1st Visit: Dinner Saturday 9th April 2017
(15.75 / 20) Putting the other tedious neo-bistros to shame. This is what casual fine dining should be like; Unfussy food with great attention to detail, delivered in an authentically crampt, albeit joyful, dining room.
Daalder is an old neighbourhood pub – turned neighbourhood bistro – turned upscale eatery, located smack bang in the middle of the Jordaan, a beautiful area of town with a reputation for being a centre for real straight-talking Amsterdammers. A friend of mine from the south of The Netherlands, who lived in the neighbourhood years back before it became gentrified, used to regale me with tales of how she frequently got referred to as being a foreigner, or ‘worse than a tourist’ by the pithy Jordanaise in her local bruin cafe. At Daalder you know immediately you’re in the neighbourhood; The tables spill out onto the pavement in the classic blurred inside/outside style of the area where privacy is a long forgotten concept. In the summer you regularly see people camped outside their house having dinner on the sidewalk, fully carefree of the passing public. On Saturdays, step off that pavement and you’re in the middle of one of the oldest, longest running street markets in town. Atmospheric it is, subtle and restrained it most certainly is not.
We like to eat dinner quite early (its quieter and the light is better), and this time we hit the proverbial jackpot with a table at half past five! More afternoon teatime than dinner, but I’m always hungry, so made very little difference to me. We were the first in thougb there was already a small crowd having (pre-dinner?) drinks outside amidst the goings on of the market stalls.
The dining room itself is in horseshoe format, with a bar on one side and a tiny kitchen lurking in a corner. There a lot of covers… the tiny little bistro tables and chairs are rammed in to breaking point, and when someone finally came and took the table next to us I could have touched him on the shoulder without reaching. This closeness, though a little intrusive for our taste, was however advantageous in us being able to hear him making snide comments about me taking photos of the food (he evidently didn’t get out much).
Daalder 3.0 as they call it is the latest generation of the erstwhile bar, which now features as chef patron a certain Dennis Huwaë, previously of 2 Michelin starred Sam Houd and the perennial ‘will-they-wont-they-win-a-3rd-star?’ Ciel Bleu. Both of these are restaurants with fine reputations, albeit I personally have my doubts as to whether Sam Houd really deserves 2 stars anymore. That is as they say a whole different story. In any case, having a chef with this pedigree in this kind of local bistro spot is enough to shake things up a bit… which is after all why we were there.
Straight in there is a fine dining shot across the bow, with an amuse that you could easily be given at a 1 star. A delicately constructed corn taco bite with mackerel and lime. Delicious, salivation-inducing, light and pretty. It was already looking like dinner was going to be more Michelin than brasserie, and that was just fine by me! There is no menu at Daalder, they bring you what they will having determined how much you want to eat and which food stuffs to avoid lest they leave you in anaphylactic shock. This also suited us well, we are very used to just letting the chefs get on with it, so we opted for the lot – 7 courses – and sat back and waited. Of course one of the side-effects of not having a menu is you also have no idea how much you are expected to pay. More on that later…
Another amuse came out of a perfect consistency tomato sorbet with a delicious siphoned cheese mouse. Knowing that I couldn’t later reference the website, I was now attempting to take notes to help me remember what we had eaten. Sadly my phone didn’t want to play ball and most of my notes disappeared into the ether, so please excuse me if the dish descriptions are a little vague – I have a memory like a sieve.
The first proper dish arrived for us both. A very good tartar of tuna, delightfully fresh, with tonnes of thai influence in a papaya garnish with delicious puffed rice. Sensible portion sizes were already apparent… we were going to be full but in no need of a gurney by the end.
So far so good, and Nadya was being kind to the kitchen by eating fish, so the next dish we also shared. Sadly the perfectly cooked prawn and delicious bisque was served with a slow cooked egg – beloved by me and despised by her – so I was as per usual given the unwanted specimen. Slightly more oddly, the dish had also been paired with a brunoise of tropical fruit. This was in total not so successful, either to taste or indeed to actually be able to eat. There are a lot of (very delicious) sauces coming out of this kitchen and no spoons on the table.
We faced the same comic attempts at eating a liquid with a fork on the next plate, a very well pitched rendition of the classic scallop and cauliflower combo, this time with a delicious beurre blanc, calamansi and hazelnut. A fabulous dish – I had now started to pick the plates up to lick them clean like some kind of fine dining canine.
Meanwhile Nadya was facing similar technical problems with her also very well executed dish of new season’s asparagus, morels and a foam of parmesan. We discussed whether this was kind of torture; Plate after excellently sauced plate with no way to actually finish the sauces. Maybe there had been a run on spoons over the weekend.
Veggie-wise Nadya did pretty well after the problematic prawn and egg dish. There was a good unfussy dish of smoked eel and risotto, and similarly simple but perfectly executed potato pancake with peas and caviar.
By this time the restaurant was getting pretty full and noise levels were approaching our ‘time to leave’ level. I was however well distracted by the last two meaty dishes, first a delicious surf and turf rendition of seared foie gras, again with smoked eel (two of my favourite things on this green earth), also with caviar and a lot of freshness from a little garnish of raw veg. This was clever cooking; I would never think to combine cucumber with foie, but the watery bite cut through the fattiness of the engorged liver delightfully. Second and to finish off the savouries, a beautifully cooked piece of lambs neck (a cut I adore for its frugal fatty, tenderness) paired with a sharp black garlic sauce full of umami, and the allium bite of a piece of spring onion. There was not much to dislike about this although it was somewhat under-seasoned for palate.
The table next to us was now seated, with the cretin next to us talking obnoxiously about my camera as if I wasn’t sat right there next to him (maybe he assumed I didn’t speak any Dutch). Noise levels truly unbearable, we huddled together across the table to try to hear what each other was saying, attempting also to enjoy the last two dishes; A pretty good if slightly unremarkable confection which was described as cheese cake but which wasn’t, and a very decent little dish of chocolate and red currants. Last morsel finished, that special arms-race-of-noise moment came when everyone starts reacting to increasing decibel level by talking louder, and louder and louder, and we had had enough. We asked for the bill, which didn’t come, got up and paid at the bar. I was very surprised initially by how expensive it was (€180), although now I consider it further for 7 courses and three glasses of flat champagne it wasn’t insanely priced. Its definitely not cheap though by any means, and I think there was something right in my initial reaction.
This is a fun and welcoming little place which is turning out dishes of a lot of flair to a dining room that still (literally) shouts neighbourhood digs. I love the idea of a 2 Michelin star chef putting up some beautifully conceived, authentic, and seasonal dishes in a bistro setting. The concept itself fills my heart with glee. But something troubles my head about this; The atmosphere was far too rough and ready for the food that was being produced. I struggle somehow to reconcile the excruciatingly rawkus noise levels with dishes that include tiny spherified basil. Generally, for my money, Daalder 3.0 is a great success. I just hope they take a few tables out, and buy some spoons before we return.