“There’s an opposite to déjà vu. They call it jamais vu. It’s when you meet the same people or visit places, again and again, but each time is the first. Everybody is always a stranger. Nothing is ever familiar.”
(Chuck Palahniuk – Choke)
You know that strange joke of the brain, for which, the scene that you have before your eyes, you seem to have already lived? Déja vu, they say. Scientists have tried to explain it, describing it as a form of “antivirus” of our brain: a sort of strange system of verification of memory. The lovers of the New Age venerate him, telling it as the memory of a previous life. The fans of Matrix, instead (just to return to the previous blog on Alvin Leung) claim is a bug in the system, a mistake of the “network” that is changing in the running of things.
I do not know what déja vu is. I only know that it has the power to bore me to death.
And believe me, I’m not used to yawning at all. At least for the job I have chosen. There are no empty moments in my life: there is always something to do, people to know, places to discover. There is never room for boredom. Also because one of the few maxims that I believe in, says that one day spent without trying something new, represents a lost day.
We were saying, déja vu. The already seen, already heard, already experienced.
Somehow what I experienced at the restaurant L’Atelier Le Jardin by Joel Robuchon.
I’m going to tell you.
I’m still in Hong Kong and in the same mall that also hosts 8 1/2 of Umberto Bombana (first Déja vu!). The Italian chef restaurant on the first floor, the French chef one is on the second.
The Atelier, then, is not just a simple restaurant: inside, in fact, in addition to Le Jardin, you can also find a bistro and a tearoom.
Robuchon, an institution of French cuisine, has several activities around the world, many of them starry. Only in Asia, however, he has managed to boast the highest recognition of the Michelin Guide. And even in three places: in Singapore, in Macau and right here in Hong Kong with L’Atelier Le Jardin.
The first thing you notice when you enter the restaurant is the cellar. Huge, profound, beautiful. It boasts the beauty of 16,500 bottles, placing itself in second place among the best-stocked wine cellars in the world. Only German restaurant’s cellar slightly overcomes it. At least this is what the restaurant manager explains me, while leading me to the table.
The room, not very large, hosts about forty diners: it develops towards a window, which overlooks a winter garden that faces the usual street full of shops. The wooden tables are surrounded by wonderful leather armchairs. Everything looks very nice, very refined. Very French.
I choose the 4-course menu and opt for a glass of wine. A 2008 Chateau Le Gay Pomerol: a structured and balanced red, with aromas of red fruits, tips of undergrowth and spicy notes supported by a slight acidity.
Waiting for the amuse bouche I dedicate myself to the classic bread basket, placed at the centre of the table, to taste with butter, served both salty and sweet. Among the different varieties proposed, I appreciate the bacon one: exquisite.
We start with a shrimp wrapped in phyllo pastry, fried, accompanied by a very pretty bowl, containing a tomato jelly at the base and a mousse of mango sauce.
Let’s go to the tomato soup with broccoli, broccoli flower and couscous. It is a classic French soup, full of garlic and onion with a very pronounced flavour.
It’s time for the Langoustine: it is made with a base sauce made with the juice of the langoustine and creamed in a river of butter, potato chips and ravioli made from rice pasta, filled with fresh peas and pea flowers. Beautiful to the see and above all good to eat.
The meat arrives: Iberian pork, just scalded with thyme and pork sauce, marinated in soybeans, to give it a nice “Chinese” touch. To accompany it all a cream of chily-pepper and a croquette filled with rice, peas and other vegetables, which resembles an Italian “supplì”.
To close the meal, the classic cheese tray (they don’t explain me the origin of the three types, only describing them as “hard”, “soft” and “gorgonzola”) and the small pastry: a chocolate, a tartlet with coconut , one with raspberry, chocolate and pistachio, one with zabaglione and peanuts and a creamy vanilla and passion fruit.
As I approach the bathrooms, for my usual “inspection” (very clean, also because we are in a shopping mall) I reflect on this experience: I go crazy for the cellar and for the wine book. It looks like a work by David Foster Wallace for how long and interesting it is. I like the location and the decor: I find the restaurant nice and refined. But very normal. Exactly identical to a thousand other French clubs and above all equal to all the other activities of Joel Robuchon.
I cannot say I was disappointed by the dishes, but not even exalted: no one managed to make me jump off the chair.
Everything is identical, repetitive and predictable.
A long and exhausting déjà vu.
Final mark: three beards.