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Food & Drinks

Joël Robuchon shuts down two restaurants in Singapore, but city’s fine dining ‘not in danger’

An ex-Robuchon chef suggests the Singapore closures may be due to the restaurants’ location in Resorts World Sentosa and the cost of importing high quality produce. Robuchon’s outlets in other countries remain unaffected

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2018, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2018, 4:44pm

There was shock in Singapore foodie circles on Thursday morning with the news that celebrity Michelin chef Joël Robuchon is closing both Joël Robuchon Restaurant and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at the end of this month in the Lion City.

Robuchon operates six restaurants and food outlets in Hong Kong, including L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, cafes and take away bakeries as well as Robuchon au Dome in Macau’s Grand Lisboa hotel.

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He was named the Chef of the Century in 1989 and has been awarded 31 Michelin stars for his restaurants around the world, more than any other chef. In 1995 he retired from cooking at 50, but he didn’t stay out of the kitchens for long.

For Lorenz Hoja, who was executive chef of L’Atelier Robuchon Singapore and supervised the opening of both restaurants in 2011, hearing about the closures was sad news.  

“I helped build the place up – I was there before anything was there,” the German-born chef says, referring to the area where the two restaurants are located along with a group of other fine dining restaurants at Resorts World Sentosa.

“In 2016 [when Michelin published its first Singapore guide] we got two Michelin stars for L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and three stars for Joël Robuchon Restaurant, and the same the following year. All the staff I hired and trained are still there.”

With the closing of Joël Robuchon Restaurant, there are now no three-Michelin-star establishments in Singapore. 

Hoja moved to Hong Kong at the end of last year to become executive chef at Seasons Restaurant in Causeway Bay.

He says running a top fine dining restaurant these days is no easy feat. “In general cost is the problem. The rent is higher, staff want wage increases, ingredients are expensive because they are being imported. Not all restaurants are willing to pay more money for better products. If you don’t have the financial power to back you up, it’s a difficult task, it’s not fun.”

Another challenge for the two restaurants was the location, according to Hoja. “All our guests said they specifically came to us to eat,” he says, explaining it is a 30-minute drive from the central business district to Resorts World Sentosa, which is mainly a casino resort located off the southern coast of Singapore.

“The people who go there to gamble aren’t there for fine dining,” he says. There is a similar situation in Macau, which has a number of top Michelin-starred restaurants, but the dining clientele are not the gambling type.  

Despite the two Robuchon restaurants shutting down in weeks, as well as the closure of Restaurant Andre in mid-February when chef Andre Chiang decided to focus more on Taiwan, Hoja is still confident fine dining in Singapore isn’t over.

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“This isn’t the end of fine dining, although products are expensive. We should be asking what is fine dining,” he says, suggesting that people’s perceptions of fine dining will change.