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L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon Gets A Second Rave Review

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Pastry chef Benjamin Oddo at L’Atelier
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Despite the controversy swirling about its use of public funds, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon has got one thing going for it so far: positive write-ups from food critics.

This weekend, Journal de Montréal critic Thierry Daraize penned a glowing take on the newcomer to Montreal’s casino — the review even got a prime spot in Le Journal’s Saturday edition (Daraize’s reviews typically appear on Wednesdays).

Daraize gives Robuchon’s restaurant — the tenth international iteration of his high-end Atelier concept — the full rave treatment. It comes three weeks after La Presse critic Marie-Claude Lortie complimented the restaurant as “masterful”.

He took on both the seven course vegetarian and regular tasting menus, declaring the vegetarian side “sublime, nothing more to add!”, highlighting “spectacular presentation”, and “explosive flavours”, shining a light on plant-based cuisine in the best possible way.

Strangely, Daraize doesn’t offer insights into any particular dishes, and just lists off the dishes for each course — beyond that, the entire review diverges from Daraize’s usual format of commenting on décor, service, food, and so on, under discrete subheadings. As such, it’s hard to tell which specific parts of the meal shone; in any case, the more interesting elements of the vegetarian meal include a green mustard-wasabi sorbet, and a chickpea-turmeric cappuccino-esque foam.

As for the non-vegetarian degustation, Daraize is possibly more positive: the presentation is “on par with the greatest tables in the world”, technically strong with “audacious, worldly flavours”. Daraize reserves a special shout-out for the bread, which “filled him with happiness”, but as he lists off the dishes it’s tough to say what stood out, between foie gras with a Maury-parmesan emulsion, to suckling pork with cabbage, smoked bacon, and black truffles.

The only downside Daraize finds is that the restaurant’s entry involves a walk past the casino’s gaming rooms — an external entrance would be nice, he writes. Daraize’s review doesn’t have an official star rating tied to it, but the “cinq étoiles” in the headline makes his rating pretty clear.

"Pour vivre une expérience culinaire unique." - Thierry Daraize, Le Journal de Montréal

Posted by L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon - Montréal on Saturday, March 4, 2017

L’Atelier are undoubtedly happy about the good press, sharing the review on social media, but it’s important not to take it as a wholesale approval of the public money that government casino operator Loto-Québec spent on the restaurant. On the same day as the review was published, another Journal de Montréal story quotes Daraize calling the restaurant’s multi-million dollar price tag as “morally hard to justify”.

That use of public funds to promote a non-local chef has met a largely negative reaction, in part from the public but especially from professionals in Quebec’s dining industry. The Robuchon restaurant isn’t without supporters, although there have been much fewer of late: for example, just last week Pastaga owner Martin Juneau offered up one of few op-eds arguing that Robuchon was the right choice.

Even Marie-Claude Lortie, who was first to give L’Atelier a glowing review, has eviscerated Loto-Québec for pouring public cash into the restaurant (as a government corporation, Loto-Québec’s expenditures are all public money), and appeared on TV to back that up since penning her review. And these apparently disparate opinions are actually quite coherent: the question of “is the food good?” is not nearly the same as “is this restaurant worth $11 million or so?”, or “should this platform have been offered to a local chef?”

In any case, those questions remain unanswered by Loto-Québec, and the government minister who oversees the company and its casinos.

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