrum. He is getting rather boisterous and aggressive and almost gets up and leaves on a couple of occasions. Unfortunately for everyone around him and his poor very embarrassed lady he chooses to return to continue his tirade. Finally, he calls for l’addition, pays up and they are on their way. The chap on the other side of him gives us the raised eyebrow “wow he was full on” look. We nod and raise eyebrows in agreement. Everyone takes a deep breath of clear air and gets back to enjoying the incredible place we are in.
La betterave arrives– a duo of apples somehow magically transformed into what seems to be a beetroot dish, with avocado and a mustard sorbet. It’s is crisp and cold, the dark colour of beets with the crisp texture of apple. The savoury sorbet is a perfect addition to balance a very clever dish.
One soufflé also arrives, smart thinking from the kitchen, so we each have a different dish to discuss. It is a very different dish than any soufflé I have had. Silken texture with a delicate cheese flavour that melts so easily on my tongue I wonder if I have imagined taking a bite. It evokes childhood memories of fairy floss, biting into that fluffy bunch of magic only to have it disappear. Far more refined of course.
With the second of the soufflé comes the chicken and mushroom soup. A delicate broth gently flavoured with ginger and garlic with slivers of shiitake mushroom swimming on top. The broth is divine, it’s complex but very refined and delicate. In the base of the broth are two pieces of grilled and boned chicken wing. They are tender and moist; delightful with a mouthful of the broth.
Our starters were incredible and we enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation while we wait for our mains.
Le Boeuf; I didn’t have a great deal of preconceived expectation around this dish, it was recommended by our waiter and had a romantic if untranslatable description on the menu that sounded great. What arrived was beyond expectation. Tender beef cheek in a deep red jus. The texture of soft warm melting beef was for me a feeling of home. That warm comforting feeling of food made with love. I think it reminded me of a beef that my love makes where he loving crafts a master stock and then simmers the beef until it is incredibly relaxed. I know the love in that dish and Monsieur Robuchon’s creation transported me through time and space into that love.
For dessert we decided the Baba and Le Clementine were the winning options. I think we may have got things round the wrong way though, we should have swapped when we tasted each other’s. They were both good but I feel less inspired than the other dishes we had experienced.
The whole experience of L’Atelier Etoile was such fun, the theatre and drama of the atmosphere and the creativity of the dishes was memorable and inspirational. I really think we could have a crack at something similar at home and look forward to trying. We already do the view the chef in the kitchen idea. Usually me enjoying an aperitif while watching my love paying careful attention to the meal he is preparing us.