With 25 to his name, the world’s most Michelin starred chef, Joël Robuchon announced a culinary collaboration with ‘true friend’ and fellow super savvy businessman, Bernard Magrez, Wednesday. The venue: London’s installment of his ‘La Cuisine’ restaurant, suspended between the leafy ground floor ‘Atelier’ and gilt, cut glass and onyx edged penthouse bar. Checkerpot tiled, with shiny ingredients mounted on racks, it felt oddly tempting to draw parallels between the formally informal decor here and that of a Pizza Express. Alas, big, black, bulbous apple sculptures blocked the view of fellow diners – a fillet of the good, greying and greedy members of the British wine world’s glitterati…
Born in 1930’s Bordeaux, press pack printings qualify Magrez’s determination to succeed as stemming from a ruthless stonemason father. Indeed, the charming, confident, statuesque icon was apparently forced to endure daily hikes to school bearing the sign, ‘I am lazy’. According to lucid top wine scribe Robert Joseph, Magrez was awakened to the world of commerce aged 25 whilst taking a bus road-trip around the US, being ‘struck by supermarkets’. Back in Bordeaux, he purchased a small Port wine importer, channelling his energies into turning it into the vehicle for a best-selling whisky and budget, branded Bordeaux – an operation eventually bought by ‘Castel’ seven-years ago.
Whilst still fascinated by quantity, this collector of vineyards continues to harbour the ambitions of one who is ‘rich and restless’ (Peter Hellman). However, Magrez’s focus now concerns solely top quality beverages, resulting in an enviable portfolio comprising Chateaux, Pape Clément, Tour Canet and Fombrauge (allegedly St. Émilion’s largest) as well as plantings in Iberia, South America and North Africa.
Before being instructed to take root in a surprisingly warm chair at a long table today named after Magrez’s estate, ‘Les Grands Chênes’ (winner of an ’05 competition of ‘Bordeaux versus California’) smiling and occasionally winking staff plied guests with thickly chipped, joyously fatty slithers of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. Aided by sticky ’07 white Fombrauge (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Sauvignon Gris) the ruddy, soft, salty meat provided epic culinary foreplay.
The soundtrack of piped whistling mercifully dimmed and everyone’s cod liver oil lubed joints folded into place, it was time for lunch proper, prepped by chefs whose full names were embroidered on red-piped black tunics. Under starters orders, a creative statement ‘par’ Robuchon made a luxurious statement. Initially resembling a tin of boot polish, when its lid was clasped, as a mini closh, free, the ‘en surprise’ was tense oscietra caviar pressed over sweet crabmeat.
Substantial curls of pink foie gras with truffle discs on firm, but absorbent truffle marinated potato landed next, followed by moist, plancha cooked sea bass with baby leeks, poignantly fresh ginger and bright spiced honey. This trio of dishes were partnered with ’05 Pape Clément Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle). Powerful, oak bevelled, and despite an illusion of nectarine-like sweetness, dry, with a feint lag of tannin, this struck me as the finest Pessac-Léognan I’ve ever slurped. It worked best with the smooth bass, but least against the ascerbic dressing of the truffled dish. Frustratingly, its dramatic price tag of over £100+ per bottle is exacerbated by the diminutive quantity in which it is made.
After hearing an engaging sizzling from the open plan kitchen, I delightedly fed on the milk fed result – two fragile looking lamb cutlets. Their cosy, greeting, fatty aromas mingled with a dried posy of fresh thyme and a gooey, roasted garlic bulb. A glorious plop of Robuchon’s dare I say infamous, gluttonous, adhesive, mash potato was possessed by butter (against any doctor’s advice, I begged seconds). Being soft, with silky tannins (the profile of many of Magrez’s wines, beloved by critic, Robert Parker jnr.) the ’00 magnum of Pape Clément (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) enveloped the mashed pat, retaining acidity through to the end. Perhaps this was 2010’s most seductive gastronomic combination, so far?
Surprisingly, the riper ’03 (from an Impériale, equivalent to eight standard bottles) played out well with a fine, ‘Haliborange’ vitamin perfumed dessert featuring orange cream and sheerly cocoa rich Araguani chocolate. Adorned with a little flower, and brightly coloured, it was sufficiently inviting aesthetically and decadently perfumed to utterly ruin my Lent promise to avoid chocolate.
Magrez mentioned that with 35 estates, he could satisfy the most demanding of customers. ‘As long as we listen to what they say, we won’t get it wrong‘.
Despite awful, over-stewed tea, and a slightly silly use of attractive but inedible garnishes such as coloured sandy grains to accentuate the pudding, Robuchon’s meal had been as delicious as it was meticulous without being desperately filling, with dishes conversing well with Magrez’s outwardly modern, but inwardly classic wines.
The duo will continue to ‘celebrate their friendship’ through food and wine synergy over all Robuchon’s restaurants, which currently span eight cities worldwide. From where I sat, their mantra of kudos through quality and quantity seems believable.