Outside of the television chefs, Joel Robuchon is probably the most recognisable name in fine dining . When he helmed Restaurant Jamin in Paris, he was hailed as the best chef in the (Euro-centric) world (for a brilliant account of a meal in Robuchon’s Jamin, go here). But in 1993, he gave up his stars and went into retirement. However, he made a comeback in the 2000s by opening L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Tokyo, and the rest is history. He now has restaurants all over the globe, including Paris, London, Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei, Las Vegas, Monaco and Singapore, and has 28 Michelin stars.
V happened to be in Singapore this Christmas, and we were looking for a good place to celebrate it. We were in the mood to be pampered, and were not looking for a meal in the semi-casual atmosphere of a L’Atelier. We wanted the majesty and excess of a Joel Robuchon Restaurant (one of only 5 in the world).
Joel Robuchon Singapore is helmed by Tomonori Danzaki, a protege of the big man who also headed Joel Robuchon Las Vegas and garnered 3 Michelin Stars. To say we had high expectations would be an understatement.
The Restaurant is located in Resorts Worlds Sentosa, populated by families on a Sentosa trip and tourists who are here either to gamble in the casino or to visit Universal Studios – hardly the most atmospheric place for a temple of fine dining. But once we entered the doors of the restaurant and were seated at the lounge while the staff prepared the tables, we were transported far away from the children and tourists outside.
The decor was as opulent as expected, with a crystal chandelier in the centre of the dining room and little diamonds used to decorate the dining table. The room was bathed in a gold hue that made everything seem more hushed and romantic. We were to be served their prix-fix Christmas menu.
Bread and Butter Service.
R: We expected the best, and got it. Not many things give me greater pleasure than seeing creamy and luxurious Bordier butter being scooped out of a huge mound tableside. The variety of bread was mind-boggling, and we were truly spoilt for choice. The croissant and brioche were the most memorable for me. I really wish the restaurant would open a patisserie like they do in Hong Kong, because their pastry is top-class.
V: Seeing the bread cart pull up was like being a kid in a candy store. I have literally never had such good bread in a fine dining restaurant before–not even in their L’atelier in Hong Kong (or maybe the grandeur of this presentation is morphing my memory). R and I collectively consumed 3 baskets of bread throughout the meal because we were trying to taste everything. All of the bread were served warm, soft and moist on the inside, and tasty. The basil soft bread and the croissant were really outstanding.
L’Amuse Bouche – Salmon mousse with Oscetra caviar
R: The first observation we had was that the dishes in this restaurant were GORGEOUS. Pieces of art. Outside of Japanese food, I have not seen food as beautiful as the dishes served here. This amuse bouche did what it was supposed to do. It woke up the palate with the brininess of the caviar, and was gone before I realised.
V: I have a very difficult relationship with seafood so I tend to applaud places that allow me to appreciate it. The salmon flavour was surprisingly just an undertone to the velvety texture of the mousse which dominated the bite. But it was very well balanced by the burst of brine that the caviar provided. My only worry at the start was thinking that caviar was a very unusual amuse. It doesn’t cleanse or prepare the palate because the taste lingers in your mouth and may overpower the next dish’s flavour.
Le Caviar – Crispy soft boiled egg with smoked salmon and Imperial caviar
R: I was quite surprised to have two Caviar dishes in a row, and was hoping there would’ve been more variety. But this dish shut me up. It was a great appetizer – the velvety egg coating the mouth, punctuated by the briny and unctuous caviar, and given texture and body by the crispy exterior. The only minor criticism I would proffer is that the smoked salmon did not add much taste or texture-wise, as its flavour was overwhelmed by the caviar. And for a kitchen that cooks such precise food, I’m sure they intended for the salmon to serve a greater function. But nonetheless, I’ve had quite a few egg-based dishes in fine dining recently, and this was probably my favourite.
V: My concern that the previous course’s caviar will overpower my palate proved to be useless because this course had the same flavour components as the amuse. This dish, however, simply elevated the play of contrasting textures and flavours. I was amazed by how the chef was able to make each ingredient’s flavour so distinct that all of the components were recognisable as you bite into it. The smokiness of the chewy salmon contrasted well with the crispy soft boiled egg and was accentuated with just enough sour by the caviar. Excellent dish.
L’Amadai – Grilled amadai with sauteed artichokes and saffron-ginger sauce
R: The fish is Japanese, and the sauce is Chinese, tasting like something I would get in a Chinese restaurant over Chinese New Year. The fish was cooked perfectly. The artichokes were fresh and crunchy. It was a light and tasty dish. It was very good, but I appreciated it more than I like it.
V: Continuing to redefine dining experiences, the fish main served as the palate cleanser. The saffron ginger sauce washed away remaining brine from the previous dish’s caviar with its perfect blend of strong sour and an undertone of sweet. The fish was so tender and perfectly cooked. My ignorable complaint would be the artichokes but that was a matter of personal preference over an inherent problem with the dish.
Le Veau de Lait – Milk fed veal cooked on the bone with herbs jelly and vegetable mille-feuille
R: Fantastic main. The NZ veal was tender and flavourful. The vegetable mille-feuille was tasty enough not to taste too much like vegetables. What really lifted this dish was the teriyaki sauce. I’m usually not a big fan of it, because the sugar texture renders it too sticky and sweet. But this was light and umami, greatly lifting the flavour of the veal. A very successful marriage of East and West. And of course, the Robuchon mash potato is reliably fantastic, although I actually feel that it was surpassed by the one I had in Caprice.
V: I’m about to sound like a barbarian but I wished they asked me how I wanted my meat cooked because I usually enjoy it better well done. The closer I got to the rarer parts of the veal, the more difficult finishing the dish became. The herb jelly and the sauce eased that process because both were simply too tasty to not finish with the meat. The vegetable mille-feuille accentuated the meal well because the crunchy texture provided a good break in between the chewing. If anything, I’d say the mash was still the hero of this course and I appreciated being given a second serving upon request.
R: I requested to replace the dessert with the cheese platter, and the kitchen thankfully obliged. I cannot praise Robuchon’s cheese cellar enough – outside of the dearly departed Guy Savoy and Caprice in Hong Kong, this really is one of the best in Asia. The comte was complex, and its crystallised inside betrayed its age. The mimolette was also memorable. But the coup de grace was the magnificent Roqueforte cheese. One of these days I will devote an entire post to this wonderful treasure. But suffice to say, it tastes and smells like cheese should, and melts in the mouth, filling it with the wonderful heavy taste of blue cheese. I asked for seconds, and could’ve gladly had more.
Le Dahlia Rogue – Dome of chocolate caramel on a hazelnut biscuit
V: This is definitely one of the best desserts I have ever had. The chocolate syrup was a perfect combination to the dome’s texture that was somewhere between a mousse and a biscuit. It was chocolatey without being too sweet and the raspberries acidity cuts through quite well. I wish that I could have gotten seconds (like R’s cheese servings!).
Le Mocha – Le Thé
R: Even for somene who doesn’t particularly love sweets, this was lovely. If one doesn’t appreciate the massive mignardise cart, one is probably a little dead inside.
V: They started the meal by making me feel like a kid in a candy store and they ended it by pulling up an ice cream truck inside the store. It was one unbelievably beautiful and complete cart after the other. When we asked for help in picking out which ones are the best, we were asked if we preferred “fruity or chocolatey” which actually just meant everything. So we asked him to get us a combination of all. We ended with three different flavours of macarons (lemon, chocolate and vanilla which were no Pierre Herme but they were still better than the average), an array of chocolate bites, and a variety of berry pastries. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier about a meal’s end.
Just like the meal, this was probably one of the best service experiences we had. The staff were attentive, courteous and friendly. They explained the food in detail and provided instructions on how to consume some of the complex dishes. They even indulged our questions about the food and stories about our experience in L’Atelier Hong Kong. When R asked where the veal was from, our server (whose name we very unfortunately forgot to ask for) admitted he only began working in Robuchon a couple of months back, deferred the question to one of his senior staff members, and passed the response back to us. This interest in us and engagement in conversation was done in a manner that can only come across as genuine.
Towards the end of the meal, our server borrowed my camera and asked to view the photos. He admired the food photos and funnily remarked, “you make our food look beautiful” which really, was just a blatant lie. Presentation was mastered by Robuchon long before I clicked the camera but we appreciated the effort to compliment us.
As we were about to exit, they also gave us a Robuchon chocolate bar. The chocolate literally melts in your mouth into a velvety feel, and its good level of sweetness with a mildly bitter aftertaste made it easy to consume. Here’s to wishing more restaurants do this!
Recently, Singapore’s other big name brand fine dining restaurant, Guy Savoy, announced its closure. It’s a great loss in our fine dining scene. This is probably because the trend amongst the local populace seems to be tending towards more casual eateries. And whilst I have nothing against that trend, there’re only so may small plates of overpriced food made with middling quality ingredients I can enjoy. For a special occasion, you want to go to a place of indulgence and epicurean excess, where the wait staff will treat you like royalty and unabashedly pamper you. At its best, high-end French dining does that. Singapore needs more places like Robuchon and Guy Savoy. I’m hopeful that this trend towards the casual will not sweep Joel Robuchon restaurant away too. It has some of the most precise and GENEROUS food in the country, focused on incorporating Asian flavours with French ingredients and methods, along with amazing service, wonderful breads, cheeses and mignardise. Highest recommendations, and we’ll definitely be back.