View from the top
Updated: 2012-03-25 07:46
By Rebecca Lo in Macao (China Daily)
Music from an ornate antique piano at Robuchon au Dome adds dimensions of sight and sound to the dining experience. Rebecca Lo / China Daily
For the past decade, French chefs within a thousand kilometers of Macao jockeyed for the position of being second-best.
First place was already secured by the much decorated Joel Robuchon's first foray into greater China: Robuchon a Galera, helmed by his young disciple Francky Semblat.
Yet despite the exquisite food and impeccable service, looking out onto a bustling street of punters from the third floor of the Lisboa Hotel lacked a certain je ne sai quoi.
Last November, the jewel in the crown of Grand Lisboa Hotel was unveiled as Robuchon au Dome. Finally Robuchon has a setting worthy of his three-Michelin-star experience.
The soaring five-story glass ceiling of the 75-seat restaurant and its panoramic 360-degree view from the 43rd floor make you feel like you're floating on clouds as soon as the elevator doors open. A chandelier featuring 131,500 individual Swarovski crystals in the shape of an elegant woman's evening gown dominates the entry, with its fluid curves highlighting an antique piano below that provides strains of music throughout the dining experience.
Alan Ho, the nephew of tycoon Stanley Ho and executive director of Lisboa Hotel Complex, is known as a gourmand. His love for fine wine is not only exemplified in a hefty list boasting more than 8,200 labels, but also the eight wine cabinets depicting Grand Cru chateaux by English furniture maker Viscount Linley.
The stemware is Riedel, water goblets are Royal Brierley Crystal, serving plates are custom-made for Robuchon by Bernardaud and flatware is Christofle. A crystal Lalique centerpiece continuously changes color in a soothingly hypnotic way. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.
I must confess: French cuisine is up there as my favorite, and all the finery courtesy of interior designers Alan Chan, Peggy Paik and Nicolas Gwenael had me ready to be wowed by the food.
I was also lucky to be seated beside sommelier Mathieu Gaignon's station, who immediately asked if I'd like to start with a rose or white champagne. Bien sur, I never refuse champagne!
I chose a rose D de Devaux, perfectly complementing an amuse-bouche of caviar in fine coral jelly with anise cream. The surprise of discovering succulent crab underneath the plump, not-too-salty green eggs was a lovely textural treat, and the tiny mother-of-pearl spoon made sure that I scooped up every morsel.
Even a simple thing like preparing a bread basket for the table is a royal procession at Robuchon. After choosing from fresh baguettes, croissants and rolls in sweet and savory options, I selected the accompanying butter, which was expertly shaved from a block into a perfect curl in front of me.
My hors d'oeuvre was presented on a clear hand-blown glass dish, and featured lightly smoked foie gras shaved on vegetable pot-au-feu and aspic seasoned with horseradish, accompanied by a 2008 Robert Weil Kieddrich Grafenberg Riesling Trocken.
Delightful to look at, the foie gras melts on the tongue while croutons crunch for a medley of contrasting textures.
As black truffles were still in season, Semblat continued my culinary journey with his famous truffles, onion and bacon tart that Gaignon paired with a 2006 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Premier Cru Taillepieds.
The strong flavors of onion and bacon were offset by the delicately fragrant truffles scattered generously on top and finished with a paper-thin flaky crust.
The fish course was a sea bass fillet slowly grilled with marinated zucchini, eggplant puree and basil cream, matched with a 2008 Francois Cotat La Grand Cote Sancerre - my favorite pairing of the meal as the fresh mineral flavors of the wine worked brilliantly with the fish.
A main of pan-fried Iberian pork loin, fricassee of artichoke and capers with peanuts and verjuiced jus was enhanced with a 2000 Chateau Branaire St. Julien, a robust blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot.
Capers with the pork were clever, and a side of Robuchon's famous mashed potatoes tasted amazing probably due to its 95 percent butter content. But I reminded myself that a little butter after three hours of fine French dining was a drop in the ocean of my ballooning waistline.
I continued with a palate cleanser of iced nougat with Sicilian pistachio, Kirsch jelly and red-fruit coulis accompanied by a 1991 Domaine Touchais Coteaux du Layon. Both were light and sweet before a dessert chosen from the trolley: caramel tart with orange ice cream.
The creamy, slightly smoky flavor of the caramel made it one of the best I've ever had and I managed to find room to tuck in the entire slice.
While the menu continues to offer excellent creative dishes alongside old standbys, Robuchon's new digs is definitely worth repeat visits. It's nice to know that while some things change, others stay the same.
Lunch degustation menus start at MOP 498 ($62), exclusive of wine; a la carte dinner combinations starts at MOP 1,500 ($188) with a starter, main and dessert, exclusive of wine.