Part I of The Agony and the Ecstasy occured last month in Paris. A very expensive, not-so-good meal followed by a very good, affordable meal. Part II took place last week in London. One of the worst meals I've ever had, followed by one of the best.
The agony began after a long day...work followed by a business reception. On the way back to the hotel, we were thinking about cheeseburgers and a beer at the bar...but on the way to the bar, we chatted with some folks in the lobby. They had just come back from a little Italian restaurant down the street. They raved about it. "Great simple food, great wine...you have to go." And so we did.
It was a short walk. First clue. There was only one couple in the restaurant. Buttt...it was 10 pm...and the restaurant was small. So maybe it's just coincidence. We sat down. Second clue. Plastic menus. Uh-oh. Buttt...I've been to places that had plastic menus and good food. Not many. But I have (think Jersey diner).
I asked for wine. "Red or white?" I said: "Red." "OK." He started to walk away. I said: "What kind do you have?" He said: "Chianti." "Great. I like good chianti. Who makes it?" Pause. He said: "The Italians."
Uh-oh times three. It came. I hadn't seen straw-covered bottles in a long time. There's a reason. It was as bad as you may remember. Probably just as well. Because the food was also awful...so I suppose they were appropriately matched. I could keep going, but why....
The next night, it was time to change the taste in my mouth. And London had the perfect answer: L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I've been a Robuchon fan ever since my first visit to the London L'Atelier six or seven years ago. In the intervening years, I've visited the L'Ateliers in Paris, New York, Las Vegas and Tokyo. So I knew what to expect.
I wasn't disappointed. Well...maybe in one thing. Robuchon used to serve Bruno Paillard as his house champagne. He has switched to Veuve Clicquot. Wish he hadn't. But it's drinkable.
I sat at the bar and ordered three small plates. The first was langoustine ravioli with foie gras sauce (La Langoustine). Superb! Rich. Lovely flavors and textures. The champagne went well with it...though a more penetrating, vibrant might champagne (Cedric Bouchard?) might have been even better.
Next, the veal shank gyoza with tiny chantarelle miushrooms and parmesan foam (Les Gyozu). Delicate, unique and delicious. With it, 2010 Savigny-les-Beaunes from Daniel Rion. Earthy, ripe burgundy. Just right.
It also went well with Robuchon's rich sliders: each a silver dollar-sized chunk of ground beef, topped by a chunk of foie gras...seasoned with slivers of spicy red peppers (Le Burger). And I couldn't leave without a pot of Robuchon's famous mashed potatoes (well...two pots, actually). As always, wonderful.
The London L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon has two Michelin stars. I'm not sure I buy into everything that goes into the awarding of Michelin stars. Sometimes I think they reward stuffiness. But they got it right with this one. Relaxed ambiance. Delicious food. Excellent wine.
And I came home with a smile. Sometimes, maybe you need a little agony to help you appreciate ecstasy.