The Montreal Gazette is now the third out of four local publications to issue a verdict on the culinary value of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon — the Montreal Casino outlet of the celebrated chef’s worldwide Atelier chain.
But the Gazette’s primary critic Lesley Chesterman has nothing to do with the positive take on the new but heavily-criticized restaurant — she declined to take on the review. Given that Chesterman has been a vocal opponent of the restaurant for spending millions of dollars of public money on a rich chef with little connection to Quebec, this is little surprise — instead, occasional Gazette food writer Maeve Haldane took on the assignment.
Haldane’s review is positive, just as La Presse’s Marie-Claude Lortie and Le Journal de Montréal’s Thierry Daraize concluded a few weeks ago. She and her dining companion take on the à la carte menu, not the $150 and $200 tasting menus. Highlights include a “spectacular risotto” of bomba rice, miso jelly, nori, and gold leaf (a touch ostentatious, and a touch one-decade-ago, but OK), with “perfect saltiness”.
Also of note was a larger plate of black cod with civet sauce and spinach leaves on the side: “rich and satisfyingly umami”. Desserts: “a light bulb of glass sugar over meringue hiding coriander sorbet within, atop a tiny lemon cake” with lemon custard, and a tarte Tatin, are also deemed “exemplary”. Food aside, the service is also praised as attentive.
But it’s not without some flaws, and Haldane picks up on more of them than the previous two critics (Lortie’s only critique was the extremely high prices, whereas Daraize had no real criticisms, except for the mandatory walk through the casino to access the restaurant).
Firstly, Haldane apparently views the restaurant’s placement in the casino as worthy of a cocked eyebrow: she doesn’t say it explicitly, but seems to imply that it’s a bit gauche to have to run a gauntlet of gimmicks like promotions for the Casino’s “Copacabanasucre” in order to get to such a high-end venue.
The alcoholic offerings also don’t seem to draw too much praise: the cocktail list is “basic, though decent” (not exactly high praise), with the old fashioned a touch sweet. Similarly, the wine list is passable: “varied enough”, Haldane writes, but suggests that more interesting imports on the by-the-glass list wouldn’t go astray. Later on, an after-dinner macchiato is “middling” — and while L’Atelier is obviously not a café, it seems like something of a ball-drop from a restaurant that would consider itself flawless.
As for the food, at least one dish falls somewhat flat. A little uncomfortably for the restaurant, it’s a Robuchon signature: his langoustine “ravioli”. The fillings are too similar in texture to the wrapper, and at its $48 price point, “it didn’t deliver on par with the other dishes,” writes Haldane.
That dish aside, a honeyed cochon au lait is a wee bit sweet, and the potato marquise isn’t uniformly well-seasoned. These small issues maybe cost L’Atelier a perfect review, but Haldane still gives a very high three and a half stars.
That leaves just Le Devoir critic Jean-Philippe Tastet to review L’Atelier. Tastet has been pretty quiet about his opinion on the restaurant, so that insight from him is eagerly anticipated.