West Street, just off Cambridge Circus is one of those central London roads not often visited without purpose. On this evening, however, our purposely empty stomachs led the beat of hunger as we marched towards L'Atelier. Actually, we were running late and almost at canter, even though the nasally French Maitre d had already replied on the phone "don't worry, we are running late too!"
Cool, black, polished; L'Atelier is a recent £5M addition to Joel Robuchon's six Michelin Star line-up and feels from the black and red entrance area like a sultry Yakuza Den or swanky strip club. We're wafted through a grand pair of glass doors into a slim space countered with stools along the entirety of one side, a handful or less of 4 seater tables stand outweighed between the bar and a living wall of green foliage.
Sitting at the high-backed black bar we're served entirely from the opposite side by a gangly French waiter. He's unable to make eye contact and talk at the same time, such disgust must be expertly trained. Behind him a nebulous concentration of black stealth-chefs move between shiny, luxurious kitchen workstations as if in a secret NASA cookery experiment. The shadowy foreground is punctuated by lines of bell peppers, perfect-size apples on beds of ice and square bowls of floating cucumber strands. Its all oh so close to being tacky but falls only just on the right side of impressive.
The concept menu does not care if you understand it or not. The waiter has prepared his stare of abhorrence for the moment you look at him puzzled. Basically there are a number of dishes that feature on both the starter and main courses list. On either, the portion size may range from enough to share to barely a mouthful. There's no way of knowing without asking him. Price as a guide is useless (£10-£60 each), call me northern but a more logical arrangement would be welcomed. Luckily we were sharing so selected a number of dishes and randomly chose whether to have them small or large. If you're coming here to eat your own meal, take the time to ensure against quantity imbalance.
The food on the other hand is balanced to perfection. Every mouthful feels entirely prepared and is swiftly followed by the culinary goose-pimple, a sparkly eye widening. Each dish is as different as the plate on which it serves and over four courses we rejoiced through wafer thin Iberian ham, seafood paella, aubergine caviar (mousse to the layman!) a tiny taste explosion of squid ravioli and outstanding crispy ricepaper wrapped langoustine. Each has a hint of Japanese flavours, the theme of this, the ground floor dining room.
On the first floor is a "more formal" dining room "La Cuisna" serving a sightly different (yet just as complicated) menu. Above this is a masonic bar to which we are swooshed to "relax and enjoy" dessert. I'm sure there were more economic reasons for this as the wait staff sprang in to turn around our seats. This quickly forgotten, it was a perfect beyond-exclusive setting to savour the most amazing (and probably most expensive) mango pudding of my life.
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
13-15 West Street
WC2H 9NE (map)
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7010 8600