Set up & site: Hell is other people blocking the view of the cheese cabinet in L'Atelier du Fromage on a Saturday morning. I want this place all to myself. There are many kinds of cheese. There are many kinds of everything French — charcuterie, pastries, cakes. The first challenge at L'Atelier is getting past the cabinets fecund with heavenly treats and climb the stairs for brunch. Some nice waiter takes pity — or possibly just wants me to get out of the way — and asks if I need help. "I've made a brunch booking for two." And they announce, somewhat triumphantly, as though I am Jane Birken herself, "Madam, you are upstairs."
Sustenance & swill: Upstairs it is wall-to-wall wine. I have had four hours sleep, I have a hangover and I am not of a wine state-of-mind. It's like having a hair of the dog by osmosis, being surrounded by all this wine. There are bottles and bottles, ceiling-to-floor, from a modest $12 to stratospheric hundreds. My companion arrives, dressed beautifully and not hungover. We share the table with a family of four. But it's spacious and we don't feel too close or as though we have to edit our conversation.
The menu is extraordinary. Small but perfect. There is a dish of the day, a ragout, which is a bit heavy for 11am. I choose the saucisson de canard aux trompettes de la mort — duck and black trumpet mushroom sausage, poached organic eggs and agria potatoes ($19). In characteristically understated French style, the menu doesn't explain that this is, in fact, a gratin so beautifully crafted it's a divine foil to the rich sausage and perfectly cooked egg. Linda has the rillettes de dorade et kahawai fumé — snapper and smoked kahawai terrine, with lemon, fine herbs and crayfish mayonnaise ($18). Linda would like a rosé. "Madam, there is no rosé, there is no pinot gris, but may I recommend a riesling, which will go perfectly with what you are having." Sold. I have a guava juice. We order two coffees — a soy flat white and a regular latte. The coffee is a bit weak. I needed some heavy artillery this morning and it was like a milky drink for a toddler. Everything else was truly make-you-melt magnifique. Chef Gilles Papst is a master in presenting a brunch that is at once elegant and satisfying. I don't even feel the need to order a millefeuille — which is just as well, because they'd sold out.
Service & other stuff: There's a bustle and liveliness, it's like being buffered by the bubbles in a fine Champagne. There are people buying wine, trying wine, and sitting down to le dejeuner. I don't usually love sharing tables, but it feels totally fine here. The wait staff are busy but also relaxed and welcoming. Unless you happen to be like the elderly couple, regulars, who would settle in downstairs, order a baguette and pull out their jar of Marmite to spread over the bread. Same routine, every week. Until one day the largesse at L'Atelier expired. If you try that, bien, allez!