Nieuwe Doelenstraat 2-14
1012 CP Amsterdam
+31 (0) 20 531 16 19
2 Michelin stars since 2013
Gault & Millau 19 / 20
5th Visit: Dinner Saturday 13th May 2017
(18/ 20) Exquisite flavours delivered with an extraordinary subtleness which really sets it apart from the more vibrant delivery of the other top restaurants in town. Strong Dutch influence over a quintessentially French cuisine, with lots from the sea, that has now also found a more successful balance with its light Japanese inspired flavour combinations. Slicker, more professional, and generally friendly service. An undeniably impressive restaurant, but one which for me somehow still manages to lack a touch of charisma.
(Click on the score to see the rating system and why I bother writing these reviews!)
€€€€€ 6 courses €128 / 8 courses €156
Bord’eau was the first Michelin starred restaurant I visited when I first arrived in Amsterdam all those years ago. Considering that somewhere in those 6 years, when Sophia was born, we took a two-year fine dining hiatus, and that this was my fifth visit, I suppose it can rightly be considered a favourite. But if it sounds like I lack some conviction here it is however probably accurate, as I have felt somewhat of a rollercoaster relationship with the place over the multiple years of eating here. The first time was truly memorable, which in itself is rather impressive given it was both a business dinner and we had a full wine pairing. The latter alone is usually enough to heavily cloud my memory of what was served, especially by about glass number 6. That time we had the crab and avocado dome, the tiny chicken oyster coated in chicken parfait, the turbot, the apple. Oh yes THE apple.. the most instagram’d dish in town, which still appears (though not for us this visit) as a pre-desert on the menu. I was bowled over, over joyed that my new town had a restaurant like this. Later I would discover that chef Richard Oostenbrugge had also been at the fabulous Envy which was my other main haunt when I first moved to the canals. However, at the next visit I was pretty disappointed; The service was decidedly uninterested and the dishes also lacked the charm of the first outing. And so the oscillation continued, each time something better, and invariably something also worse. On our last visit I was very underwhelmed again by the bored service and by the seemingly forced marriage of Japanese flavours with classic French ingredients. (I continue to be bemused by the foie gras and kombu dashi dish which still lurks worryingly on the menu. Thankfully though it’s now only a bolt-on to the main chefs menu, thereby allowing equally unsure guests to give it a wise berth).
The dining room is still as beautiful as it ever was although just beginning to show slight signs of wear some 6 years after its last major refurbishment. What certainly never gets old however are the views out over Muntplein where the Amstel river meets up with the top of the canal belt. As you eat, Amsterdam in all its brazen glory walks, floats (and drinks) its way past. The Saturday night reveller, just warming up, peer inquisitively up from their party boats into the quiet dining room, the diners peering back out into the young night already full of laughter and general silliness… both probably perfectly content they aren’t in each other’s shoes.
The amuses came out. Nadya was back to her strictly vegetarian regime so began with an homage to tomato (some of which I recall from the menu last year) – Green Zebra tomato gazpacho with saffron, a beautifully constructed ‘Noire de crimée’ jelly with Burrata and green shiso oil, and some braised tomato the genus of which I didn’t quite manage to write down. On my side of the table I received a fabulous ode to the North sea; Dutch mussel with lemongrass jus and dill-calamansi crème, Dutch shrimps with XO sauce, remoulade of celeriac and horseradish, perfectly cooked delicate razor clam with Pernod jelly and clementine foam, and to finish a salty jus of cockles with a liaison of oyster. This was the quintessence of the Dutch sea-side, the ozoney freshness of the impossibly well cooked shellfish being lifted by the light touch of citrus and anise. Subtle yet full of flavour, a very impressive start for both. Behind us, some North American tourists were informing the waiter about their culinary aversions; ‘I don’t eat tomato, dairy or shellfish,…. and I have an allergy to alcohol.’ Poor sods.
Bord’eau is not the kind of restaurant that fully updates its menu every season. It changes surely but slowly and dishes are left on the menu for prolonged periods to be fiddled with and very gradually updated. Of course some have reached a pinnacle from which its difficult to improve; The aforementioned apple for example, a dish for which a riot would probably break out were it ever to be taken off. Likewise, the perfectly judged faux bone marrow made of just under-cooked potato, still with a delightful whisper of crunch, filled with a rich veal tartar, smoked herring and topped with caviar. Surrounding the base a perfect consommé of oxtail makes the whole dish sing, a wonderful deep meaty counterpoint to the rich fish roe.
Fish as per usual gets a strong and most welcomed focus here. It is after all a Dutch restaurant despite the heavy French fine dining influence. But it’s also a restaurant in which the now de rigeur additions of flavours from Japan appeared a little earlier than most. On previous visits I’ve found these both interesting and not wholly successful in almost equal measure, but this time somehow it all made sense. Such is the delicacy of the current menu that it so much better lends itself to the often difficulty-subtle flavours of Japan.
And it is somewhere in this tuned-up refinement that Bord’eau found a place again in our hearts
The next two dishes were both perfect examples; The first a beautifully cooked langoustine, deliciously warm and rich from its poaching in duck fat, served with the dancing savoury shavings of katsuoboshi. Following this, an equally precisely cooked piece of local sea bass, with flavours of coconut and shiso so delicate you almost forgot it wasn’t wholly European. And it is somewhere in this tuned-up refinement that Bord’eau found a place again in our hearts; The perfect restaurant counterpoint to the genius innovation at Librije’s Zusje, and the huge populist umami bombs at Aan de Poel.
On the vegetarian side the same precise cooking was also on show. There is no vegetarian menu any more at Bord’eau but if you request one you more or less get the same procession of dishes seen from previous visits. This lack of grand shifts is no real hardship given the quality of some of these dishes which have mostly also appeared through time in their own right on the main menu. The exquisite spring/summer concoction of rice couscous, pistachio vinaigrette, and assorted seasonal vegetables; The beautifully cooked salt crust beetroot with the ethereal mustard ice cream.
Next up, the kombu and umeboshi garnish for the unloved foie gras dish made an appearance in what I was told was a more successful pairing of tortelloni of swiss chard, which was followed by, surprise, surprise… a runny egg. What a joy it would be to visit a restaurant which didn’t have a loose egg on its vegetarian menu. Even I, egg-lover extraordinaire, grow slightly weary of being handed the orange spoonful by Nadya every single Saturday. Agreed, we could also just start asking restaurants not to bring anything with a non-hard boiled yolk, but we also don’t want to turn into that type of fussy diner sitting behind us either. I suppose the joke has now got legs (get it?), so we’ll most likely rather just keep on documenting the slow cooked egg obsession as we go.
If I have one major complaint about Bord’eau is that its very impersonal. I’m not sure whether that is born of a certain arrogance – you do hear a lot that they are very expectant of being the first 3 star in town – or something to do with the clientele, which seems far more business and walk-in-hotel-guests than regulars, but there is definitely something slightly cold, slightly forced, about the service.
Amsterdam doesn’t do aloofness very well, it’s much better left in Paris
Thankfully the waiters are at least now wearing new suits rather than the shabby costumes they had on before, and at least there is some attempted engagement by the front of house staff with the diners, but still some surliness remains, and it is most out-of-place in this city; Amsterdam doesn’t do aloofness very well, it’s better left in Paris. Having said that, someone back in the kitchen at least does seem to have a sense of humour as we were surprised by a plate of dutch new potatoes served in Grandma’s crockery. Of course they were nothing of the sort, rather smoked potato gnocchi in a roasted chicken broth, filled with Weide cheese and preserved black truffle. They were light, delicious, moreish, and fun.
Last up for the carnivore a double-dish of beef, combining the long-standing and very delicious plate of BBQ oxtail with marrow, polenta and onion confiture, which is now served with a slightly less successful second dish of carpaccio of dairy cow sitting on a kind of tagliatelle of mushroom. This finely sliced cut is cooked with a hot hay consomme poured at the table. I’m not personally sure what this second dish adds to the equation and would have been perfectly happy to do without, but it’s always interesting to see the beginning of what may turn out to be a something better a few months down the line.
Sadly this evening the kitchen had not quite managed to keep up with our request of the 6 courses in 2 hours and so, much to the chagrin of my instagram followers, had to skip the famous apple pre-desert. What was to come next however more than made up visually, and as we were about to find out, also tasted extraordinary. Sugar’d monochrome birch leaves on a dulce de leche-textured anglais infused with toasted birch, served at table side with a birch juice consomee in the style of maple syrup. This is an outstanding new creation, perfectly balanced for texture and temperature, not too sweet and with a familiar yet new flavour profile from the birch. Bravo.
Bord’eau remains undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in Amsterdam and at this visit and with these new dishes the kitchen has seemingly found their stride again. It is altogether better balanced, leaving a remarkable sense of delicate touch. The Japanese influences are now in lock step with the locally sourced Dutch ingredients, themselves allowed to sing of their terroir under the direction of classical French cooking techniques. Generally I am swayed more by more innovation, more umami punch to a menu, but there is something undeniably special about what Bord’eau is producing at the subtler, more refined end of the spectrum. And the service is also much better, albeit still way too aloof for a 2 star in a hotel in Amsterdam. I went back wanting to try to decide if it was better than Librije’s Zusje, and I came out surprised. Firstly that it was actually so close, but also wondering what that even means. These are two very different restaurants, each with a different approach to flavour, innovation and service. I expect we’ll just have to keep going to both….