It was in June 2008 when I first learned about Robuchon's plan to open a branch of his L'Atelier in
Eight months later in November, L'Atelier finally opened its doors in
The restaurant is located on the fifth floor of the new shopping mall, Bellavita. This setup reminds me a bit of the restaurants in the
We were seated near the middle of the bar with a good view of the entire kitchen and more or less diagonally behind the pass where Chef Suga stands. After we sat down we were handed the menu with three choices: menu découverte, menu club, and à la carte. Since we were celebrating, we went with the expensive menu découverte.
We started with some sparkling water (Badoit, one my favorites) instead of champagne. The sommelier, César Roman, came to see if we wanted to have some wine. We told him we are not big drinkers and would like just a little wine. Since the wine list didn’t have any half bottles, the only option was wine by the glass. César suggested that with the tasting menu, perhaps we can have one glass of white for the first part and a red for the second. We readily agreed. César actually poured Maria and I two different white wines to try. Maria’s was fruitier while mine was more robust.
The server brought a basket of a variety of breads, all of which were pretty good. The meal began with an amuse bouche: a spoon full of a piece of blood sausage with apple sauce. This was followed by a large oyster with a quenelle of caviar. As we were eating the oyster, we could see the garde manger chef, who seemed to have worked in the New York branch as well, preparing our next dish, langoustine carpaccio. This was a great dish, fresh, light, and well balanced. It was also beautifully presented in a thin disc-like shape. Next came the foie gras course, another beautifully plated and delicious dish. The foie along with fine dices of pig knuckle were wrapped in a cabbage leaf and further encased in a thin crispy shell. Up to this point, everything was really good. My only complaint was the dishes came too quickly, with hardly any pauses in between. We ate four courses, counting the amuse, in less than twenty minutes. Even though Maria and I are not slow eaters and we had to go home relatively early to relieve the babysitter, this was a bit much. I had to tell the server to slow down.
After a brief moment, at least enough time for Maria and I to exchange a few words on the décor and see what other people were having, we moved into the two more substantial protein dishes: hamachi and
Afterwards a cheese course was served. This was the only course throughout the night that I must register a bit of disappointment and complaint. This course consisted of one thin slice of bread and one slice of goat cheese on a small black plate. Both pieces were very good but just seemed a bit paltry to me. I would have preferred to see the restaurant provide a small selection of three cheeses, or a more composed cheese course with a bit more components like the ones served at Per Se and French Laundry.
A small pre-dessert came along with a complimentary lemon tart, with “Anniversaire de Marriage” written in chocolate lines and a little candle. This was a nice touch. What made us happier was César poured two complimentary glasses of Moscato d'Asti to drink with the desserts.
The last course of the meal was Le Sucre, a sugar sphere filled with berry custard. This is a great dessert with fantastic flavor and texture. I first knew about this dessert when it was served in the New York L’Atelier. It was later taken off the menu there when the pastry chef Kazutoshi Narita left. I am glad it has reappeared in Taipei along with Chef Narita. Seeing the dish again was like seeing an old friend.
Our meal ended with a nice espresso and a violet macaron. This was easily the best western meal we had in Taipei. While I think there are still a few things to be worked out, especially the pacing of the meal, the restaurant is already very good, certainly way beyond most western restaurants in Taipei. Can the restaurant earn a Michelin star? I am not an inspector and Taipei doesn’t have a Michelin guide, but I would say without a doubt it would easily grab one star. With the transplanted New York team led by Chef Suga, it should only get better. I hope to return as often as I can.