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Paris Part II: La Table de Joel Robuchon

From lowest ever score a couple of weeks back, to the highest ever. Bad news: It's in Paris. Good news: Flights are cheap

Published on January 14th 2010.


Paris Part II: La Table de Joel Robuchon

FOLLOWING on from my lunch the previous day at Benoit, in Paris, (click here) it was time to up the stakes and visit a two-Michelin starred restaurant for lunch. Joel Robuchon is a chef well known to me from my days living in Paris, a more refined version of Gordon Ramsay, and better trained than Heston Blumenthal. A chef’s chef who has also achieved a Meilleur Ouvrier de France and was judged by Gault-Millau, this writer’s favourite guide book, to be worthy of their Chef of the Century award.

Here is the difference between ordinary chefs and starred chefs: each of the three parts worked with the others in a complementary manner, but all three stood out, banging cymbals for themselves

>In 1996, Robuchon decided that he had done enough, sold up and buggered off to do nothing. Three months later "nothing" was boring him, so he went looking for something, that something amounting to a television series (somewhat more refined than Gordon’s) and opened a restaurant in Tokyo in 2003.

>Since then he has grown restaurants back in Paris, in Las Vegas, New York, Monaco,Hong Kong and London. Wow. He has been heavily influenced, in format, food and presentation by his experiences in Tokyo, and a number of his establishments have no-reservation bar seating, like a proper sushi bar.

I decided to go to La Table de Joel Robuchon, just off Avenue Foch, a sort of upmarket Mayfair. This is designed on a more traditional basis, all tables. The restaurant sits on a corner. At first glance it was impossible to tell if it was open, until you stepped through the door into a lobby, oval in format wrapped in dark veneers of silky wood with a flower arrangement cooler than Grace Jones.

Walking into the restaurant at around one-fifteen, Parisian old money were on their main courses. Aristotle and Jackie Onassis aren’t dead; they were having lunch, holding hands and flirting with each other just to the right of my table.

Directly ahead were six octogenarian ladies, beautifully turned out, all trying not to be vulgar by working too hard at catching the eye of the only male in the company, but failing miserably. This game old boy had the relaxed look of an old, but not tired man who notices everything. Young bankers were there with wives, this is not the place to take your mistress.

The décor was black, mahogany brown and gold. But not Coleen-taps gold, it was the gold of Tutankhamen. Texture was everywhere, as was thought. A tiny stool sat by the table waiting for my companion’s handbag. This place reeked of money in a way that only third and fourth generation money reeks. Quietly. But very, very powerfully.

This sort of money hangs about because its owners don’t waste it. Looking at the lunch menu, I suddenly realised why everyone was here. The club menu. It comprises of a starter, fish or meat main, cheese, dessert, café, petit fours and half a bottle of wine. At 55 euros this looked the bargain of the century. That’s £44. This value is quite fantastic. Let’s have a closer look.

L’oeuf frit, sur un meli-melo d’artichoats, haricots verts et girolles marinees looked like the poshest eggs, bacon and beans you ever did see. They have somehow breadcrumbed the egg, then dropped it into a deep fat fryer, crisped the cheeky sod off then plumped it on to a mound of mixed green beans, girolle mushrooms, cubes of tomatoes and a lush, warm dressing, guarded by a sheet of thin, crisply cooked, streaky bacon. Have a look at the picture.

Just before this, as if the chef was feeling guilty for keeping us waiting for four and half minutes, we had been given a freebie in the form of a shot glass of foie gras mousse sat on a reduced sticky port sauce topped off by a cheese foam.

Now, here is the difference between ordinary chefs and starred chefs: each of the three parts worked with the others in a complementary manner, but all three stood out, banging cymbals for themselves. But the best, bestist bit was the "cheese foam". I swear Robuchon’s chef, like me, is addicted to Cheesy Wotsits, 'cos this foam smelled and tasted of the finest Cheesy Wotsit that ever passed my lips.

La soup de melon Charentais et jambon

du Pays Basque rafraichir a la menthe was fast disappearing on the other side of the table. There is as much chance of me drilling my own teeth as picking chilled melon soup in the UK. It’s slop. This one was wonderful. Finally, I get it.

Alongside the a la carte and club menu , there is another; La Carte des Plats en Petites Portions. Eighteen of them in fact.

I decided to try one to see what the idea is all about. Le Thon au fromage de chevre et son cannelloni de legumes confits (26 euros) was two centimetres by two centimetres by ten baton of tuna, the freshest I have ever had.

Pan seared on the outside, blue inside, the goats cheese in a mousse, so it didn’t overwhelm the main act, and a cigar-like roll of aubergine overcoat, cooked into a silky, slightly gooey stickiness, topped off with a tapenade, tiny rolls of sundried tomatoes and slivers of parmesan. Very high end dish this.

For the main course, calves liver with onions and asparagus, (on as a special) and Le magret de canette, peches roties au basilica. Check the pictures, the calves liver cut as thick as a park bench, pan fried and finished in the oven, served as pink as a slapped arse, melted caramelised onions dribbled on top, with fried, as daintily as you please, shallot rings in a tempura batter. The asparagus were acting as rollers to this monumental cut. And then the mashed potatoes, they were almost liquid, the flavour awesome. The duck was simply a marvel.

Next (groaning yet?) cheese, a Brie de Meaux Affine in tip top condition served with hazelnut and sultana bread. Again, a master class.

Desserts were poached peach; half a peach, poached with care. I wasn’t sure about the strawberry ice cream it came with it, the only off-note of the meal. The strawberries with basil ice opposite jumped out of the soup plate and socked Cat, my companion, on the jaw. Powerful flavour and very refreshing.

The wine we drank (having "upgraded") was a 2005 Faugeres, Les Bastides D’aquila. I may well have that misspelled. It’s from the Languedoc in the south of France, an area I am getting to like as the new generation of growers have decided to compete with the New World.

With coffee came the petits fours. Galaxy chocolate must have visited in the past, nicked these and turned them into that bar with caramel in the middle? I love them, but they are nowhere near as good as Mr Robuchon’s.

It was at this point that I realised why I was getting déjà vu. Those chocolates, the bread, the veneers, it was all very Michael Caine at Abode in Manchester. A short telephone call to Michael revealed that he did part of his training under Mr Robuchon and you can see the touches that Michael has had indelibly printed on his brain by the Master. The service was refined, professional and non intrusive. Amandine, the lady at the desk is nothing other than the most delightful young lady this writer has ever come across in the business.

If you have a tendency to throw swords in lakes, it’s Amandine who catches them. She certainly caught my wallet, which I had left on the table, dashing across the street and nearly throwing herself in front of my taxi to ensure I got it.

This meal came out cheaper than a trip to Ithaca or Abode. Get yourself a cheap day return flight folks, eat here.

Rating: 23/20
Breakdown: 11/10 Food
6/5 Service
6/5 Ambience
Address: La Table de Joel Robuchon
16, Avenue Bugeaud
Paris 16 eme
0033 1 56 28 16 16

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Rusty SpikeAugust 8th 2008.

Hey up Confidential Ed. If Paris is now within chomping distance, what's the chance of forking out (if you'll pardon the pun) for a brunch and munch at the Raffles Brasserie in Singapore? I can be there and back in a week - well, almost. D'ya run to Business Class flights? Oh, and I promise to be impartial.

AnonymousAugust 8th 2008.

Christ. You lot know how to have a good time!

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