Was fortunate to try L'Atelier de Robuchon at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo last night. It was a weekday and was expecting a line but was seated at the bar immediately for drinks. A 30 mins wait to be seated for food turns out to be more like 5 but it might be because I was by myself.
On the setting, I find the black/red mixture interesting and this is one of the most modern and sleek restaurant design that I have seen. Definite Japan influence as it is like an extended robatayaki with a bar surrounding the kitchen. There is little spacing from seat to seat but as long as one is not next to a sumo wrestler, one should be fine. It faciliates conversations with other customers and makes for an interesting experience. BUT, I lucked out in this respect since I was seated next to another single diner who happens to speak decent English but that doesn't happen often here in Tokyo. 80% of the diners seem to be Japanese and they don't seem to be as interested to meet or chat with a stranger (let alone sharing any food). From what I can tell, I was probably the only person who even attempted to chat with others on my side.
Now to the food. There are a couple of good dishes but if you are expecting out-of-this-world dining, this is not the place. Since it is my first time here, wanted to try as many dishes as possible and only ordered from the appetizer section (but their size turns out to be more like amuse bouche). My fav item was the langoustine wrapped in phyllo with basil sauce. Basil sauce was good (though not a big fan of basil personally) but the langoustine was sweet, succulent and perfectly cooked. Reminds me of a perfectly cooked tempura with just the right timing and fresh ingredients. The other dishes I tried are: anchovies with pepper and eggplant (waiter recommended this several times and I ordered this against my better judgement). It has no taste and I don't understand what's so special about it. At a minimum, how about at least drops of olive oil or some other condiment to bring out the flavor? Think there migh be sprinkle of sea salt but it definitely needed more to bring out the flavor. Caviar of eggplant which I liked since the mashed eggplant was very creamy and matched with a slightly sour and frech tomato sauce. One of the better dish since the two flavors work well together reminding me of a ratatouille. Eggs with cream of mushroom: highlight is the presentation in a martini glass. first some green sauce on the bottom (still don't know what it is), then a half boiled egg and then cream of mushroom. The cream of mushroom was more like cream than soup and very good by itself. Roasted salmon which was also perfectly cooked with crunchy skin and succulent meat. There are some pepper and eggplant on it and also I think fried parsley? Well executed dish but nothing fancy either. At this point, the lady next to me is working on her roasted squab and mashed potato with truffles. Mashed potato with truffles!!! Though it wasn't on the menu, I remembered reading from somewhere (probably here) that it is a famous Robuchon dish and asked the waiter to get me a side order. This was the highlight! From the time the waiter lifted the lid, i know i would love this dish. The sweet smell of truffle! This is every bit as good and better than any mashed potato I have tried. And that truffle flavor! Memory of the truffle brouillade (sp?) that I had at Boyer Les Crayeres immediately came to mind. Yes, it's fatty with loads of cream and oil but hey, you only live once! Will go back just for this dish alone.
Though not stuffed, it's last call and asked the waiter to pick a dessert for me. He recommended the Chartreuse souffle with pistachio ice-cream (which I was going to order anyway). This is another highlight of the meal! The green-color pistachio ice-cream was dropped into the middle of the souffle in front of you and makes for a good combination with the souffle. Not too sweet and though I can't remember the exact taste (after several glasses of wine), it works and you have to try it to believe it!
Overall, a worthwhile experience for the couple of good dishes, the beautiful and modern setting and the experience of meeting other diners. But if you are looking for the definitive French cuisine experience, this is not it.