It has been some years since we experienced the delights of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Soho. Visiting friends from New York wanted to go. It has not changed much. The ground floor bar, which serves on high tables, is still the same primary colors and has a buzzy atmosphere. On the second floor you have the main restaurant. We did not venture to the third floor, which was always a bit strange, with sofas and cuddling couples. Formerly I had to avert my eyes.

My beautiful blonde friend was initially not amused as we sat down next to a table of small children and either their mothers or nannies. The other tables were peopled by dressed down “thirty-somethings.” She was a bit shocked by the lack of ties and style. Having seen the changing of the guard here in London for the last 47 years I reassured her that this was not necessarily the soccer hooligan crowd, but a typical group of Londoners who have foregone ties and jackets for years. This was somewhat unnerving, as is the decor, which is black-and-white checkerboard tiles and reddish accents, somewhat reminiscent of a French cafe of the 1970s with a bordello twist. No matter, the service was attentive, the wines magnificent and the food exquisite. Even the little children sitting next door were well mannered and quiet. The husband was taken by their iPhones and had a lively conversation with one little boy on the latest app. Such is life today in one of London’s smartest and most expensive restaurants.

The dinners were remarkably well presented. I had the quail. I seem addicted to these tiny poultry lately. Stuffed breasts the size of your thumb and butterflied legs all in a delicious wine reduction. The wife is vegetarian and the eclair of aubergine was staggering in its beauty. Both men had fish beautifully bedded down on some form of vegetation. Neither man complained and the plates were whistle-clean at the end.

Mashed potatoes are a signature dish and they could have functioned as dessert. We chose selections of sorbet and glace to finish, and left in a daze of superb culinary satisfaction. The design may be retro at this point, the crowd indifferent in their appearance, but the food has that incredible creativity that seems to have been lost in the London shuffle of large, noisy and somewhat embattled brasseries that have been the recent entries in the food stakes here.

It was a charming evening and well recommended for visiting firemen. Don’t bother with the Chanels and jewels.

Kaaren Hale


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