Joel Robuchon died in 2018, but UAE fans of the French chef, whose restaurants lay claim to the most Michelin stars in the world, can still get a taste of his culinary prowess.
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon opened its first Dubai outpost on October 6. To say this restaurant was highly anticipated is something of an understatement. L'Atelier operates venues in 12 cities around the world – Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, Las Vegas and Montreal, to name a few – and the Dubai branch has been in the pipeline for the past decade.
The restaurant, located in the Dubai International Financial Centre, is dominated by the vast open kitchen that the brand is known for, allowing diners to watch their food being prepared and even chat to the chefs. Also present is L’Atelier's signature red and black colour scheme, complete with marble counters and stainless steel, creating an ambience that is bold yet intimate.
The space also features a rose petal ceiling artwork by Italian designer Jacopo Foggini, while an olive tree sculpture by French contemporary artist Philippe Pasqua takes pride of place at the entrance.
The expansive outdoor seating area is lined with bronze vines by Pasqua. Executive chef Axel Manes says it’s all in line with the restaurant’s philosophy of celebrating the hand-made. L’Atelier does translate to workshop, after all.
Manes is Robuchon’s protege. The two worked closely for years. “It was a shock to me that we could be so close. I think a lot of that was the difference in age – almost 55 years. He really believed in me, and gave me a lot of positivity.”
Much like his mentor, Manes has a few feathers in his chef’s cap; he was only 19 when a restaurant he was working for in Lyon was awarded a Michelin Star, and he was identified as one of the most promising chefs in the world by the Michelin Guide.
“The first L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon opened in 2003, and since then we've aimed for innovation. Not on the food, that's more or less the same. But in the restaurant, its modernity, the design, the requirements of clients,” says Manes. “The Dubai branch is a more casual space where guests can still expect fine-dining food.”
Under Manes’s mantle, the menu aims to be “a 2.0 version of Robuchon’s signature dishes” – such as the crispy poached egg with caviar, truffle pizza, dover sole a la plancha and the chef’s most popular dish, for its buttery texture and chestnut-like flavour, mashed potatoes. There will also be an epicurean 10-course menu, specially curated by Manes.
Robuchon, famously a perfectionist, would approve. The chef has left behind quite a legacy, from mentoring Gordon Ramsay and Michael Caines to being named Chef of the Century by French restaurant guide Gault Millau. And his establishments have racked up an impressive 32 Michelin stars between them.
“Joel used to say that the most important thing is to know your basics,” says Manes. “If you don’t know this, you will not be able to deliver quality year after year. This is why so many restaurants are not able to stand the test of time.”
With these lessons from Robuchon passed on to the rest of the team, Manes says that every branch around the world still feels the star chef’s presence.
“Joel is always in the kitchen. His spirit is with us every day. Everything, including the mashed potato, is still just the way he likes it.”