Restaurant Review: Joel Robuchon, MGM Grand
Published: April 2012
GARETH DAVIS ends his Las Vegas gastro-thon at the home of culinary spectacle...
Grand is undoubtedly the title for what is the grandest of Vegas’ eateries. Global meister chef Joel Robuchon has stretched his hand into the Nevada desert to create a space that will resonate with anyone familiar with his London eateries. For those who are not, two defining dining experiences are on offer at Vegas’ MGM Grand Hotel; the L’Atelier in all its dark Japanese lacquered glory, predominantly black and red, where diners sit on stools at high tables or at the bar. The real grown-up however, not only gastronomically but also financially, is the dining room called simply Joel Robuchon.
It’s a confection. A glittering chandelier rains light in droplets over crystal, glass, chrome, and bubble gum-coloured gobstoppers of bouquets, studded with pink roses. Deco is predominant in the lines of the walls. The centre of the room is dominated by an oval purple banquette and black lacquered tables are dressed in crosses of pink linens topped in silver hessian. It’s as if a train of bridesmaids has just exploded across the room, bouquets, frocks et al.
Step through the French doors at one end of the room and suddenly, dining becomes theatre. You’re on a Noel Coward of a faux terrace in black marble with a curved wall of verdant green. The ceiling is a trompe d’oeil sky at night. Gazing back, the French windows become a proscenium, framing the main dining room. This is Private Lives in Pink. The look is camp and the tone serious, even highbrow from the formality of the staff to the lightness of conversation. Woe betide a cough or cackle should intrude upon this temple to taste. The whirr of the one armed bandit and ding ding of the fruit machine seem a very long way away, but these are only first impressions. Over the course of the evening, the ambience becomes more relaxed and it’s apparent that what we have here is yet another of Vegas’ many faces.
I settle down to swig on a glass of Bruno Paillard’s bubbles ($35 a glass – yes, get used to it) whilst contemplating the 14-course tasting menu ($395). Or there’s a $120 4-courser, or the same for $160, or 6 courses for $190, or $7 at $240, or hell, if you’re confused, just go a la carte. The cooking is unsurprisingly grande Francaise; nothing of the brasserie, it’s as haute as you’ll find, food and cooking of the ether.
The bread arrives. Now that’s an understatement. It motors in on a trolley, over a dozen varieties. It’s as if Harrod’s bakery has been transformed into a meal on wheels; brioches, milk bread, various pains, cheese breads, focaccias. I settle for the comforting sound of knife cutting through crunch, and opt for a plain white baguette.
And then there’s the butter trolley, Breton of course, or Alicante olive oil. The butter is curled beautifully onto a plate then grains of salt are pinched onto it from a height. By now, you’re getting the idea. This is pure theatre and you’re onstage.
A cherry gazpacho with sheep ricotta and pistachios kicks things off. The deep cherry red however is a little misleading; the colour is far more intense than the flavour and it leaves me a little nonplussed, but then I never was a fan of fruit soups.
Green asparagus with lemon balm, chilled veloute with panna cotta, and maki of thin couscous entitled Le Caviar are a visually stunning trio, shifting from fresh green left of plate to the small gold tile on the right; caviar is the binding agent. The asparagus is warm, perfectly al dente, with a genuine seasonality of taste. If there was ever such a thing as a facial for the tongue then the veloute is it; subtle in flavour and a thing of perfect consistency, all warm creaminess. The small maki couscous parcel topped with caviar has canapé charm but was a latecomer to this particular party.
Like an island mirage in a white sea, a meaty seared scallop in scented coconut milk follows; dill dances like dolphins if that isn’t taking the simile a little far.
Underlining both dishes is a young, zingy 2009 Alscae Riesling with surprisingly light acidity and lemon bursts, there’s pear and a hint of oiliness in the length (Schlossberg Grand Cru, Domaine Weinbach - $85 a bottle).
Truffled langoustine ravioli in a foie gras sauce with buttered Savoy displays fantastic flavour where the sheer meatiness of the langoustine is cut through by the rich foie gras. The truffle is earthy and very on the nose. The cabbage almost functions as seaweed as the whole dish evokes Dim Sum. Complementing is a Puligny-Montrachel J Chartron 2008 ($125 a bottle) provides warm toast on the nose and melting butteriness on the palate.
The turbot and artichoke cooked en cocotte in a barigoule (white wine) jus didn’t live up to expectations. I found the artichokes just a bit too chewy.
But what follows is the star of the show. Sauteed veal chop with natural jus and pesto vegetable taglierini is a triumph; such depth of flavour from the milk fed chop, such bite from the carrot and courgette taglierini. This is the first tasting menu I’ve had in Vegas that hasn’t fallen at the meat hurdle. In all other cases, it’s been a stumbling block. But here, a joyous moment stands firm, the keystone of a well-constructed bridge to the sweets. And flowing underneath is a Lolande de Pomerol Chateau La Fleur de Bouard 2003 ($105 a bottle), black, tarry liquorice on the nose that sears into burnt cassis and raisins on the tongue.
Before we hit dessert, a light risotto of soybean sprouts, lime zest and chives is such a little joy of a thing to wrap up the savouries. All crunchy softness with great individual flavours, the sprouts leap and burst.
I actually forego dessert and head for the cheese cart. Yes, it’s another moment of spectacle as the cheese rolls in. The choice consists of French and American cheese. I opt for a creamy Inverness from California, a Wahbash Cannonball from Indiana (goat’s cheese) and the Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Wisconsin, the Dairy State; the latter’s like rich salt taffy.
However, my waiter isn’t letting me off a smidge of sweetness and the mignardises cart is truly a sight to behold. Designed no doubt by the Child Catcher, this is a mobile window display of all things sweet and chocolatey. There are between 35 and 40 items, all made in-house and the poor guy takes me through them one by one. When I ask him to remind me which one was Number 7, I get a laugh from the table opposite who’ve been through the same process. My palate by now has had quite a workout so I select a solitary white chocolate, blueberry and lavender nibble that’s to die for.
My evening of pure food theatre winds down and I realise I have had a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. The veal towered over all but my lasting impression is of a sense of occasion, and a sense of Vegas itself. The latter is actually very present. The home of the spectacle is the perfect place for Robuchon’s showmanship. It’s been an unforgettable evening and for anyone with a passion for food, this is THE place to spend the winnings, and bring the curtain down on a Las Vegas gastro-thon.
Restaurant Review: Joel Robuchon, MGM Grand
Gareth has been with TRAVEL CHANNEL since its launch in 1994. He has produced and presented on TRAVEL LIVE and THE TRAVEL BUG, produced ESSENTIAL... and reports on TRAVEL TODAY. He is a regular contributor to the website. In 2010 he produced the hit series THE HOLIDAY SHOW which he also co-presented with Ginny Buckley. Gareth’s passions are history, culture, food & drink.
To find out more about Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand visit