- Zwolle, The Netherlands
- 3 Michelin stars since 2004
- 38 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants
3rd Visit: Lunch Saturday 14th Jan 2017
Restaurants rarely get better than this : 19.5/20
Monkfish, fermented peppers and aubergine
It was with some considerable joy that we returned, almost exactly a year after our last visit, to the temple of modern Dutch gastronomy in Zwolle, Northern Holland. The restaurant is housed in an impressive 18th century pile, an old prison building, and cohabits the space with its own boutique hotel. Many guest who book for dinner take the option to roll happily up the stairs into the luxurious accommodation above, or indeed as we had done last year, make a whole glorious weekend of it, enjoying the heady heights of dinner, breakfast and lunch with 3 Michelin stars.
This is truly a labour of love; The celebrated power-couple of Dutch fine dining, Jonnie and Thérèsa Boer, still work every day in the restaurant which they founded together some 20 years ago and which rightfully commands an almost mythical status in Dutch restaurant culture. To reveal a planned trip to the Boer’s restaurant is routinely responded to in Holland with (unafffected) excitement, often from people who couldn’t otherwise care less about fine dining.
Guests only return if they can enjoy excellent food in a friendly atmosphere. After all, people don’t just come to a restaurant to eat. Ideally it is a place full of emotions and, most of all…laughter.” – Thérèsa Boer
And it’s not hard to see why. The couple themselves are both deeply charismatic, intense people who, in this relatively obscure town an hour north of Amsterdam, and over the course of two decades at the very top of cooking, have created something truly world class.
The charming, light dining room in Zwolle
Since the move to the current location the dining room has been housed in a glass-covered inner courtyard complete with trees still growing from the ground amidst the 50 or so covers. It’s a bright and wonderfully calming space to spend a few hours, and that sense of ease is really curated by the perfectly pitched service. The style has moved with the times, from Michelin formality some years back (albeit with a very Dutch twist), to the current casual fine dining. This welcoming atmosphere has been honed to perfection under the watchful gaze of the impressive matriarch Thérèsa, who paces around the dining room like she owns the place. Which of course she does.
Goats cheese, avocado, kohlrabi and meadowsweet
The food is really unlike anywhere else we’ve experienced in the world; Hugely detailed, thoughtful and refined but at the same time doesn’t feel at all contrived or overworked. There is an incredible lightness of touch which screams of the quiet confidence that no doubt comes from running for so long a restaurant recognised as being the funnel of a special type of culinary genius. The service itself is refreshingly playful and dusted with just a hint of theatre. Take the huge charred wooden box (pictured below) which is casually left, without explanation, smoking heavily at the table, as if its just been removed from the middle of a bonfire. A few moments later the team return to remove from inside delicately kippered langoustine tails to pair with foie gras for their dish ‘Gagel’.
Later during the meal another unidentified foreign object appears on the table linen, this time a huge bell jar of a worryingly-coloured orange liquid. We later learn this is a lightly acidic ginger tea with which they ‘cook’ the langoustine ceviche which forms the next course. This is a fun and friendly dining experience which elicits just the right amount of smiles from its guests, without ever threatening to turn into a comedy or, heaven forbid, farce.
Langoustine, ginger, lime leaf and smoked egg yolk
These elements of theatre get going early in the meal when, after the multiple intricate and otherworldly crispy amuses are scattered on the table, a little bite of something resembling a deconstructed steak tartar is delicately reconstructed directly onto your hand.
The amuses culminating in the reconstructed steak tartar served on your hand
Indeed an element of table-side preparation and mastery of fish have been clear tell-tales signs of the Boer’s style for some years. I recall a dish served often over the years in which a piece of wagyu was cooked in front of guests on a heated stone.
It is however in the vegetarian offering, as we so often find, that the restaurant truly makes itself known as being something very special. It is still relatively rare even at multiple starred Michelin restaurants to find vegetarian menus which have had as much thought given to them as the meaty offerings. Not so either here or at the sister restaurant in Amsterdam, which both are meccas for veggie fine diners.
(Clockwise from above;Land and sea; Cauliflower heart, madras curry and currents; River trout with mushrooms, sherry, almonds and lovage; Jerusalem artichoke, epoisses and pumpkin).
The standout, innovative, and delicious vegetarian dish was of dutch tulip bulbs sauced with a juice extracted from BBQ celeriac . The sauce had an absurdly moreish toasted whole-mouth-unctuousness which left me happily salivating, but at the same time quite depressingly certain that I would never, ever, ever, be able to conceive of something so clever. (This dish is featured at the top of the review).
Epoisses, rabbits kidneys and potato juice
Of course the meat dishes are of the highest level too. Just before my ‘cheese course’ of the classic dish of epoisses and rabbit kidneys (above), I was served one of the best demonstrations of duck I’ve ever tasted. A thinly sliced magret served with a pristine slow cooked leg which was smoked table side and paired with endive, red cabbage and baharat.
Really the only small negative came when my wife declared her desert wasn’t quite sweet enough. I must say I have tried the white chocolate and blue cheese dish before and lets just say its beyond an acquired taste. Thankfully her disappointment didn’t last long when an incredible array of exquisitely flavoured chocolates appeared with coffee, just after a post-desert of an extraordinary coffee mouse served in an ice bag.
This is really an extraordinary restaurant effortlessly cruising at world class levels, able to endlessly reinvent itself and adapt at will to fine-diners’ ever changing tastes. I can honestly say its well inside the top 5 places we have ever eaten, which puts it the mix with The Fat Duck, Azurmendi, Kadeau et al. That is pretty extraordinary company to keep for any team. A confident 19.5/20.