Van Diemenstraat 408, 1013 CR Amsterdam
Tel: 020 737 2553
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:
Cassoulet, bone marrow
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 was 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:
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.
Vegetables and Herbs
Was the title of the next course and 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.
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.
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.