Here's a confession. When someone suggested celebrating a special family birthday at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Covent Garden, I was truly sceptical. This place is over-hyped, over-praised and over-priced was my first reaction.
My second reaction - on going through the door - was not much different. This restaurant is so lush and so plush that it's hiding something.
Well, I'm ready to admit, I was wrong, wrong and - had I had a third negative reaction - I would have been wrong again.
It's quite simply one of the best eating experiences in London. It's not cheap - the £45 pre-theatre restricted choice menu can easily end up twice that much once you factor in service, pre-meal drinks, wine (even a modest bottle costs around nearly £40) and coffee. But it's worth it for what is one of meals that will remain in my memory - even well after I paid the bill.
Six adults (and one baby!) ended up paying around £90 a head. But compare that to good London theatre tickets where you don't get the exquisite food. For L'Atelier is as much about theatrical experience as dining. The setting is sumptuous. The service is impeccable - our waiter was helpful when we wanted help and quiet at other times. He apologised because one dish on the set menu was no longer available. So he simply substituted something better (but similar) while apologising. And during our meal, he brought some potato purée for the baby - his very first non-milk tasting was from a Michelin-starred kitchen.
The restaurant is not nearly as big as I thought it would be - there are lots of small rooms - but while we sat in the main space, we were only occasionally aware of others. That is how it should be. You don't want to be the only diners but you don't want to hear the conversation of others while straining to listen to your eating companions.
Now for the food. Menus including the £45 pre-theatre deal - vary according to seasonality. So there is no guarantee that if you visit, you will be offered the same.
On my recent visit, I ate the aubergine caviare with goats cheese and basil in layers, followed by the beef cheek in red wine sauce with polenta, and the rhum baba to end up (it's rarely worth paying the supplement for cheese as this really can't show off the cooking). It was all delicious - the first course especially. All the main dishes came with plenty of bread for the hungry. Everyone ate everything.
More than three hours later - more than the length of most West End theatrical performances - and after a switch in space to an upstairs bar for our coffee, we left. Special birthday, special meal.
There's also a quick - book ahead online - three course meal called L'Unch. It's £29 and looks good. But who would want not to linger and savour this creativity?
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon 13-15, West Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9NE
Nearest station: Leicester Square
Phone 020 7010 8600