By Nick Nugent
En Pluche ***
Ruysdaelstraat 50, 1071 XE Amsterdam
I 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 in 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.
The 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!!
I 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.