8th Visit: Lunch Saturday 15th July 2017
(17.75 / 20) An absolute gem of a restaurant housed in the beautiful Dylan hotel in the center of Amsterdam’s historic canal belt. Elegant, precise and deceptively simple classic French preparations are given a Dutch twist and sent out to the beautifully calm dining room where diners are taken care of by the current Gault&Millau Maitre D’ of the year. (They also have a Chefs Table which I can’t recommend enough). For me, Vinkeles is so far out in front of the pack of 1 star restaurants in town that I already assume it has 2 macarons – an oversight I should hope is rectified by Michelin sooner rather than later.
(Click on the score to see the rating system and why I write these reviews!)
€€€€€ 8 course dinner €130 / vegetarian menu €99
1 Michelin star since 2009
This was already our second visit this year to one of our favourite high-end restaurants in town and again we chose to eat at the Chefs Table directly opposite the pass. You can find the earlier review giving a bit more background about the restaurant here. This visit also completes the first round of reviews of the best restaurants in Amsterdam which will hopefully inform a guide I’m publishing in the coming weeks. The idea is not really about making yet another list (although of course there are scores), but rather to create the first comprehensively reviewed (and up-to-date) guide to fine dining in the capital. Hopefully that might be of interest to some of the millions of people who visit every year – I know I certainly recieve a lot of questions already on the subject!
So back to Vinkeles, one of our favourite spots and after our latest visit one I now feel compelled to place firmly in the top 3 in Amsterdam. The current menu is again an excellent mix of old and new, with a bunch of wholly new dishes and small updates to the classics that we by now know and love. As ever, the cuisine is steeped in classic French fine dining tradition but modernised and updated with clever twists that entertain but never interrupt the flow of the meal. The presentation is kept quite minimal but the plates always deliver on (interesting) flavour. And it is this combination of intrigue and satisfaction that surely keeps us coming back. The 2 seater Chefs Table directly opposite the pass is also one of the most entertaining places to eat in town. In any town in fact. The kitchen in full swing is quite a show but somehow the table setting itself still remains intimate – romantic even.
The amuses came out. A meal at Vinkeles always starts with the perfect oyster pearl – a crisp outer layer which cracks effortlessly, flooding the mouth with a shot of White Lady (gin, triple sec and oyster juice). Its followed by a bite of eel – the dutch foie gras – whose rich, buttery flesh is perfectly balanced on a delicate crisp. The trio is finished with a play on carbonara (pancetta-free so we could share it) of crispy fusilli bites dipped in a creamy, parmesan-covered mound. All delicious.
What comes next though is what you wait for in the amuses; The perfect meringue dome, slightly sweet/savoury with a background flavour of tzatziki cream, freshness from cucumber, a hint of spice from peppercorn and the round richness from sea bass tartar. This is one of our favourite dishes at the moment.
Next up on my side of the table a flurry of perfectly cooked seafood. The Hamachi that starts is not I must admit not my favourite dish on the menu – the cream of smoked goats cheese and chocolate is delicious and the crisp topping a nice textural contrast against the soft flesh of the yellow tail, but the dish as a whole lacks enough seasoning for my palate given the portion of fish, the delicate flavour of which is somehow lost amongst the other items.
The same could not be said thankfully for the next dish which was simply spectacular – a perfectly poached oyster, still just slightly warm, smothered in a slightly acidic beurre blanc enriched with uni. The shell comes to table sitting on a bed of seaweed with bubbling dry ice circulating the ozoney scent of a rock pool. This is a trick we first saw at Martín Berasategui and also for an oyster dish. There is something quite intoxicating about oysters eaten with the strong scent of the sea to accompany. This dish is magic.
Two further excellent fish dishes followed in short order – John Dory (one of my two favourite fish) followed by turbot (the other). The dory was served on a slightly curious jelly disk made of plankton which on top had a delicious ‘risotto’ of squid and pea, with a pea foam and specks of jamon. The second plate was delivered with a couple of again perfectly cooked mussels that just melted in the mouth. These were combined with a sauce of roasted celeriac so delicious that we ended begging for more from the kitchen….More on that sauce later.
Meanwhile Nadya’s vegetarian plates were proving very popular; Starting with a salad of carrot, chamomile and orange, followed by a very delicious dish of local feta cheese with endive and sweet apple. The piece de resistance however was a tempura of shimeji mushroom served with a puree of smokey, umami-rich aubergine and finished with parsley powder and bonito. These were well constructed and thoughtful vegetarian dishes and Nadya was very happy indeed that they so clearly had been put together with care. The endive was itself the garnish to a dish I later had of suckling lamb, but on its own it was fantastic too – so this was certainly more a case of being clever with pairings than lazy with the vegetarian dishes here.
Three further vegetarian dishes followed, all of which I was (grudgingly) allowed to taste. A magnificent dish of roast celeriac and onion from which had also been made that moreish sauce which had shared the plate with my turbot. It had a distinct flavour of caramel but wasn’t at all sweet, which in itself was pretty interesting, but paired with the roasted vegetable itself was simply astonishingly good.
Following up quickly, two further dishes we were already familiar with from the last menu but very happy to see reappear… First, the blackberry, beetroot and liquorice; And second, the beautiful plating of artichoke, crispy potato and mustard. Again, both big dishes – you can find fuller descriptions in the previous reviews.
At this point I was lucky enough to be served two very special meat courses. Perfectly rose lamb was served with the previously seen endive, apple and feta – this time paired with another extraordinary sauce made from the neck. You have never seen such a clear, sediment-free and intense juice… not a consomme exactly, this had far more body and a fully rounded mouth-feel, but the clarity itself was striking. So perfect in fact I felt compelled to give it its own photo.
To follow I ended what had thus-far been a perfectly executed meal, with the extreme perfection of Vinkeles’ signature dish of pigeon royale. As usual the breast was served precisely, with a nicely seared skin and a uniform pink throughout the meat. The melt-in-the-mouth fillet was removed and draped over the beetroot liquorice garnish, itself joined by a slice of liver and heart and bolstered by the equally delicate preserved blackberry. To finish and to pull the whole dish together, a sauce from the bones finished with foie de canard, which imparted a generous helping of fat to an otherwise juicy but very lean dish. I’m salivating even as I type this.
As an entry into the sweets we received a welcomed surprise of that very fashionable semi-sweet pre-desert course that is happily finding its way onto all the best menus. This was a very good example – light, lots of different textures, temperatures and elements reminiscent of desert (I think there was gingerbread but not precisely sure) and certainly meringue, but also a pleasant astringency from the ice and apple, with savory fatty notes from the avocado. I hope this one stays on the menu so we can meet it again, I’m sure it will prove very popular.
And so we ended with two light desserts to share, one of strawberry, mint, and a delicate white chocolate, the other my slight preference which paired salted peanut, an ice of rhubarb and milk chocolate. Both delicious, unpretentious and subtly satisfying ends to what had again been a very memorable meal.
Vinkeles is our most visited high-end restaurant anywhere in the world over the last 5 years, and on this latest showing its not very hard to see why. The dishes are always delicious and satisfying both on taste and intellectual level. It is innovative and yet classic and extraordinarily consistent. The restaurant is always high on any advise we give to people looking for a special meal in Amsterdam and thus, in combination of all of the above, it only seems appropriate that it must now surely be regarded as one of the 3 best in town. I should add that the other two are already 2 Michelin stars 😉 .
1016 GB Amsterdam