Hubert Burda Media

You had me at bonjour

Resorts World Sentosa Singapore pushes the bar to its final notch with the Joël Robuchon Restaurant and L’Atelier De Joël Robuchon.

Joël Robuchon Restaurant

Have you heard the deafening noise? ‘Chef of the Century!’ by Gault Millau, the rebel guide that calls the Michelin as stubborn as it is old. Or try this for size, ‘France’s Best Craftsman’ – a quadrennial contest so precious and noble, the President himself drops everything to hand them out. Or the fact that Gordon Ramsay, the toughest man in kitchen whites, considers Joël Robuchon a nonpareil mentor. And yes, shrillest of all are his 31 Michelin stars, the most any chef worth his salt has ever won. Oh the crushing weight of expectation.

At Singapore’s one and only 3-starred eatery, let’s start the pick-apart with atmosphere. What you feel when you walk in, before you’ve even tried the food makes up 50% of the experience. In the main dining room lighting is relaxing and welcoming, retaining the height of the space. Classic accents of amber on neutral white walls and the scent of fresh flowers set a regal tone. The adjacent room features more flora, with a glass ceiling that streams sunlight to uplift even the foulest food critic. Tables are spaced well enough that you only hear faint murmurs from direct neighbours, and most importantly, no air-conditioning units directly above the seats. Service is friendly and attentive, thankfully without unnecessary ceremony and fuss.

Gourmet wise, you’ll encounter unusual dishes with exceptional refinement and seductiveness, like succulent chunk of sweet King Crab wrapped in the perfect sliver of buttery avocado. Or the soft boiled egg hors d’oeuvre that oozed richly all over imperial and salmon caviar. Many critics and fans alike have praised Monsieur Robuchon for his ability and perseverance to amplify the charms of any given dish, paying careful attention to emphasize two or three flavours instead of creating oddball partnerships. One course that comes to mind is the pan-fried Hokkaido scallop with spelt risotto and coral emulsion – spiced just right, with a fine savoury, creamy, after-taste that doesn’t take anything away from the delicate sweetness of Japanese scallops.

L’Atelier De Joël Robuchon

The best chefs have long been treated as artists worthy of adulation, and most have now become celebrities, writing as many recipes books as they have biographies and TV scripts. So I like the individual that jettisons reverence and doesn’t expect their diners to sacrifice anything in the way of tasting good food. As the only master chef I know who approves of Yelp (the bane of most restaurateurs), Joël Robuchon has had an extraordinary, almost other-worldly career, and he is working on new restaurant openings in New York, Miami and Geneva.

But you don’t know that he watched colleague after colleague succumb to stress related illnesses and even heart attacks in their relentless pursuit of culinary perfection. So he retired at age 50 to appear on TV and write a couple of books. Unable to walk away from his life’s calling, he staged an exciting and much publicized comeback six years later. 

The results of which are his L’Atelier restaurants worldwide, offering boisterously good eating.Walking in, you’re instantly struck by theatrical combination of crimson and wood. Drawing inspiration from the simplicity of Japanese cuisine and the convivial atmosphere in Spanish tapas bars, L’Atelier invites guests to be inspired by the vibrant kitchen. Diners can choose a regular table setting, or opt for their meals at the counter on stools.

Still, it’s only informal by the standards of French haute cuisine. The chefs might pass you your food over the counter, but it’s still slices of the freshest raw tuna marinated in the fruitiest of olive oils, with a slight crunch of sea salt. Robuchon’s French style tapas include silky, savoury, melt-in-your-mouth foie gras, shaved on green beans, or the crayfish in ‘mariniere’ with vegetables and yellow wine for a bowl of seafood goodness. Mains include cod in dashi broth with wild mushrooms and the recommended veal cheek in ginger and lemon grass bouillon.

And that’s the charm of a place like L’Atelier. If you ask about the ingredients, you won’t hear about some obscure herb that’ll have you scrambling to Wikipedia. You’ll hear about top quality ingredients that local supermarkets stock. You’ll find a celebration of excellent local produce. You’ll see the magic happening when you know the correct ratio of each element. A superb example of French cooking without the up-turned nostrils. Resorts World Sentosa has made it the relatively easy to dine finely without the flummery of fine dining.