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Restaurant Review – Borrl

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By Carol Moore

Whilst living in The Netherlands for the past 10 years, I have had a reasonable stab at trying to learn Dutch. Not always very successfully, but, none the less, in a fashion that made life here much more enjoyable and interesting! I have lived in Amsterdam the entire time but am still not completely au fait with the East part, so when I chanced upon a new place there I decided to try it straightaway.

I was rather intrigued by the name of this restaurant –    , and set out to see if it really was a true representation of the “gezellig” atmosphere which one would expect to find whilst having a drink socially. It was a cold, dark and dreary Winter’s Wednesday evening and I was meeting up with my friend for our first catch up of the New Year. Upon entering we were greeted warmly by the owner who quickly showed us to a nice table (which we were free to choose) and given a detailed run through of how the evening menu works. There is a small but not insufficient and varied menu which suits equally the meat/fish/veggie diner and, in-keeping with the name of the place, the emphasis is on sharing dishes together to keep up with the non-pretentious, relaxed ambiance. We plumped for the Borrl kitchen platter which was a lovely combination of serrano ham, chorizo, aioli, tuna mayo dip, mackerel and beetroot puree. Alongside this we ordered some good old fashioned Dutch bread, all served on a lovely simple wooden platter. In the meantime we had also received the explanation that the wines which were on offer were specifically priced lower than some of other local establishments, so that the recipient could drink good quality wine but without the rip off, overpriced amount that so many places in Amsterdam charge these days. We opted for the Kiwi Cuvee which originated not from New Zealand as I had thought, but good old France! It was crisp and juicy and again, at a more wallet-favourable price, plus very tasty on the palette. Read more

Nick’s Nosh – Moon

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Moon ***

Overhoeksplein 3
1031 KS Amsterdam
www.restaurantmoon.nl

Tel: +31(0)20.237.6311

Online reservations possible

I was in Turkey some years ago, in Ankara to be precise, meeting with a distributor out there who was beginning to become very successful selling the product from the company I was working for at the time.  I happened to mention that they have a revolving restaurant in Ankara and I have a thing about them.  I have been to around 13 of the about 360 (yes there really are 360 revolving restaurants) and was sort of ticking them off whenever I went somewhere which had one.  I told the distributor that we should just go there for a drink as the food is most likely to be rubbish.  Unbeknown to me, they booked for dinner and, as we sat down, they explained to the waiter that I had had some bad experiences and that he should suggest the best thing they do, as I thought revolving restaurants were pretty bad.  After the dinner the waiter asked my Turkish colleagues what I thought.  Not knowing what they had said, I thought I would be clever and say that it was as good as all other revolving restaurants I had been too.  He understood enough English to realise what I had said and his face went red with anger!

I should also explain that I have been having a run of bad Michelin star experiences recently, which I normally do for my birthday.  Moon, the new revolving restaurant on top of ADAM toren, was my choice for this year’s birthday meal.  Normally for the Michelin Star stuff it’s just myself and my girlfriend as I don’t want my friends to bear that sort of cost.  This time I was able to invite some of my closest friends as I was expecting it to be somewhat less.

So 6 of us arrived in the freezing cold to the tower and we headed up to the top deck where I was treated to the swing thing for my birthday.  On the way up the operator happened to mention it was a bit broken at the moment!!  I survived with a slightly raised heart rate.

On to dinner.

We sat down and were asked if we wanted an aperitif before we started.  The guys went for the bottle of prosecco and I ordered my standard rusty nail.  The waiter told us there was no barman and they had no idea how to make one! No barman on a Friday night?

After about 10 minutes we got some menus and after another 10 minutes they came to take our order.  I should explain the menu a bit.  You can have a choice of 5 or 7 courses.  If you don’t like something on the 5 courses you can change for something on the 7 courses but you pay a 5 euro penalty for each change.  You can add matched wine as well to the combination, which takes the whole meal over the 100 euro mark per person.  We are in Michelin price territory here.

Most took the standard 5 courses but I decided to change the 2 middle courses for another 10 euros. These are the 7 courses, so you can see what everyone had:

Raw Wagyu – Leek, sambal, herring roe

Coquille – truffle, miso

Dashi – eel, radish, chorizo

Babi pangang – pork belly, gamba, atjar, passion fruit

Lobster – Kaffir lime, egg, hollandaise

Canard aux pruneaux – plum, chicory, beet

The Moon – chocolate, yuzu, mango, orange velvet cake

Cheese Plate

Apart from the Cheese plate these descriptions are exactly how they appeared on the menu.

Once we had ordered they brought out a tasty selection of things – black twig-like parmesan crisps coated with poppy seeds, cassava chips, smoked almonds and a marinated tomato with a red pepper puree on top.

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All nice little tasty things, very salty, but tasty.

We had been sat down for well over 40 minutes by this point and my friends had run out of wine quite a while ago so we were a bit thirsty with all the salt.

Luckily the next thing to arrive was a pearl in an oyster shell.  I say luckily as the pearl contained a margarita cocktail.  I think the container was made from tempered white chocolate and was wafer thin.  The cocktail inside was a nice explosion of flavour with all the characteristics of a margarita.

We were approaching one hour sat down and the wine and first course was served.  Everyone took the wagyu beef tartar.  There was no indication it was going to be a tartar from the menu description.  OK it’s a beef tartar with a shrug of the shoulders.  To be honest they could have made it with regular fillet steak as the wagyu, I don’t think, added anything.  It was ok, not the best tartar I’ve had, but did not really live up to the billing given.

Wine served with it was a German Riesling.

At this point we started to notice how noisy the place is.  I was sat at the window and had about 1.5 metres worth of table between me and the waiter.  I could barely hear the explanations of the food and wine,  so, if I have made some mistakes, it’s because actually I did not know what I was getting.

The Riesling was a nice example, not completely overpowering petroleum nose which can happen with this type of wine.  It was subtle wine which worked fine with this course.

The next course I diverged with the majority who took the scallop.  I took the Dashi dish.  I have had a number of dashi broths and sauces which I think, when it is done well, is spectacular.  The dish presented was, I guess, a square slice of daikon about 3 mm thick on the bottom of the plate, with slices of smoked eel on top and a chorizo crumb.  The Dashi was a vinaigrette which was spooned over it.  The waiter gave me 3 measly spoonful’s and I told him “it is my birthday can you leave the bowl?”  Apparently that was the total amount they had for the evening.  This was a spectacular dish.  The vinaigrette was a taste explosion and complimented the smoked eel very well and the smoky paprika chorizo crumb.

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Both courses were served with a white Cote du Rhone, a wine I was not very familiar with.  It was bland and did not match my dish at all.  It was completely overwhelmed by the intense flavours.  I luckily had about ¼ glass of the Riesling left which had enough character to stand up to my dish.  I asked was it normal to serve the same wine with both.  I sort of got the feeling that possibly I should have had something different but they could not be bothered for one awkward diner like me.

The next course many people chose to swap to the lobster.  I wish that they had mentioned on the menu that it was served with a bisque.  I have a hate, love relationship with bisque.  In general hate it but once in a while I get a good one.  I think for the delicate lobster meat you just cannot serve something so strong.  I winced with every bite of this and attempted to scrape off the bisque to concentrate on the lobster.

At least the wine choice was excellent, if there was no bisque that is.  A Saint Veran white burgundy which was subtle and with a little vanilla from the oak.

Next there was duck.  It was 4 slices of duck breast cooked pink, with plum tart tatin, a couple of chicory leaves and sauce.  The duck, in combination with the tart, that fruit/duck combination that classically works quite well, worked quite well.  The chicory I mostly left and the sauce was a decent accompaniment.

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This was served with a Corbières which was decent and was a fairly good match for the food.

On to the cheese/sweets.  Only one of our party chose the moon dessert.  The rest of us had the cheese platter.  The cheeses were ok, but not spectacular, and, as I could not hear what was said, I cannot tell you what they were.  One was goat, the best one was a sheep cheese, there was a strong Dutch one and blue one from somewhere.

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We were offered a LBV port to go with it.

The Moon dessert looked pretty good.

A little bit more on the décor.  The tables and chairs are made from a laminated wood.  Apart from the one 12 seater table, all other tables have a maximum occupancy of 6 people and radially span out from the centre.  They all sit on a platform which the rotating mechanism sits on.  These are bench seats so having a lot of surface area to bounce the sound off.  The ceiling has some attempt at controlling the sound with some wooden blocks there which I assume are to diffuse the sound somewhat.  There is some piped in music, which, for the life of me, I have no clue what it was because of the din.  It’s a problem.

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The furniture is way too basic to be paying this sort of money.  It needs to be a classier.  Service, as you may have guessed from some of my comments, was slow.  No barman on a Friday night, come on what is that all about?  The food was ok with one spectacular dish for me.  In the end, with a drink for the road, the bill was 280 euros per couple which is smack bang in Michelin territory.  It’s not good enough.

I think I would like to try the slightly less expensive non-revolving M’adam restaurant for comparison, but I certainly don’t need to go back here, unless someone else is paying.  Unfortunately they have managed to maintain my opinion on revolving restaurants of average food and extortionate prices.

Nick’s Nosh – Oceania

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Oceania ****

Daily open:

12.00 – 22.00

Scheldestraat 77, 1078 GH AMSTERDAM

T: +31 (0) 20 – 6738907

F: +31 (0) 20 – 6796548

E: info@restaurantoceania.nl

I have always been suspicious of the restaurants around RAI.  To me, they all look like they are catering for the exhibitions.  The prices are a bit too high and the few restaurants I have been to I don’t really rate that highly.  I had persuaded my girlfriend to take me bowling for my birthday and so we were looking for a quick bite beforehand.  I had remembered there was a Chinese and a Pakistani restaurant on Scheldestraat.  It seems that the Pakistani restaurant is now a brand new Indian Nawaab which I am looking forward to reviewing soon.  In the end we chose Oceania without really knowing anything about it.

It is a very upmarket Chinese restaurant which specialises in seafood, which you realise as soon as you open the menu. There are around 5 pages of main courses involving fish and 3-4 pages of starters, a lot of which have fishy elements.

It was clear I was not going to be able to do my regular Chinese order of lots of starter-y things and one main course between 2.  It was clear that fish was the star of the show here and it was my birthday and so I was going to go for it.

The starters we ordered were a prawn satay for my girlfriend and I ordered the crabmeat and sweetcorn soup.  One thing I never even thought about doing was to even look at the prices for these things.  This I would regret at the end.  I did spot, as the menus were being taken away, that the sesame prawn toast was €16.50.  I thought that was expensive, but never really questioned it further.

The wine menu is extremely extensive and I decided to go with my favourite wine to have with fish; a Pouilly Fumé.

We ordered a steamed medium-sized Turbot for mains, with some steamed rice and Pak Choi with garlic and chili.

The prawn satay which came out was not your traditional Indonesian peanut sauce affair, but they were using the term merely for something on a stick.  The sauce was a rich soy based sauce bordering on barbeque.

The delicate little bowl of crabmeat and sweetcorn which was laid before me was great.  I could tell it was fresh crabmeat rather than the crabsticks which most places use.  It had that typical MSG thickness and was nicely sweet. I added a couple of drops of chili oil to pep things up a bit.

OK nice. It was going well.

The restaurant is lusciously decorated with wood, Chinese watercolours and a golden log in a fish tank with some writing on it!  The tables have proper table cloths and the cutlery was screaming that this was a classy establishment.  Add in the smartly attired waiting staff, even the girls had a tie, it was classy. The music was appropriate for the venue and unobtrusive.

oceania-2

The turbot dish came out with great flourish and was displayed for around 10 seconds before being whisked away under the hot station to be prepared.  In blink of an eye a small taster of the fish arrived on a plate with our rice and vegetables. The undressed fish came back to the table after a couple of minutes and we began to spoon pieces of delicate flesh on to our plates with some of the accompanying steaming liquor. The fish did not have a chance as it was hoovered down in a matter of minutes and even the fish cheeks were eaten for good measure.  The Pak Choi was steamed nicely and the simplicity of the delicate white fish, steamed rice and vegetables brought joy to my heart.  The fish was beautifully cooked and the liquor was extremely tasty.  All washed down with some Pouilly Fumé.

It was time to go and we asked for the bill.  It came and I noted that the prawn satay was a bit pricey at about €16.  I thought ok.  The soup however was best part of € 23 for less than an average cup full.  I asked if this was correct.  The waitress had to take the bill away and ask as she obviously thought it was a mistake.  “No sir, the soup is made with Alaskan, Spider Crab!” 23 euros it is then.  Caveat Emptor.

Without the ridiculous pricing of the starters this place could have achieved my first ever 5 star rating in this column.  It does not exactly for that reason.

I will go back again but I think I have a cunning plan, as Baldrick would say.  Take say a cheaper fish like snapper or seabass, a small one and have it grilled or fried and as a starter.  Then take the medium sized turbot or halibut steamed as your main.  You will pay about the same price as we did for our meal this way.

Nick’s Nosh – Ron Gastrobar Oriental

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Ron’s Gastrobar Oriental  ***

Open 7 days per week 17:30 to 23:00

Kerkstraat 23
1017 GA
Amsterdam
Tel: (+31) 20 22 35 352

e-mail: info@rongastrobaroriental.nl

Online reservations

This is my first venture into Ron Blaauw’s empire, apart from a rather disappointing visit to Bridges in the Sofitel Grand, which claims it is inspired by said chef.

I fancied some oriental food which was a bit better than your average Zeedijk stuff so, booking a week in advance, we headed over to see what the fuss was all about.  Some of you may have tried Julius Jaspers attempt at a Asian fusion restaurant – Happy Happy, Joy Joy which can only be described as Sad Sad, Dreary Dreary.  The Dutch take on most Asian food is to remove all the things that make it fun to eat.  If you have tried a few Indonesians in Amsterdam you will know that they are mostly bland and have no spice at all.  I was hoping Ron would do better.

The evening happened to coincide with one of the weekend nights for ADE and so the place was packed full of disco diva’s and scruffy looking DJ wannabes.  There was one pair of girls dressed to the nines opposite us who started taking hundreds of selfies as we were halfway through the meal, with full on poses and pouting, probably for Snapgram or Instachat or the like.  I’m not sure whether this would be the regular crowd so I will not judge the clientele too much, based on this one experience.

The menu is one of these grazing/tapas-style jobs were you end up ordering too much and spending more that you wanted to.  They have a dim sum selection followed by small plates of other things which we were recommended to take 3 of to cover 2 of us.  There are some specials to share (for 2 or more people) with fairly hefty price tags as well.

We decided to take a mixed selection of Dim Sum to start and below are the 3 dishes we chose for mains:

  • DIEM SUUN DAI HA

Crispy sweet and sour prawns

  • LING MUNG KAI

Wok fried lemon chicken with black pepper and leek

  • CHAR SIU

Smothered pork meat with Char Siu sauce and coriander

We asked for the Dim Sum selection to be mostly the classical Sui Mai type thing rather than the western inspired stuff with Foie gras and whatnot.  You can never be sure whether a restaurant like this makes its own.  The ones we had were excellent quality and sauces to go with them were good whatever their origin.

The three dishes which followed looked very promising, all sticky with thick brown sauce all over the top.  I was really looking forward to the Char Siu as I had not been able to find a really good example of this in Amsterdam.  The first few bites of each dish were great.  I was thinking we have a 4 star review on our hands here.  It was only after 2 or 3 bites of each dish that I began to notice a problem.  Unfortunately all 3 dishes we had ordered had the same sort of caramel based, thick, sweet, sticky sauce to accompany.  After a while it was prawn with sticky, sweet, brown sauce, chicken with sticky, sweet, brown sauce and pork with sticky, sweet, brown sauce.  I am not saying it was bad, just the lack of something different made it really boring.

I think if the restaurant were confident enough and staff well trained enough then they could/should have realised what we had ordered and possibly suggested something away from this very similar background flavour.

We ordered some steamed rice as a side dish.  For drinks we went for a robust Barbera d’Alba which was enough to deal with the sticky, sweet, brown sauce and started with a glass of Cava which was nice enough.

Inside, the décor is lots of dark wood, dark green bench seats, with screens made with a gold square motif in the middle. The bar area has a brown marble top and at the back is a large oriental print of an Asian Girl.  White-painted, exposed bricks, those thin slate-like tiles and spot lamps make up the rest of the décor. It was dimly lit when we were there but nice enough to give it that feel of chic lounge like Tao in Las Vegas.  The music was a bit clubby but that could have been pandering to the crowd.  If it was not ADE I would not have been bothered by it either.

The review in Het Parool gave it a 9/10.  It does things well and service was slightly above average for Amsterdam but it just did not have the edge to give it more than 3 out of 5 for me. It’s maybe better than a 3 but it’s not a 4 and since I am a harsh marker, a 3 is where it will remain.  I will go back and try some of the other dishes in case I have got it wrong, but if you want posh Asian food, maybe try my other review in this month’s Zine, Oceania, first.

Restaurant Review – Meneer de wit Heeft Honger

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 Meneer de wit Heeft Honger ****

Witte de Withstraat 10, 1057 XV Amsterdam Tel: +31 20 737 3184

http://meneerdewitheefthonger.nl/

Online reservation possible

I live in the West of Amsterdam on the border of De Baarsjes and Bos & Lommer. Although Bos & Lommer has some wonderful ethnic cuisine, in general we head into the Baarsjes for our local restaurant fix. There is normally a new place opening in our area every month and so we do not suffer from a lack of choice. We recently visited Huis van Lopez which was aiming for a Mexican style. However everything just tasted of lime juice and pretty much nothing else. This review is about a restaurant I do like.

It is now extremely rare that a restaurant makes it to my go-to list which currently consists of 42 places. This one does.

This is a very unassuming restaurant just off Kinkerstraat on the line of the 17 and 7 tram. I had walked past it before and I thought it smelled great. The owner/chef is a Moroccan guy and the menu is Arabic/Mediterranean inspired. It is a simple place with white walls, basic wooden furniture open kitchen and room for about 50 covers.

I had looked on2016-07-21-20-05-42line at the menu beforehand so I was pretty sure what I wanted. Unfortunately the grilled sardines where finished when we arrived and so we chose 3 starters and oven baked dorade to share. The starters we chose were Arabic staples – hummus, baked spicy aubergine and a maybe not so Arabic staple, mixed beet platter. The first 2 were my choice and I thought they sang with flavour. Beets I don’t particularly care for, but they were nice enough. These were served with some slices of regular baguette-style bread. I could have just stopped there as it was filling enough and very tasty.

 

 

The dorade came out on a silver platter with wedges of lemon and covered in spices. The top of it was crispy roasted skin and underneath was slightly stewed. It was cooked to perfection. We shared a bit of the top and bottom with a generous squeeze of lemon juice. We had nothing to accompany it, but if you would like something, then a simple green salad would be all you would need.

The service was effective and unobtrusive. Simple. We had a bottle of white wine, no idea what it was, but it was good enough. The bill was well under 100 euros for 2 people.

It is simple, tasty, good value. You don’t need to know much more than this. Just go – you will be happy you have been there.

Restaurant Review – Bak

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Bak **

Van Diemenstraat 408, 1013 CR Amsterdam

Tel: 020 737 2553

http://www.bakrestaurant.nl/nl

Online reservation possible

This restaurant had gained almost mythical status in my head as a bastion of really good food, not due to the fact that I had been there, but because people with opinions I respect had been there and told me that it was not just good… it was really good.  Apart from very few exceptions in Amsterdam, these unicorns do not exist, or maybe they do but then a poacher comes along and murders it for its horn.  I had a recent experience at Dragon-I, formerly my favourite Pan-Asian restaurant, which left me with the feeling it had been mortally wounded.  I need to go back for another QC visit soon but I am not hopeful.

There had been murmurings that all was not right in the BAK camp a few months ago, but I had been trying to get into this place, admittedly on the spur of the moment most times, for about 1 year.  I thought it was time to actually book this place in advance.  My sister was in town for a visit and I had given her the choice of around 8 new restaurants which I wanted to try.  BAK was the choice.

It is located in the old warehouses along Van Diemenstraat on the third floor.  If you manage to get one of the very few window seats, then you have an excellent view looking out past Silodam over to NSDM werf and beyond up the IJ.  However we were not so lucky and probably you would have to request one of those tables or be someone with a bit of clout to get one.  The inside has a simple, elegant, industrial feel about it.  It is light and airy with the high ceilings and white walls.  We were happy it looked very promising.

One odd thing however, which did get my hackles up before we started, is that we had a very bizarre experience with the confirmation of the booking.  You may have encountered this practice with other posh restaurants, which have a habit of calling you on the day, just to make sure that you are really coming.  They often have a clause that if they cannot reach you after X attempts or Y hours, they reserve the right to give your table away.  At around 13:30 I had a call from them (I had BAK’s number in my phone from previous failed attempts) and I said hello for about 30 secs but no-one responded.  A minute later, the same thing.  Knowing the policy and since I could not hear anything, I dropped them an email about 10 minutes later to confirm I was coming and that they might have an issue with their phone.  The response I got was that they had heard me.  Why not send me an email then?  This made me suspicious that they were trying to free up some capacity, maybe for a regular guest.  This is conjecture of course, but if you did not have their number in your phone and lost your table, then that would be unfortunate.  I use this as a cautionary tale for you all out there.

As we sat and looked at the menu – which consisted of about 25 ingredients – no cooking technique listed or sauces mentioned, we wondered what we were in for.  You have the choice of 6 courses as standard or add in 2 additional courses.  The additions were:

Langoustine

Cassoulet, bone marrow

Messeklever

Mediar, watercress

In the end we added the Langoustine only, but did select the matching wine choices, while also selecting a glass of Champagne as an aperitif.

The meal got off to a bang with the 2 amuses. The first was a tapioca crisp made with squid ink and seaweed mayo.  This wa2016-08-12-19-35-19s very flavoursome with just the right balance of salty and fishiness.  The second amuse was a yellow beetroot wedge served on a berry compote and with citrus foam.  Personally I am not that fond of beetroot but was prepared to go for it, but I thought the citrus really clashed with the earthy beet.  I guess this signalled what was about to happen.

Our Menu started in earnest with the matched wines.  So first of all the wine was delivered.  They pride themselves on mostly local and organic produce, which means the wines are organic.  I like a good organic wine.  We got a La Sorga from Languedoc in France.  The sommelier pointed out that this was made by oxidative technique.  What this meant was that the glass we were presented with looked cloudy, the colour of scrumpy and had many of those characteristics on the nose.  My guests thought it was wrong in more ways than one.  This was not a wine to be had without food.

So the food.  What was delivered was as pretty as a picture.  Hopefully our Editor includes my amateur shot of it, as it was beautiful.  Just a shame we had to enjoy it with what I can only describe as a funky wine.  The plate consisted of courgette 3 ways, raw, pickled and blanched ribbons.  Edible flowers , citrus mayo and a lemon verbena sauce completed the dish.  It was fresh and tasty, apart from when you tried to match with the wine which, I’m sorry, just did not work except maybe a little with the pickle.  I did however get a bit bored with this dish after about 4 – 5 forkfuls of it.  The lemon verbena sauce needed some more prominence.  It was only ok in the end.

The next course was described as:

Eggplant

Miso, Bottarga2016-08-12-20-21-36

This consisted of 2 wafer thin roasted crisps of aubergine, creating a sandwich of which the filling consisted of an aubergine ragout with miso.  The sauce was a cream sauce with bottarga, which is a cured fish roe.  OK.  I like a challenge to my palette.  The previous wine I just about accepted.  My guests did not.  This was an extremely challenging dish.  If you go out on Friday night for a nice feed I am not really expecting to be confronted with PhD level flavour combination viva.  There is no doubt that this had flavour, but the word funky comes to mind again.  The fishy burnt aubergine combination was funky.  It was served with a Beaujolais wine which was all red fruits and perfume.  Not really a nice combination with the burnt, miso, fishy thing we were confronted with.

So now you may imagine we are starting to get a bit twitchy about everything as there has been a series of very odd things.  Maybe one sign of the confusion which was on the plate was the cutlery.  Every knife, fork and spoon which was delivered was different.  Most were quite functional until I was delivered a really small thin fork with tines very close together which could not spear anything.  Our attention was also drawn to the music which was mostly in the background then one song in 5, something like Rocket man, would blare out and distract.  The third point was the chairs.  I was sort of ok in mine but my guests were really starting to complain.  They are not the most comfortable at all.

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Vegetables and Herbs

Was the title of the next course an2016-08-12-20-41-13d it lived up to its name.  It was quite pretty with a range of vegetables treated in various different ways and arranged like art on the plate.  It looked very healthy and we all looked forward to eating it.  We were warned to use the almost glowing, translucent gel on the side of the plate sparingly with all the components.  It turned out to be a lemon sauce. There were some nice things on the plate.  Local tomatoes which actually tasted of something.  A pumpkin puree which was flavoursome, a carrot cooked with garlic truffle and assorted herbs.  Nice things.  Nothing worked together.  It was a collection of vegetables cooked in different ways which did not really go together.  I love peas.  Correction. I love cooked peas.

 

The bullets which I tried to spear using my useless narrow tined fork were impossible.  The glowing nuclear lemon sauce coated the tongue which left you unable to taste anything for about 3-4 minutes.  The wine chosen to battle with our palette was a Zanotto Prosecco – yes  this lightly perfumed Prosecco was pointless and could not compete with the sauce.  I would also class the lemon sauce as funky.

The next course was the extra one of the Langoustine.  Funky!!  Beans (the cassoulet) undercooked for me, very savoury, bacon flavoured sauce from the marrowbone and a delicate langoustine and some well cooked broad beans.  The langoustine was lost in the melée of beans and marrowbone.  After the langoustine was gone, the beans were boring.  This was matched with a strange red, Pinot Grigio I think, which arrived about 2 minutes after the course arrived.

By this point we had realised that the dessert was semolina, which was not a favourite of any of us, so we asked to switch.  The only option was the cheese – Messeklaver.  We accepted.2016-08-12-21-31-36

Main was wild boar, with a some pieces of beetroot, a red wine reduction and a hollandaise sauce with elderflower.  This was well cooked. My guests really liked this.  The piece of meat I had, had sinew running through the middle, which spoiled my enjoyment.  The wine served was a Spanish Ribero del Duero, which is a very powerful Rioja-style oaked wine.  A ex-colleague of  mine once told me that game meats like this are often paired with big heavy, tannic wines and it just does not work.  I am in total agreement with this point of view.  Actually things like this and venison deserve a more subtle wine, Pinot Noir or even Beaujolais.  This was a good course for all except for me.  Another miss.

 

Next came the funky tomato pre-dessert.  If you are going to serve a pre-dessert which is savoury it needs to be nice.  I have a few examples of this over the years. One example, which I would rather forget, was a goats’ cheese mousse, which was shocking.  This was not in that league, but we ended up eating it with scrunched up faces as we did not really know how to process this dish in our brains.

Finally the cheese. A generous chunk of cow cheese with something like a melba toast.  It was half decent cheese with very average toast.

Bill Please.

This cost all in all 324 euros for 3 people.  I did not feel we had 324 euros-worth of food.  The service was exceptional by Amsterdam standards.  We had arrived at 7:30 and we were paying the bill by 10:30.  I was not really expecting to endure such a test of my taste buds, I really just wanted to enjoy a nice dinner.  All the food and wine combinations were funky.  In my opinion, get back to basics.  The ingredients are there. They know how to cook and present food, just stop with all the experimental stuff, you are not good enough.  If my sister was doing this review they would have got 1 star.  I thought the service was so outstanding that it deserves a point and they get 1 for the food.  Never meet your heroes, you will be disappointed.

Nick Nugent

nicksnosh@hotmail.com

Nick’s Nosh | June 2016

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By Nick Nugent

The Duchess ***

Spuistraat 172, 1012 VT, Amsterdam

Website: http://the-duchess.com

Tel: +31 20 811 3322

Email: info@The-Duchess.com

Open daily from 11:00am

 

I guess this might be one you have all been waiting for?  The Duchess in some respects is the more spectacular sister restaurant of Mr Porter in W hotel. Again another one from the stable of the Entourage Group.  I have had this on my radar for about 4 months and with the visit of my sister I had the perfect excuse to arrange to go to this one.

A bit about the building as this is what really makes it for me.  It is the old KAS bank building on Spui.  The outside of the building is quite ok compared to the ugly telephone exchange building which the W hotel resides.  Is it the interior however which is the most spectacular.  If anyone of you had chance to visit the old KAS bank then you will see that they have retained much of the character of the old building.  This includes the high vaulted ceiling with the skylight, the old wooden clock, the marble tellers desks and the old vault door which is right behind the kitchen.  It is really pleasant place to be.

Screenshot 2016-06-19 10.37.21OK it looks good, but can the food live up to the supermodel good looks.  The short answer is no.  As with their sister restaurant Mr Porter they have gone for the sharing scheme.  In this case it worked better than Mr Porter as the menu is much more varied for mains.  The company I was with was more willing to try new things so that helped.  The waiter recommended for our group of 4 choosing up to 6 starters and we chose these five in the end:

Starters

Foie Gras Doughnut

If you don’t have any issues with the ethics of Foie Gras, then this was quite amazing.  It was basically a choux bun filled with what seemed like liquidised Foie Gras.  Booooom! Flavour explosion.

Scallops (x2)

I did not taste this but was assured it was very good.

Quinoa salad

This was tasty and fresh.  Good to have something this refreshing to go with the richer starters.

Sea bass carpaccio

Thinly sliced fish with a dressing.  Very nicely sliced dressing was good what more can you say?

Thinly sliced Octopus in Lemon Oil

I have never been a fan of octopus.  I just don’t think it’s easy to cook well and consequently most chefs get it wrong.  This seems to have been cooked for a decent amount of time and so the wafer thin slices tasted very octopus-y but could be got through in a couple of bites.  Other members of the group thought it was pretty good.

Crispy Whitebait with Aioli

This classic was done pretty well and most of our table enjoyed the first few handfuls.  After a while the batter became a bit chewy understandably.

One general comment was that everything we got was quite salty.  Not enough to complain about but on the edge.

I wanted to mention a few things about our fellow diners.  I went for an early sitting (18:45) since it was seemingly so full all the time, but my booking coincided with the hottest day of the year and no one wanted to be inside.  There was a couple at the bar and couple of gents in the lounge area when we arrived.  It was empty.  I think it could probably cope with around 120 covers seated with another 20-40 people around the bar and maybe up to 50 in the lounge.  After about 1 hour which was just as our starters were finishing the place started to fill up.  To my right were two couples in their late 50s very smartly dressed with the guys wearing the typical Dutch preppy style, but this time Miami Viced to the nines.  You know the linen jackets and loafers with no socks sort of thing.  Their partners were more conservatively dressed apart from the obvious display of bling.  We also around this time had an eastern European couple plonked next to us.  I cannot really tell you how the guy was dressed as his girlfriend, sat opposite me was dressed in typical high class hooker dress with boobs akimbo.  It was extremely distracting and even the 3 ladies I was dining with found it off putting.  There were quite a few flashes of nipple let me tell you.

Our surly eastern European couple next to us got offered a special mains of red snapper which we did not get offered.  The next time our waiter came passed I complained we did not get offered that and we might actually have quite liked in place of the salt baked Sea Bass.  The salt baked Sea bass was already underway and we would have chosen to stick rather than twist anyway, but .  I get slightly ahead of myself.

2016-05-07-20.23.04-copyMains we choose the following:

Salt Baked Sea Bass

There was an excellent performance with this, as the platter showing the salt crust was brought out with who knows what was underneath?  Then rather than as most restaurants do pull up a table, break the crust and serve it.  It was whipped away and the fillets turned up about 5 mins later with some lemon wedges and the cauliflower side.  Considering everything had been pretty salty up to this point it was a bit of surprise the salt baked fish actually needed some seasoning. .

Duchess-3Whole Roasted Spring Chicken

I know spring chicken is not big, this was really tiny however.  The bird has been served in 4 seemingly equal pieces.  If you got a bit of breast then you where ok, but the thigh pieces were really difficult to remove anything meaningful to eat.  It was not as tender as I would expect spring Chicken either.  This was served with the roasted potatoes.

Crispy Gnocchi with hot cherry tomatoes

This was probably the best dish of the mains in terms of flavour.  The gnocchi were slightly toasted on the outside and nicely soft on the inside and the tomato sauce was well balanced in terms of sweetness and acidity.  Served with the mushrooms.

Sides

Whole roasted Cauliflower with black olives

Love roast cauliflower, but hate the really strong olive flavour which was imparted by the olives.  Other guests who don’t have this aversion enjoyed it much more than I.

Roasted potatoes with Garlic and Sage

Terrible.  When will chef’s learn that waxy potatoes are awful for roasting? They were soggy, insipid and unpleasant to eat.

10 types of Mushroom

Relatively well-cooked mushrooms, what more can I say?

Again everything was borderline too salty front for me.

Dessert

The chocolate explosion turned up as this ¾ sphere of ultra-thin chocolate about the size of a kids football open at the top.  The waiter proceeded to pour liquid nitrogen into it.  Then with black gloves on he picked it up and smashed it on the plate.  I was a little shocked.  I have video which I am not sure will be published alongside but you will get the whole picture from that.

 

 

The “explosion” was unfortunately the best bit.  There were nice bits and pieces but on the whole if you had given me a chocolate fondant I would have been happier.  I shared this with one of my guests and My sister has the Cheesecake sandwich they reported was very good.

OK bill please!

It was just as we were about to pay our waiter informed us that he had given us the desserts for free because of not offering the special. It was pretty lost on us by this point.

It is an impressive building and if like us you get some impressive looking people sitting around you then it can be quite entertaining.  The starters are pretty good and maybe we should have just had all of them instead of the disappointing mains.  I think unless I have a friend who really wants to go I certainly don’t need to go back.

Nick’s Nosh #2 | April 2016

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By Nick Nugent

 

En Pluche ***

Ruysdaelstraat 50, 1071 XE Amsterdam

Website: www.enpluche.nl

Tel: +3120-4714695
Email: info@enpluche.nl

 

portfolio-detail-enpluchewandI had one of my best friends over on Saturday, and we ate dinner at En Pluche. Just like Daalder, which I have also reviewed this month, the decor is Art Deco. The effect is exactly like the waiting room in a 1920s movie theatre. At first, the red velvet chairs looked uncomfortable, but after sitting on them for a while they turned out to be very comfy indeed.  The red theme is broken up by the fancy Art Deco lighting and black and white photos. Because we were dressed quite smartly, they put us very near the door. The more scruffy clientele got whipped to the back quite quickly.  A very Oud Zuid couple occupied the other seat opposite the door. They appeared to be on a date. I hope you know where I’m going with this?  It’s one of the places to be seen!

I have to admit I was worried this was going to be another Momo type place. That is,  all mouth and no trousers in the food department.  I have to say that that this view was misconceived as you will read.

The concept is you can pick from a three-course meat or fish menu, or the four course Chef Koen’s choice —which is a bit of a mixture.  We both went for Koen’s choice.

The starter was a ceviche of Corvina with puffed quinoa for crunch, very thinly sliced kumquat, raw radish and corn freshly stripped from the cob and an exquisite lime dressing. We chose to pair wines with this, and the sommelier’s choice was Pinot Grigio. I overruled with a Pouilly Fume, which matched perfectly.

The second course was pork belly with prawn.  You may be thinking that this is odd, but this is a classic inEn-Pluche-1 things like Chinese cooking, so I was quite prepared.  I asked what the wine pairing would be with this.  We were offered a Barbera d’Alba from Italy, which I felt was too much.  At this point, the waiter gave in and called the sommelier over.  A very nice chap called Kaj.  My personal choice to go with this was the Chablis, but he insisted that a red would be better and we compromised on a Dornfelder from Germany.  He left us half a glass of Chablis, so we could compare, which was nice. The dish was served with a bisque, which had a creamy quality and strong flavor. My friend and I agreed that the Chablis did a better job, although the Dornfelder was a great glass of wine, which we enjoyed once we wolfed it down.

EnPluche_FCThe main was lamb done two ways with hummus, pea puree and a curd with a delicate sauce and sautéed pulses.  The lamb fillet was served as two beautifully cooked slithers with a nice pink strip down the middle and a rillette under the curd.  This was flavoursome dish, which took a while to eat due to the richness. The hummus was creamy smooth but lacked a bit of a punchy flavour. The pea puree was very green, but a bit coarse on an otherwise delicate plate.  A nice dish, but the previous two were better.  A Bordeaux was suggested at the match for this, and it was so good we asked Kaj to leave the bottle.

The ingredients of the  “Blood Orange” dessert did not match the name.  There was a white chocolate parfait disc at the bottom, which had a whole load of stuff spiked into it including a sesame crisp, a couple of strips of meringue and had some segments of blood orange on top, with some cocoa soil for good measure. Regular readers know I am not one for desserts.  This is the best dessert I’ve had in Amsterdam for years. Right up there with the Bord’eau chocolate bomb!!

14I know what you are thinking: “Why has he only given three stars? With all that great food and décor it must surely be worth more.”  In my rating, I have a four-star level. This is semi-flexible, but you have to do most things well.  La Rive and Daalder sit in that group.  En Pluche did many things very well, but there are faults.  At some points we were left for quite a few minutes without any attention. Particularly at the start and the end, which is a very unfortunate Dutch Tradition.  Kaj was a great sparring partner for the wine, so big thumbs up for him.  Apart from dessert, I would call this a good feed and not more.  I also think the clientele has something to do with how the place operates.  I believe that the mix of the Oud Zuid crowd, with one or two tourists, means they can get away with a few things.  The final nail in their four-star coffin came on the way back from the men’s room. I spotted the cheese platter and asked the nearest staff where they get it from.  “A cow!” was the answer.  I think Koen the chef corrected him quickly with L’amuse the cheese shop near the Olympic stadium.

This place is right, but I would want a seat more in the mix of it in the back. Try it. It’s good. Superb in parts. I for one will return.

Nick’s Nosh | April 2016

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By Nick Nugent

Daalder ****

Lindengracht 90
1015KK Amsterdam

Website: www.daalderamsterdam.nl

Tel: 020 624 8864
Email: info@daalderamsterdam.nl

 

terrasje_1

David from Anglo Info had put me on to this one. I had also heard about it in the pub while watching the rugby. So with two recommendations I had to try it out.  Sunday is the new Saturday for me as my girlfriend works on Saturday evenings, so the choice of restaurants is a bit more limited.  Luckily Daalder is open.

The concept is simple. There is no menu. You just choose the number of courses you want and they will create a surprise menu for you.  This for me requires a bit of negotiation at the start.  In this sort of place, unless it is a special occasion, I would usually go for 3-4 courses.  However, I always worry I might miss out on something, as I like to have meat and a fish dish as part of the meal.  This involves asking what the fish is likely to be, how many courses I need to take to get it, and whether there are some major dislikes.  I think in total it may have taken 10-15 to get the ordering done, which is not unusual for me.  As my booking was last minute, they only had a place for us at the bar. It was beautifully set out with a proper place setting, so I did not care too much.  The other benefit of the higher vantage point is you can see them delivering the food and preparing the drinks.   The preparation of the coffee at the end was a sight.  It involved five pieces of Tupperware, with little sweet things that were removed from their storage one at a time and replaced after each little sweet thing reached the platter to go with the coffee.  Lots of effort, but I get too far ahead of myself.

On sitting, we took a Cava to start. Which was closely followed by an amuse of Kroepoek of pecorino with mustard that was delightfully melt-in-the-mouth tasty.

In the end, we ordered four courses and asked if they could pair with wines.  I had been looking at the wine menu before the visit. It’s small but has some excellent choices.  I had my eye on a Vouvray, which I was hoping would be paired with the fish course.

There was another amuse of tomato sorbet topped with pesto, parmesan foam and tomato powder.  My notes say – boom, boom, boom.  This was concerning the flavours they achieved with this dish, which were massive.

The starter was steak tartar Arabian style, which was very spicy. It was too big, but with exquisite flavour. Even though I’m a spice lover, my palette was almost destroyed by the chilli in this dish.  Nevertheless, it’s great to get some flavour in Amsterdam!  The steak tartar was paired with a Faubel Riesling.  I think the sommelier, who was not there, was aiming for the classic slightly sweet Riesling to go with spicy foods.  For me, this did not work with the dish, which needed more savoury notes to balance and this just was not present in the wine.

The fish course was sea bass fillet with raspberry coulis, radish, aioli and pomme purée.  I was surprised with the great combination of raspberry with salty fish cooked to perfection. The mash was somewhat cold. I did not record the wine choice for this but again it did not have the acidity to match the raspberry and aioli.

The fish was followed by a gnocchi with reblochon cheese, onion compote and hazelnut.  A sort of deconstructed tartiflette if you will. It was very flavoursome. The onion compote with a white Rioja unfortunately also did not work for me

At this point, I think I realised the sommelier seems to have a problem with more robust wine choices.  Maybe their palette is too sensitive and they refuse to match the acid content with the dish preferring a smoother wine. Unfortunately, this white Rioja tasted like water with the last dish and the others missed the spot as well.  So I am choosing to ignore the wine choices somewhat from this review.  The staff were getting a little upset as well, with me criticising all the choices so far, so they decided to give me a couple of options with the main.

The main was a braised veal cheek with truffle risotto and shaved raw mushroom.  It was a very rich dish. The veal could be eaten with a spoon and the risotto was classically prepared.  We chose a Cote du Rhone, which was the best match of the night with this dish.

For dessert, we had cardamon mouse, goats cheese ice cream, citrus fruit pieces, coulis and nuts.  It follows the fashion for slightly more savoury desserts, which I don’t mind at all. I rejected the Sauternes due to the potential flavour clash and ended up with a great Moscatel.

Whether you are seated at the bar or sat at a proper table, the restaurant is a beautiful place to be with its art deco styling and bird murals.  There was a nice atmosphere in there, and for a proper Dutch restaurant the service was really good—even when they have a complete fusspot like yours truly.  As I mentioned above, I’m going to let it go about the wine choices as that can be very personal. For me, this is the best meal that I’ve had in Amsterdam for a long time.  Despite the issues, they deserve four stars.  I think this is the first fours stars I have given in about six months.

 

BAR Daalder

 

 

 

Nick’s ‘W’osh | Feb 2016

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By Nick Nugent

Mr Porter ***

W Hotel

 

Spuistraat 175,

1012 VN, Amsterdam

Tel:  020 811 3399
Email: info@mrportersteakhouse.com

Open 7 days a week

Online reservations: 

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The W hotel is the latest of a string of high-end hotels which have opened in Amsterdam recently and is one of the biggest at around 280 rooms, once finished.  It occupies two sites on either side of the Spui, one in the old Telephone Exchange building and the other in the old Kas Bank building, which contains a new fine dining establishment, The Duchess. The first thing you need to know is that Mr Porter and in fact the Duchess are not the W hotel’s restaurants. They are in fact part of the Entourage Group which seems to specialise in putting high-end restaurants in hotel groups.  The group consists of Amsterdam’s places to be, such as Momo, Izkaya, The Butcher and now The Duchess and Mr Porter.  I had been to Mr Porter for a drink one Sunday afternoon with some friends so I was aware of it. On this occasion I had some former Amsterdam mates coming from abroad for dinner and I had suggested this place.

The theme of the restaurant, as the name may convey, is meat and lots of it.  I was a very lucky boy this time as I was having dinner with 5 glamorous ladies, so I was a little concerned with the meat issue, but there was enough other stuff on the menu to keep eveyone happy.  I had also been given a tour of the whole W hotel complex the day before and had the concepts of the hotel and restaurant explained to me.  If you are interested you are welcome to contact me at nicknosh@hotmail.com and I can explain, but I don’t want to spoil the all the surprises.  I will say though that the whole menu is a sharing menu.  The servers explained that approximately one starter per person and one main per person, unless you went for the huge 1Kg steaks, would be about right.  I was also feeling a bit nervous about this as I felt sure that some of the ladies really did not want to share their dishes.

So for starters we ordered the whole baked cauliflower, spicy tomato salad, charcoal grilled foie gras, grilled baby squid and yellow tail spicy ceviche.  We also had Arabic bread with a dip of cream and chili salsa.  In fact everything was quite spicy.  The foie gras was excellent, the cauliflower, which I had had before, was great and the rest was ok, but the ceviche was really not to my taste as it looked and tasted rather clumsy.  I chose a very reasonably priced De Bortoli Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from New South Wales, Australia at about 40 euros per bottle, which was very easy to drink.

A couple of the ladies opted for fish, one picking the lobster and the other the prawns in a spicy tomato sauce.  Myself and one other friend  picked the Hanger stank and one other picked the small ribeye.  So this is where the sharing concept really falls down for me. I am not the biggest fan of this concept in any case, as I have had too many experiences with bad tapas than I care to mention.  You may know the issue.  You order a dish you think you are going to like, only for it to be set at completely the opposite end of the table from you, where it is devoured in seconds as it tastes better than all the crappy patatas bravas which others have ordered. The food came out roughly in the order which I mentioned above and we had this awkward period where the ladies who had ordered the lobster and prawns sat there looking at it as no one else had food.  We ordered some sides as well but I will get on to that later.

 I suggested that the ladies who ordered the fish dishes should start to tuck in, which they did, but we were still left with this uncomfortable half eaten plate in the middle.  I tried a bit of the lobster and prawns, both of which I thought were somewhat overcooked.  Eventually a couple of hanger steaks and a ribeye turned up.  The hanger steak was perfectly cooked and even convinced the non-meat eaters to give it a go as it looked so good.  To be honest I cannot remember exactly what sides we ordered, but there was some salad stuff and fries which all turned up at various times during the meal.  A couple more bottles of the Ozzie red later and we were done, and then the Dauphinoise potatoes turn up!!  We sent them back.  This is where this concept really falls over for me.

A look at the dessert menu revealed nothing interesting for our guests.  It was crying out for a chocolate fondant or something like that.  We had the 18:30-21:00 shift and they were expecting other guests any minute, so our allocated time was over and we had to vacate our table.  What happened next was entirely inevitable, could have been foreseen, and should have been dealt with better.   The 21:15 sitting turned up, coinciding with the 21:00 shift wanting to leave and looking to get their coats.  No host or hostess was manning the reception as they were too busy seating people and there was no one to get coats.  This meant people took matters into their own hands and started rifling through the coats to find their own.  You could have taken any coat you wanted at this time.  I still have the coat check ticket!

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I need to mention the music.  On our arrival it was sort of chill out Ibiza style stuff, very nice.  By the time we were finishing our mains it was full on big room, club tunes.  I can only imagine if you take the 21:00 sitting you are dancing on the seats by the end of your starters.  For the clubbers out there, it would get you in the mood, although possibly the food is a bit too heavy for full on clubbing afterwards.

The entourage group have created another destination restaurant for the hipsters and boys and girls about town, however this does not mask some of the problems with the format.  Some of the food is outstanding, but some is exceptionally ordinary. It is a lovely place to be with the view over the city, styling details and service quality all very good.  I just cannot get past the fact that my guests just wanted to have their own plate of food which they ordered, at the same time as everyone else.  I am not sure whether this sharing thing is to compensate for kitchen staff who cannot cook to order, but it does not work in this establishment for a group with disparate tastes like ours.  Maybe if a bunch of carnivores turn up it would be absolutely super, but for us it did not work.  Food, service and environment worth the 3 stars I gave, but concept is a big fat zero.