Thursday, December 13, 2007

How to Avoid a $6,110 Lunch

NoCrowds was tasked recently with finding a nice place in London for a large family to have Christmas lunch. The first place we called sounded very nice with a luxurious menu, a visit from Santa and a broadcast of the Queen’s speech. When we did our sums, however, we were not amused.

Before drinks and service, lunch would have been a whopping £3,055 and as our client was American, that would have made it a $6,110 lunch. By the time everyone had something to drink and with the gratuity included, it would have been over $7,000. Needless to say, we looked elsewhere, but we bring this up to make a point. Much of what goes on in London restaurants these days is a total rip-off. Converted into dollars and it is an even bigger rip-off.

So imagine our concern when we received a call from the Sorellina who was in town and offering to take us out for a festive lunch. What to do? Do we pick something posh and stiff our baby sister or suggest for the umpteenth time that we make out way to the eponymous noodle shop, Wagamama. But wait. Hadn’t we read recently that the top rated L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Covent Garden, the very same Joel Robuchon who was voted the “Chef of the Century” by his peers, was offering a two course lunch for £19. We checked it out and mon Dieu, yes, there is a Santa Claus and so off we went.

The L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon more than lived up to its reputation. It was dark, sexy and stylish. We sat at the counter and watched the cooks work and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. We both began with pumpkin soup which was rich, creamy, sophisticated and just right for this time of year but the real treat was the main course of whiting with Robuchon’s world famous mashed potatoes which are rumoured to be 70% butter.

Now whiting is not a noble fish. According to fish expert, Alan Davidson, “It is commonplace that the flesh of the whiting, steamed, is good for invalids.” In the hands of the L’Atelier, however, whiting is sublime - fried delicately and presented “en colere” (biting its own tail). It just goes to show that in the hands of the talented, even humble ingredients taste luxurious. That certainly was the case with the very buttery mashed potatoes.

And now the punch line to this piece. What did this sexy, inventive and perfectly conceived lunch end up costing? With the addition of wine, water, dessert and gratuity, the Sorellina ended up spending £68. As she put it later in an email, “considering how expensive ordinary food in London is, I thought [the price] was pretty good. If you didn't order the wine it would have been very reasonable but then who wants a great lunch without wine.”

We agree.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
13-15 West Street
London WC2H 9NE
Tel: 0207 010 8600
Lunch: 12pm-3pm
Dinner: 5:30 pm – 11pm

Photo courtesy of Joel Robuchon website

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