L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, the restaurant chain of Chef Robuchon, has — since December 2016 — a branch in the casino of Montreal (1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal, QC Phone: 514-392-2781 Click here for their web site) . At the helm of the restaurant, Chef Eric Gonzalez – This is a major opening for Montreal and Eric is a logical choice for such venture given his past experience in Europe with well known Chefs Bernard Loiseau and Jacques Chibois. He was also working at restaurant Clairefontaine when the venture was awarded with a Michelin star. In the past, I ate Eric’s food in his days at Le Cube (now closed) , then at Auberge St-Gabriel.
I took the “seasonal discovery” menu (there are also A la carte items, a ” small portions ” / vegetarian /and another tasting menu) :
The amuse-bouche was creamy foie gras royale (a foie gras based flanc), topped with parmesan cheese emulsion and a Maury “vieilles vignes” wine reduction sauce. Once mixed together (which you are supposed to), this food item provided an enjoyable mouthfeel, rich and yet refined. As it will be the case all along this meal, every single element is executed correctly 7/10
Salmon tartare (from Nova Scotia) with caviar (from British Colombia) atop, shiso shoots and gold leaf. The tartare was good, the quality of the salmon and caviar noticeable. There is some nice caviar from Estrie that tastes exactly the same as this caviar from BC. So why going that far for the caviar? That said, as it came out from my discussion with the waitstaff, top quality produce from Quebec is a priority, and indeed I could appreciate their effort in that regard as some great Québecois produce such as the scallops from Percé and halibut from Gaspésie featured on the written menu. This fine logical combination of ingredients was good. Robuchon’s plating is always elegant and that was going to be an evidence during this meal 7/10
Scallops from Massachusetts, endives and black truffles: around this time of the year, I recall having sampled some dazzling scallops from Gaspesie in the past. The scallops of this evening were undoubtly fine, their maritime fragrance at the forefront. But those from Gaspesie had the edge. Still, nicely seared tasty scallops and a salad of endives ( great soucing of the endives) that was not an afterthought. Good 7/10
Veloute of chestnut, spring onion mousse, cardamom cloud. Chestnut veloute (which is very popular in France) is not common in Quebec, therefore, this may come as a pleasant “discovery” for many local diners. Which is always a “bonus” as far as the dining experience goes. This was delicious and well made. Very good 8/10
Lobster, coconut emulsion, wasabi flavored spinach, tempura chips, civet – lobster (claws) cooked just through, coconut emulsion, a civet and tempura chips showcasing fine technique. Cooking lobster is certainly no culinary achievement, but I have a soft spot for seafood handled and sourced this well …. no matter the level of the cooking. Very good 8/10
-Halibut from Gaspésie, shiso shoots tempura, cuttlefish ink risotto. The halibut’s cooking is well timed. Halibut can get dry really fast, so timing is important. The delicious risotto (bomba rice) retained a perfect all’onda consistency 7/10 for the halibut, 8/10 for the risotto (it is a tasting menu, therefore the risotto came in small quantity)
-Honey/Soya sauce lacquered quail was served with Joel’s fabled pomme purée, which is a potato purée with a bit more buttery flavor and refined texture than your usual pomme puree (from what I remember, the pomme purée was more delicious at Atelier Robuchon Etoile). This is a good example of why this meal — although, well composed — never managed to knock my socks off: this quail, as expected from a Robuchon restaurant, is of good quality. But quail is usually packed with a flavor that is a bit assertive (a bit more than chicken, for eg) and that can stand up well with strong spices and the use of flames (chargill, etc). Here, they have opted to refine the flavor of the quail and I was not thrilled (of course, a matter of personal choice) eventhough their quail was enjoyable (in a way, it reminded me a bit of what a high end isakaya would do with their quail – refining its taste, adding luxurious touches like the foie gras that this quail was stuffed with, and opting for an oriental flavor profile such as the one provided by the Honey/Soya sauce of this evening’s quail ). This dish is a signature dish that is offered at other Robuchon restaurants in its current form, therefore do not expect any modification to the formula. Still a 7/10
Parfum des Iles – Passion fruit cremeux (the cream successfully dense and soft as it should, with the flavor of the fruit present enough), rhum granite (the semi-frozen dessert having its rhum flavor subtle, so subtle that I would not know if it was flavored with rhum had they not mention it – the subtle rhum flavor was not a bad thing in this case as a strong flavor coming from the rhum would have overwhelmed the dessert), coconut wisp (fresh coconut aromas that went well with the passion fruit cremeux). 7/10
Le rubis – One of the signature desserts of Robuchon restaurants. The ingredients and presentation may vary from locations to locations. The one I was having was made of cranberry buttercream which was a particularly enticing flavor, calpico jelly (calpico is a japanese drink, tasting a bit like yoghurt) and a lychee chantilly. I had a version of Le rubis once at Atelier Joel Robuchon Etoile in Paris and the Parisian Rubis dazzled more (more flavorful). Still, the execution was correct, the flavors fine. 7.5/10
The breads (a small basket of a perfect pain baguette, delicious Quebecois Alfred le Fermier cheese bread, some snail-shaped bread as delicate and light as a croissant and a bacon/dijon wheat stalk bread) , freshly baked on the premises (among the best breads you will find at a local restaurant) , were all excellent (Joel Robuchon seems to always hire talented bakers as the breads have always been consistently superb at his restaurants abroad). I picked a coffee (superb) and the meal ended with their usual mignardises (well made pâte de fruits and macarons).
Service was professional, and yet warm, friendly. And the black and red luxurious interior design is attractive.
PROS: By Montreal high end restaurant standards, this is already a destination restaurant. Opting for the informal counter seating “Atelier” concept, rather than formal fine dining, is “the way to go” in Montreal, I believe.
CONS: The desserts lacked crunch and bite – which is understandable with one dessert, but not with two – and that is an aspect they could improve upon. A texture change between two desserts is always more fun. Furthermore, I think that a chocolate-based dessert — like le “chocolat tendance” or the “chocolate sphere” found at the other AJRs around the globe — would have better complemented their wintery seasonal tasting menu and contribute a bit to the sense of “extravaganza” / “theatre” that you may sometimes find at other AJRs and that I was missing a little bit here.
Overall food rating: 7/10 by Montreal top tier fine dining standards. There are 4,5 other Chefs in Montreal who, in their prime, have impressed more with their French-inspired gourmet food , which is why I can’t rate this meal higher. For my taste, this meal was more about proper execution/flavors / textures rather than benchmark cooking. But the Robuchon’s empire has access to a worlwide network of experienced kitchen brigades, so expect the food to benefit from such expertise and thrive. And although I am big on local produce, I will admit that one way for an International restaurant to surprise its local diners is by using produce that we are not familiar with. I bet that even the most ferocious advocates of our local produce will, behind closed doors, fantasize about the idea of feasting on alba truffles or hard-to-find wagyu beef if such items were offered at AJRM.
What I think days later: Occasional local diners may be impressed while well travelled foodies will be expecting more in light of the standards that AJR has set elsewhere. Then you have the dilemma of being an international restaurant with locals expecting you to be as local as you can be. Local Vs international, comparisons to what they have been able to pull off before….it is tricky to be an AJR, I am sure. So, how do you assess a restaurant like AJRM, then? First, as it is a fine dining restaurant offering French gourmet food, I assess it in relation to the best French gourmet food I had in Montreal. At such, I had food which technique, taste and textures that dazzled more right here in Montreal. Then, the sourcing which, like the food, is of good quality at AJRM, but here, too, it dazzled more elsewhere in town with local Quebecois produce of world class mention and it is that kind of produce that I do expect at AJRM. I also compared the dessert “le rubis” and the pomme puree to what’s done in Paris because I think that both items should and can dazzle.