The Squash. The Beef. The Tart. It read like a haiku from a Post-Modernist remake of Beauty and the Beast, but it was, in fact, my lunch.
Or more accurately, my L’unch. (The apostrophe is silent, by the way, before you make a tit of yourself in front of the maître d’.) It’s a new concept from Covent Garden’s Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joel Rubuchon, famous for its exquisite, edible masterpieces and eye-watering prices.
Bargain lunch deals certainly aren’t new in the upper echelons of London’s restaurant scene, where very limited set menus offer unfussy punters a bargain at the city’s top temples of gastronomy. What is new is booking your meal up to a month in advance, and having it served up, bento box-style, all in one go. The idea is that you save time fannying around with a menu, and that the kitchen can prepare your food just ahead of you, so you’re in and out in jig time. The upshot, as I discovered with Carla one gloomy Tuesday lunchtime, is that the meal slots nicely into your lunch hour without compromising the restaurant’s rep for famously fiddly dishes. (Legit. The last time I went I watched someone spend literally 20 minutes assembling the world’s most elaborately dressed poached egg.)
When we went in February, there were only two starters, two puddings and three mains on offer, but the management seems to have latched onto the idea in a big way and now L’unch is one of the most well-endowed set menus in town – providing, of course, that you can guarantee that you’ll still fancy ‘The Beef’ a week from now. But why wouldn’t you? I had it myself, and it’s fabulous. Bavette steak is typically one of the less expensive, tougher cuts of meat, but its tenderness at L’Atelier is truly a testimony to the talent of the immaculately dressed chefs in the open kitchen. (Pro tip: ask for a counter seat.) Mine was enrobed in a thick, treacly sauce of black cardamom and confit shallots that slid amorously over the tongue.
The dish came with roasted Noirmoutier potatoes, which as any good student of the spud knows is one of the rarest and most sought-after varieties in the world. They were marvellous, sweet little things, and we absolutely did not need the side of L’Atelier’s famous mashed potatoes that also turned up, sunshine-yellow and glossy with butter and cream.
We still managed to eat it all though. Obviously.
Carla, the vegetarian, had ‘The Risotto’, which had been sculpted into a multi-textured work of edible art; artichoke puree and wild mushrooms scattered with flowers painting a portrait of nature’s finest bounty.
These main courses arrived on the same plates as our starters, specially designed for L’Atelier’s L’unch concept. We both had ‘The Squash’, an impossibly creamy butternut squash veloute with croutons and tangy gobs of fresh goat’s cheese.
Nobody does puddings like the French and Carla and I spread our bets and ordered two different kinds. The mango and passion fruit cream tart was a little too viscous for me in texture and a little too cloying in taste, but then I’ve never had much stamina for those sticky tropical fruits. It was an absolute panty-dropper though, with its topping of micro-meringues and gold leaf. I mean, look at the state of it.
I much preferred ‘The Ile Flottante’ – ‘the floating island’ – though puddings in martini glasses should be left to suburban dinner parties and not internationally acclaimed restaurants. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and the ever-so-slightly vanilla-y crème anglaise was clean and light after my beefy main.
Fast, good or cheap. In life, you can usually only pick two. Admittedly, L’unch is not cheap when one can sustain oneself on a £4 sandwich from Pret (or much, much less than that, if you’re one of the highly organised domestic goddess types who bring it from home), but for the quality of the food and experience as a whole, it is phenomenally good value. Time slots are very strict – 12pm or 1:30pm – but you can book it on a Saturday, which will make it popular with the pre-theatre matinee crowd.
If you have a little longer to spend on your lunch, there’s a wonderful cocktail bar with a hidden rooftop terrace on the second floor. Keep it in your arsenal for special occasions.
Three courses, with an amuse-bouche, wine, water, tea or coffee and petit fours, sets you back £39 a head, or you can skip the drinks for £29. It’s available exclusively online, and although you can book a table months in advance, you can select your dishes at the (relative) last minute. Take your clients. Go with your girlfriends. Treat your mum. It’s l’ovely.
L’Atelier de Joel Rubuchon, 13-15 West St, London, WC2H 9NE
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.