L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon was billed as a blockbuster restaurant that would be the crowning jewel of Montreal’s food scene, putting the city on the culinary map and drawing crowds — but despite the celebrity branding and numerous glowing reviews, it’s not all that difficult to grab a reservation there (more on that down the page).
In case you forgot: it’s been almost six months since L’Atelier opened up in the Montreal Casino, the tenth of the famed French chef’s Atelier series of restaurants. Loto-Québec, the government corporation that runs the casino, drew heavy criticism for pouring large sums of money into the restaurant — including paying something similar to a franchising fee to Robuchon to establish the restaurant.
A couple of months after the opening, Quebec finance minister Carlos Leitão mentioned that $11 million had been spent on the restaurant during a debate in Quebec’s National Assembly, before deciding that after all, the exact figure should remain confidential. In any case, it seems widely agreed upon that L’Atelier cost millions of dollars to open. Loto-Québec have argued that the restaurant was worth the money, because it would be a major culinary destination. The critics (OK, not Lesley Chesterman) have given it total rave reviews, and the elements seemed to be in place for the restaurant to be a hit, booked out every night of the week.
That’s not exactly the case, though — it’s really not very difficult to get a table there. Just for a quick sample, a table of two can book at L’Atelier almost any night through to June 3 (not counting days it’s closed) — at the time of writing, there’s even a plum 7 p.m. reservation this Saturday, one of the busiest restaurant nights of the week. To be fair, on busier nights (Fridays and Saturdays), a table of two would have to settle for a later slot, after 9 p.m. But if you’re happy to go on a Wednesday or Sunday, you can pretty much take your pick for reservation times, and it’s only totally booked out for two nights in the next two weeks.
While the reviews and the Robuchon name should perhaps be enough of a draw to fill the restaurant, L’Atelier has been routinely taking out sponsored posts on Facebook to advertise its wares. To be fair, it’s not the only restaurant to use this strategy, but the ads appear to crop up much more frequently than any other restaurant in the city (again, those ads are paid for with public money).
For comparison, over at another blockbuster, Joe Beef, there’s not a single reservation available until August 15 (this is not counting the possibility of scoring a last-minute, same-day booking with booking app Dinr). Its little sibling Liverpool House has openings on just two nights between now and June 3.
Other prominent restaurants are also harder to book than L’Atelier: if you want to eat at Au Pied de Cochon, there’s nothing but less-desirable 6 and 9 p.m. reservations almost every night until June 3, and it’s fully-booked on five nights up until then, compared to L’Atelier’s two. Over at Toqué, a larger space, only early and late reservations are available most nights until June 3 (except May 19 and 24), and it’s full three nights in that timeframe.
It’s not a great sign for L’Atelier — while the restaurant isn’t deserted, its relatively small dining room of 57 seats is not jam-packed. It’ll likely pick up as tourist season arrives, but at the very least, Quebecers might want their money spent on a restaurant that’s going to fill up and earn it back. The fewer reservations there are, the less likely that is to happen.
- How Did We Get Here? Montreal's Joël Robuchon Beef From Start to Finish [EMTL]
- Joël Robuchon’s Montreal Restaurant Opens With Very Expensive, Publicly Funded Cutlery [EMTL]
- Joël Robuchon's Montreal Restaurant Received $11 Million In Government Funds [EMTL]
- The First Review For Joël Robuchon’s Casino Restaurant Is In [EMTL]
- This is What Loto-Québec Has To Say On The Joël Robuchon Controversy [EMTL]