1185 TS, Amstelveen
2 Michelin stars since 2013
Gault&Millau 16.5 / 20
5th Visit: Dinner Saturday 29th April 2017
(17.75 / 20) Consistently delicious, beautifully constructed, and approachable cooking with a truly standout pastry section. When you want to relax in a beautiful, friendly setting, eat very well indeed, plus be quite certain that’s exactly what will happen, every single time you go… accept no substitute.
(You can click on the score to see the explanation of the scale I use)
€€€€€ : 6 Course tasting menu € 99
Arriving at Aan de poel for dinner at the right time of the year is a scenic joy the like of which you won’t find easily replicated at many other restaurants in Amsterdam. The building perches over a pristine lake (de Poel), which itself overlooks the beautiful park and woodland of Amsterdamse Bos. As you eat, ducks quietly float past, and the sun traverses the sky, setting slowly over a church tower in the distance. It’s a beautiful setting whether you are lucky enough to enjoy your meal al fresco out on the deck or indoors in the spacious open plan dining room. Now of course at least part of the reason this setting is so different to most other Amsterdam Michelin joints is that the restaurant is not actually in Amsterdam at all. Having said that, and without trying to annoy any locals, so close and well-connected is the town of Amstelveen to the main city that you barely notice where one stops and the other starts. Though perhaps it is something in this border location that gives some of the special character to the place; A hint of the countryside 20 mins from the central canals, but with all the trappings of a capital city restaurant. Indeed on all counts, when set amongst its peers at the pinnacle of fine dining in the city proper, this restaurant can very easily hold its own.
Opened in 2007 by chef Stefan van Sprang, previously of the legendary Dutch restaurant De Swaen in Oisterwijk, and later chef de cuisine at Ron Blaauw (both 2 Michelin stars), the restaurant received its first star just 2 years after opening, and the second in 2013. Consistency is the name of the game here in this elegant 80 seater which boasts beautiful vistas of the lake one side and an interesting view into the open kitchen on the other. (Of course it should go without saying I am only looking into my wife’s gorgeous green eyes when we dine, but you get the picture). Still, it is this sense of consistency that really tells the story of the restaurant for me. The atmosphere is always celebratory, there are a lot of regulars, the food is routinely jaw-droppingly beautiful, and even with a menu that changes every 3 weeks it is always, always, simply delicious. That special quality in the food comes from a few things; Amidst the constant innovation, the recipes are invariably accessible – there are no controversial show-off ingredients or random avant-garde pairings going on here, or at least where there are you somehow immediately understand before even tasting that they will naturally work. That accessibility is complimented with a recurring theme of lots of heavily reduced sauces that conspire to give a huge umami kick to almost every dish. This is the restaurant where we consistently wipe our plates fully clean such is the lip-smacking moreishness of what comes out of the kitchen. Moreover, that same consistency also applies to the aesthetic of the food – it is, as I say, always tremendously beautiful. They have some real talent in this kitchen for bright, colourful, plating and this is no better exemplified than by the pastry section which, if measured by nothing else than its artistic flare, must reasonably be one of the best in the town, if not the country.
Despite its elegance, it’s also a very relaxed and friendly dining room. I do try to behave myself when we eat out, but here you can surely find me feeling at home enough to mop up the last of the sauce on the plate with a piece of the excellent bread. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen any time soon in a 2 star in Paris or London.
So, we returned once more to try the new Spring menu, and once again we wouldn’t be disappointed… But then we knew that already, didn’t we?
The amuses came out. One was familiar from last time, the oyster wrapped in daikon with ras el hanout, and the rest new. All were technically excellent and really playful; Three morsels that looked like petit fours but which all had a good kick of saliva-inducing tartness, perfect to start the meal going.
(Hover over image for full description)
As per usual we set the kitchen the task of feeding us everything they had in two hours, and so as soon as the amuses were said goodbye to the first courses swiftly arrived. On the non-veggie side of the table that meant for me a beautiful slow cooked piece of sea bass, which had taken on a delightfully firm texture almost like it had been salted. Besides, a clever paring of perfectly smooth, toasty aubergine puree, and a smoked cream, their own richness offset by the sharp caper and fresh, floral qualities from a basil oil-slick floating on intense tomato water. A really pretty, delicate looking dish which still retained that signature bold umami flavour punch.
To follow, I was brought a just-cooked langoustine tail, with wasabi mayonnaise and rice crackers, served with a soya and lime tapioca. Immediately as it was placed in front of me, such was the similarity to the signature dish from the eponymous restaurant in Berlin, that I said almost without thinking, ‘oh Tim Raue!’. Now, philosophically, I don’t see much issue in chef’s aping each other’s dishes, and it’s always fun to see what different interpretation they bring. After all, there is very little actually totally new anymore in cooking. Thus it was particularly interesting to me that in fact, the execution on this version was, for me, more sympathetic to the shellfish than the original. It is so delicate an ingredient that it can easily be lost in the battered, drowned in mayonnaise, prototype. Tim Raue is well-known for his gutsy, powerful delivery – I’m just not entirely sure the poor langoustine appreciates it very much. Here though you could still clearly identify the sweet flesh (and moreover, the texture of the flesh), which was complimented rather than submerged by its rich, then tart, garnish.
The last of the fish before we turn back to the vegetarian dishes was sadly not so successful for my taste. That sympathy shown the langoustine in the previous plate was rather thrown out of the window as a perfectly cooked piece of red mullet was slightly overwhelmed by the acidic twang of a sauce which was described as chimichurri, but had far more of a heavy tomato note than anything else. Eaten together with the succulent veg (which I think was Bok Choi or similar), the dish suddenly became more balanced, but fish and sauce alone didn’t quite make sense for me. Sadly even the addition of the extraordinary salty squid biscuit didn’t quite save the plate as a whole. Full marks for bold flavours but the balance wasn’t quite there.
Meanwhile across the other side of the table noises of contentment where apparent as Nadya was delivered plate after plate of exquisite vegetarian offerings. We had discussed in the car on the way there what I mentioned previously about the food at Aan de Poel always being to truly delicious, and she surely wasn’t changing her mind at the time the first plate arrived; A very picturesque combination of pressed sweet and sour cucumber, sesame, shiitake and pecan. It was also complimented by the same smoky aubergine puree, intense tomato water and basil oil that I had enjoyed so much with the sea bass. We like it when restaurants serve similar garnishes on both vegetarian and meaty dishes – it not only makes sense to the kitchen but it also gives people some shared experience even when they are eating different plates. That being said, we both really struggled to remember all the ingredients on the vegetarian plates this visit for some reason so I had to suffer the indignity of asking one of the chefs to later confirm what was on the dish! Thankfuly he was enough of a gentleman to confirm and save me the embarrassment of completely wrongly identifying an ingredient from a plate I didnt get to taste. To be fair I’m sure there are a lot more mistakes in this review, but one can only really do one’s best to be perfectly accurate.
The soy / lime tapioca that had added a nice kick to the langoustine was then used to sauce a beautiful dish of multiple preparations of kolrabi, also again with the wasabi mayonnaise, and topped with the obligatory cress of sorrel and shiso, themselves giving a sharp and slightly anise note. This was quickly followed by a salad of quinoa, horseradish and sunflower seed with a fermented strawberry vinaigrette. Nadya had declared it was a combination of her favourite things even before she tasted it.
I by this point had meanwhile moved onto meatier things, enjoying a fantastic combination of new season’s white asparagus, morels and foie gras. Strangely enough I had had the same combination (ex the liver) for the first time at Daalder a few weeks back and loved it, so, the addition of another of my favourite ingredients simply notched up the volume even further. Very rich, as all preparations of this ingredient should be, it combined well with the excellent earthy morel and asparagus, and a subtle background hint of orange. Delicious.
The last of the meat courses was also served in two separate bowls; The first a beautifully cooked fillet of rosé veal, wonderfully soft but with a good, deep, flavour, served with a pea mouse, cassoulet of broad bean and other legumes, with a clever smoky note coming from a few cubes of pancetta. The (intentionally?) slightly under-cooked potato actually gave a nice textural contrast, but the sauce of srirachia was pretty out-of-place. Please note that, unlike the rest of the planet, I am not a fan at all of this brand of hot sauce – I prefer my chilli without a tsunami of sugar – and although the kitchen had done a good job of toning it down, it still sat a bit weirdly for me with the rest of the quite subtle, spring time, ingredients.
More successful were Nadya’s last two vegetarian plates. First up a knockout dish of asparagus, fermented blueberry and hazelnut, with an incredible foamed beurre noisette sauce. By this time the sun was setting and shining laterally onto the tables, the sauce shimmering on the plate with that beautiful rainbow effect you see in oil on water. This was very clever cooking. Second, artichoke hearts served with onion, potato and pea with a vinaigrette of seaweed. I’m told this was also excellent.
So, in perfect time and blissfully full we moved to dessert, which at Aan de Poel is always a spectacular event. This time we were explained that the idea was to play on the classic combination of strawberry and chocolate, but also add the freshness of basil and lemon, themsleves also very good friends of each other. The strawberry appeared in a whole range of guises, amongst them slightly stewed on the bottom, fresh, as a cream, as meringue, as mouse. I quickly lost count of the number of individual items let alone processes and steps required to produce this double – plated final course. Fantastically balanced, and with excellent textural contrast, not too sweet and nicely prooprtional for acidity, each core element was clearly identifiable. Of course they did all go very well together indeed. But then we already knew that – remember what I said about consistency?
Aan de poel is a favourite of ours. That much should be pretty clear by now. It changes constantly but also never does. The standard is impeccably high, and the food punchy, flavourful, and easy to eat. We’ve noticed more fermentation, pickles and preserves in creeping into the recent menu; A slight nod to the new Danish kitchen you see influencing all fine dining over the last years. And of course the menu is full of subtle Asian influence which also has become de rigeur in European fine dining. However at its heart this is particularly Dutch expression of modern Michelin cooking at a very high standard. One that doesn’t ever take itself too seriously, that gives its regulars what they want to actually eat, but which subtly and surreptitiously challenges them to constantly accept new tastes, new combinations and new textures without ever fundamentally leaving their comfort zone. Though when food is a delicious and beautiful as this, that’s a challenge it’s not hard to accept.
p.s. I usually find I align pretty well with the Gault&Millaut scoring in Holland, (if not Michelin recently), but for me 16.5 currently given to Aan de Poel is too conservative. The food here is better than that.