Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Article excerpt

Joël Robuchon, the French chef who is variously referred to as 'a genius' and 'legendary' and 'the chef of the century' has just opened his first London restaurant, L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. This is, apparently, 'everyone's most eagerly awaited restaurant opening of the year' although whether that 'everyone' includes, say, Big Issue sellers isn't made clear. Actually, and though it pains me to say it, I don't think Big Issue sellers are terribly bright. I saw one the other day plodding on and on -- 'Big Issue, sir? Big Issue, madam?' -- in the most fearsome rain. I had to tell him, 'You silly, silly boy. Haven't you got a home to go to?' Well, someone had to say something. He might have got pneumonia.

Anyway, this L'Atelier, which is a sister to the ones in Paris, Tokyo and Las Vegas, is situated on West Street, just a few doors away from the Ivy as well as St Martin's Theatre where, surely, The Mousetrap is only a decade or so off being crowned 'Crappest play of the century, if not ever'. (The policeman did it; there, I've saved you the price of the ticket. ) Although I'm still a little confused about all this, the restaurant appears to be divided across three floors with a topfloor bar, a first-floor formal dining-room and a more casual ground-floor dining space. When I booked this wasn't explained to me, so we somehow end up in the more casual space but, actually, that's OK as I can't be doing with the kind of formal eating that is all silver domes and the sort of exaggerated napkin-flapping that's going to take someone's eye out one of these days. I've yet to poll any Big Issue sellers about this, but I'm guessing they would say the same.

As it happens, I've inadvertently done rather well, as the ground-floor design is pretty knockout. It's quite dim, all black and very red, with astonishingly cerise tumbler glasses, but you also get these wonderfully lit pools picking out the whimsical touches: birdcages of lemons; vast glass bowls of surreally suspended tomatoes or eggs; huge jars filled with chillies and peppers; Snow White-style glossy red apples piled atop a dish of illuminated ice. It's a gas. The back wall, by the way, is covered in fleshy ivy and is less a wall, more a hedge. I hope they don't get a letter from their local council's street officer telling them they must cut the hedge back as it represents a danger to blind pedestrians. I once received such a letter from our local street officer and immediately replied as follows:

'Dear sir, Has it ever occurred to you that blind pedestrians might represent a danger to my hedge? In fact, when I came out this morning I noticed three blind-pedestrianshaped holes -- one more than yesterday -- and I'm not happy about it at all.' I hope L'Atelier will do likewise. Aside from anything else, the cry of a blind pedestrian falling into a hedge can disturb your evening quite substantially.

Now, there are no formal tables down here. Instead, you sit at a breakfast-style counter with a direct view of the open kitchen. This means, though, that diners have to sit side by side rather than opposite each other, which may not be to everyone's taste, and may be tricky if there are more than two in your party. But as I only have one friend, Robbo, it's not a problem for me. …

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