First star for Amsterdam restaurant
From day one, Bolenius has been a restaurant that has won high acclaim. Although it was consistently on the shortlist of Michelin star watchers, it took six years of hard work before it finally got one.
We had visited soon after it opened in 2011 and had a memorable asparagus menu. How would we like it now that it had a star behind its name?
Upon entry our first impression was that not much had changed: white tarpaulins on the ceiling, the same blond wood furniture, same cook, same tall chatty host. But that was probably it.
Dining Room Bolenius
After a slow start, we were on our way with a first set of appetizers as an entry to a five-course menu. Luc Kusters, the chef, is a champion of Dutch cuisine and one of the drivers of an organization, also named Dutch cuisine, which strives to promote the Dutch eating traditions that are much richer than many Dutch people proudly claim they are. Local inspiration is immediately clear in the appetizers: Chinese cabbage (a staple in the Netherlands) with nutmeg, a mini-blini of semolina with cream of rosehip and a sorrel leaf, and a ravioli of rettich with black bean. And, as it turned out, they still serve the signature amuse: a tiny crispy cone with “ossenworst” (raw beef sausage) and a très petit scoop of yellow Amsterdam onion ice cream, a recreation of a traditional Dutch appetizer. All appetizers were original and delicate, and induced a sense of nostalgia. As children we chewed on the sour-sweet stalks of sorrel while wandering along the railway track after school, we had rosehip jam on our toast and drank rosehip syrup diluted with water as a semi-healthy soft drink alternative, and one of my favorite desserts was semolina pudding with a sauce of crushed red berries. Altogether a fortunate renewed acquaintance.
Next we were served two more amuses: a mini vol-au-vent with mushrooms in a vegetable broth and a cream of Jerusalem artichoke with vadouvan oil and roasted buckwheat presented in an eggshell. It looked great, the spices of the vadouvan combined beautifully with the earthy tones of the Jerusalem artichoke and the oil gave the cream an extra layer of wealthy velvetiness. The meaning of the eggshell escaped me. Three days before Christmas, it wasn’t Easter quite yet.
The best dish of the evening, our first starter, was a small plate with a large variety of shaved, rolled up or elegantly piled up vegetables from Bolenius’ own garden, all prepared in a different way: braised, steamed, raw, as a cream, pickled, fried and so on. Full of color (from black, dark burgundy and bright green through orange, light pink and off-white tones), flavor (bitter, acidic, sweet, savory, earthy, fresh) and texture. Excellent simplicity, although probably quite laborious.
After a worthwhile North Sea crab cocktail with broccoli, we started to anticipate the first main course with great expectation. Cod (well prepared, slowly cooked and then briefly grilled, it seemed) with razor clams, oysters and briny vegetables. When the dish was served, the light above our table changed. It turned into a spooky purple-blue. Was this to enhance the maritime character of the dish? I don’t know. It worked, unfortunately, as an appetite suppressant rather than an encouragement to devour.
When we finally dug in, we found there were more flavors on the plate than expected. Too many. It wasn’t the bacon foam per se, but the algae, the crispy tapioca and the earlier mentioned ingredients somehow didn’t add up. And the oyster was creamed while I had hoped for a raw one or perhaps quickly grilled or prepared in some other simple way. This might be about preference, but I imagine that it would have been better.
The second main was humbler and more straightforward and, better: a juicy piece of turkey (we visited Bolenius just a few days before Christmas) served with pumpkin cannelloni stuffed with pumpkin cream, and one with a quail’s egg. Very satisfying.
Turkey, Pumpkin, Truffle
To remain in Christmas mode, we had gold, frankincense and myrrh for dessert. There was larch ice cream molded into a pinecone, a chocolate soufflé, myrrh syrup and a golden star in case we had forgotten that they had just been awarded their first Michelin star.
In many ways Bolenius is a very good restaurant. We appreciate that they are rooting for Dutch seasonal cuisine and some of the dishes were excellent. Noteworthy were the vegetable dish, the turkey and the appetizers. However, there was too much fuss. Was dessert really tasty, or was it, just as the light changes, mostly a gimmick? And do you become a better restaurant when you serve ever more appetizers and other extra dishes? (What I described above was a five-course dinner.) It could be; if you are really good. But Bolenius has not yet reached that stage. And why did I read the name Bolenius everywhere? Do you distinguish yourself from others by writing your name on serving trays and mints? Raising the question is answering it. The entire meal felt a little bit like an accumulation of attempts to please the Michelin inspectors but along the way lost its coherence.
We had a good start of our Christmas break at Bolenius. Their cooking has become more accomplished and I certainly think their star is justified. But somehow I have better memories of my dinner six years ago than at my recent visit. My advice: less is more.
George Gershwinlaan 30 – Amsterdam (Netherlands)
T: +31 (0)20 40 444 11
Five-course menu: € 76,-