It is a glorious fact that, from time to time, my job requires, nay…demands, that I go somewhere very sunny and fun where I have to pretend to be serious and use my big boy voice.
So it was that I found myself spending a week in Las Vegas, where everything is over the top and gaudy. I was worried. Previous trips to the US of A have always been somewhat of a disappointment, food wise. I have often found that quantity is prioritised over quality. That this is often true for the seasoning as well as the portion size and that generally one has to look pretty hard to find food that I would consider to be “above average”. This is of course, on the whole, a generalisation but, this was, none the less, my concern.
So I made a plan; Every night I was in Vegas, I would go to a different amazing restaurant, ranked amazing by a variety of sources from internet reviews to the Michelin guide and everything in between. For those that are curious, my list went something like
- Tuesday – Golden Steer Steak House
- Wednesday – Nobu
- Thursday – Joel Robuchon
- Friday – Twist by Pierre Gagnaire
- Saturday – Gordon Ramsay Steak
- Sunday – Mizumi
I can say now, as one might expect, there were highs and lows. For example, much to my utter surprise, I found myself walking out of Steak. Mid meal. Before dessert. Poor Gordon, if he spreads himself any thinner his “brand” will be held aloft solely by his superlative London spots and not much else.
However this piece is about Joel Robuchon. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, it is in the top three meals I have ever consumed. Ever. I sort of feel bad that I had gone to Dinner by Heston the week before, or I’d have been able to say top 2, if not “the best”.
In a city filled with light and noise, you enter Robuchon and suddenly everything is quiet. Its a small restaurant, not many tables and there is no loud, brash music or over the top conversations; it is that same hush you get when people visit cathedrals. This is a Church to food and people have come to worship.
After a few days of excess, I must admit, I was not feeling like the wine flight was good idea, so after ordering a glass or two via the extremely knowledgeable sommelier, my dining partner and I dived into the Tasting Menu.
The first course, the amuse bouche was a sign of things to come. Oscetra caviar, on top of a disc of king crab, resting on a crustacean jelly. A sign of things to come, if was subtle and rich and luxurious and looked…well, it looked mental. I loved it immediately. A thousand little beady eyes staring up at you from the plate! Daring you to disturb the beautiful dish.
The way the menu then works is thus… There a number of “services” each grouped together so that you have a “course” but each actually includes a number of dishes.
And so it was that they came. In little cliques of three. The 1st service, a carpaccio of foie gras with truffle shavings. Confit salmon with caviar and wasabi. Lobster in a sweet a sour dressing. All light. All luxurious. They very much set the tone for the meal. That It would be something more than just delicious. That it would be beautiful and something memorable. That in months to come, your lasting memory of Las Vegas would be this meal and not much else.
The 2nd service is still luxurious, but the flavours become stronger and more assured. They hope you have settled in and your palate is suitably warmed up. a black truffle tart with smoked bacon. A pan fried egg with pearl rice and truffle. Frog legs fritters with garlic puree. It was this last course that caught both of our attention. As soon as we saw frogs legs in garlic I thought “oh well, there goes my taste buds”. But no, it was delicious. Light and perfectly seasoned. Textures and tastes reminiscent of the best French cooking but somehow more, somehow new.
The 3rd service goes back to a seafood theme, but heavier than your first encounter, building up the next course, the classic “fish course” – truffled langoustine ravioli, scallop with kumquat and caviar and a herby broth. The broth works well, with earthy umami, to clear your palate before the 4th course, the fish.
The fish course begins with sea urchin – something I was prepared to hate. I have had it many times and each time it has been a texture and flavour I could live without. Yet Robuchon’s team manage to combine it with fennel and citrus, those age old friends of seafood, to turn it into something beyond palatable. Into something tasty! The caramelised black cod and spiny lobster in a green curry jus have strong, bold flavours so as not to be overshadowed by the urchin and let you know that bigger flavours are still to come. The momentum builds…
The “plat Tradition”, the main course arrives and it is glorious.
Perfectly cooked beef, my favourite cut, the châteaubriand, combined with foie gras and aged porto. It is everything I have been waiting for, not just in this meal, but this week. Strong, rich, beef flavours, served with a perfect, unctuous sauce and the fatty foie gras. Our plates are clean in the blink of an eye and the waiter, with a knowing grin, point out that even though there are 18 or so plates during this meal, we can have a second portion of the steak, if we dare…
The meal begins to wind down and so I suspect that desserts will be small affairs, not much to write home about. I am, as always, completely wrong.
They are delicate and beautiful. They are fairies at the bottom of the garden. Tiny glimpses of childhood joy. I decide the meal is over and nothing can beat them.
Again. Bloody wrong.
The Chocolate course put such a grin on my face and is so very very pretty that it actually makes me wince when I take a spoon to it. Smooth chocolate and cherry, in the shape of a little toadstool, sat on a bed of edible soil and stones and lichen. It is the patisserie chef’s triumph. It is what all desserts should be – outwardly, ridiculous and silly and fun and joy and inwardly, some of the most complex and exacting cooking of the meal thus far.
We sit back with coffee and wonder exactly how this could ever end. The answer arrives with a “help yourself” sweet trolley. Tiny little morsels, each dainty and perfectly formed. The temptation to take it all is overwhelming. But I resist, if only because I’m not sure I could eat everything and would hate for any of it to go to waste.
After the meal, we are lucky enough to meet the chef, a man who is a MOF or Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. It is an award given out to the elite of the elite of French chefs (watch Kings of Pastry if you can – it will blow your mind). This man, with his collar that labels him as a master of his craft, is more than happy to show us round his kitchen and talk of food and flavour and all things edible.
It is not just a meal or a memory. My evening at Joel Robuchon is indelibly imprinted on me. In a town full of the superficial and the over-the-top, this is what stays with me.
Joel Robuchon is located at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. You can make a reservation by visiting the website here.