6th Visit: Lunch Saturday 19th August 2017
(16 / 20) Business dinner favourite in transition to a new team. Well thought out and really beautifully presented dishes which still lack a little oompf but which show a lot of promise. Decent if slightly erratic service and all at a very sensible price point. Recommended already, I expect as the team settles in it will just get better and better, especially if they manage to transition the menu a little more back to concentrating on fish and a little less to hotel menu standards.
(Click on the score to see the rating system and why I write these reviews!)
€€€€€ 2 course lunch €30 / 5 course dinner €79
1 Michelin star since 2013
Gault&Millau : Not scored under new chef
For many years before I actually moved to Amsterdam I had been coming regularly on business, and had had the (sometimes dubious) pleasure, over the course of many trips, of being taken out to dinner at a wide variety of ‘suit spots’. Bridges, the signature fish restaurant at The Grand hotel, quickly became my go to place: Good food, efficient service, and a bright, spacious dining room which happened also to face directly onto the beginnings of the red light district. The location had the distinct advantage over other more claustrophobic business dinner settings that, when the conversation became tedious (as in business diners it invariably does), I could entertain myself looking at the tourists passing by outside in increasing states of disrepair. Notwithstanding the often bizarre shenanigans of some over-eager stag do-ers, this part of Amsterdam retains one of most beautiful canals in the whole city. And it’s certainly one of the oldest – the Princenhof, in which part of the Grand is situated, dates back some 400 years.
Thankfully the restaurant itself, which during its life had also been a town hall canteen, has also moved with the times. Indeed the latest refurbishment a year and a half a go has left it fresh, open and inviting, (albeit with a touch too much gilding for my personal taste). It is also boasting a new head chef in Andrès Delpeut, recently of the critically acclaimed restaurant Anna, also in Amsterdam.
The amuses came out; Two plays on beetroot. The first, a beetroot infused celery stick with liquorice which was both fresh and crisp with an interesting earthy undertone from the beet. The second, a slightly soggy madeleine, was rather less successful. Thankfully the bread and signature Ron Blauw caramelised butter (if not whipped like at his eponymous restaurant) easily saved the day. It was crisp, warm and smelling of everything a fresh loaf should. A second amuse followed which was described as a panna cotta of pea but whose texture was more like cream cheese. Despite that and the slightly unpleasant school-dinners shade of green they had managed to elicit from the vegetable, it was actually very nice to eat – quite fresh – and the little crisp gave a nice textural contrast.
Bridges is hailed as a fish restaurant, but I doubt everyone would come to the same conclusion looking at the menu. Surely a few fishy dishes reside there but then so does ris de veau and two types of steak. What it feels like to me is the line up of a decent hotel menu which needs to fit both the business dinner set and walk-in hotel guests looking for something more familiar. Having said that, the plates from the sea which I did get were all quite decent; To start an extremely beautiful play on sashimi via a tranche of pollack brushed with a slightly sweet eel sauce strong with soy and mirin. The equally beautiful garnish continued the sushi theme, the rice being replaced with delicate tapioca crackers, astringency from sushi vinegar marinated cucumber, and fishy reinforcements in the salty herring roe. I was a little lost why it needed so much dairy, but otherwise a decent start.
Next up were two further dishes from the sea. The first an equally pretty effort of scallop and north sea crab with a beurre blanc and vinaigrette of pomegranate. Whilst the dish lacked seasoning it was texturally pleasant and the unusual pairing of fruit gave a pleasant acidity and sweetness which complemented the rich underlying sweetness of the seafood.
To follow I was very happy to see some plaice, a fish which I adored as a child but so rarely find on restaurant menus these days. Covered in a herb crust, it sat in a light watercress emulsion and was topped with further herbs and apple. An accompanying and perfectly cooked mussel lent its ozoney salinity to help along the often dangerously delicately flavoured fish, and together the whole dish ate very well. But again the balance was a little off – when I think back of the dish, perhaps I admit influenced by the photo, all I can taste is the chervil.
Nadya was faring similarly with her vegetarian courses, all of which other than the sesame tuille appear in their own right on the menu – and you can tell that a lot of thought has gone in to each.
The sesame construction which has been lifted from the chef’s previous restaurant is indeed very pretty and again is a playful reworking of a sushi dish (normally filled with tuna and served with wasabi mayo and soy). In the vegetarian version, the fish is replaced by what Nadya described as a ‘cucumber melange’ which she said was pleasant but uninspiring.
More successful was the medly of carrot which was both beautiful and slightly strange at the same time – I couldn’t quite keep my eyes of the crustacea-like carrot-scaled mound at the front of the dish – I feared it might get up and walk off the plate at any second. The carrot sorbet was for me the winner – a huge hit of the essence of the vegetable, naturally sweet, the faultless quenelle delivered with an equally faultless texture.
To follow a miso soup with clever preparations of kolrabi and a delicious raviolo-like dumpling of shiitake, the combination of which contrived to deliver a huge umami hit.
Lastly but not least for the vegetarian section was a really stunning dish of potato. Whilst the crisps lacked a little crunch, overall the dish was clever and well constructed. Sadly Nadya is the only Russian on God’s green earth who doesn’t like potato – I personally would have been quite happy to eat more!
The finale for me before something sweet was a tale of two halves. I opted to take the veal sweetbreads instead of the steak which would otherwise have come at the end of the 5 course tasting menu. A steak has to be pretty spectacular to appropriately sit on a decent Michelin menu so I usually avoid the impending (and inevitable) disappointment by switching asap. The veal itself was impeccably cooked – just set through with no residual creaminess, still pleasantly light and spongy too, with a nice crisp crunch. And the pairing of my beloved kale with millet was also a nice touch albeit the bacon vinaigrette was oddly and unnecessarily sweet and quite salty.
And to end what had been a perfectly pleasant lunch we finished with a pretty chocolate/strawberry/basil dish. All of these elements go well together, we know that but the detail was outstanding – the pink pepper jelly particularly delicious as was the basil meringe.
Bridges has long been a favourite restaurant for a business dinner, but its also a standup restaurant at any time of day. The team is new so it would be pretty unreasonable to expect everything to be perfect already; For example we had to wait a very long time to get our first course. But such is life and it doesnt fundamentally distract from the fact that what is coming out of the kitchen is of a high standard. The vegetarian dishes, which readers of this blog will know we pay a great deal of attention to as a measure of real worth in the kitchen, were all well thought out and put together with skill. Whether this is yet good enough to hold on to a star I dont know, but its surely already better than some other establishments in town with similar ratings, and is also placing itself our a pretty sensible price point.