Tuesday, May 1, 2018

De Librije Jonnie Boer

Benelux region has been relatively quiet regarding world class restaurants when compared to other countries in Europe such as France, Spain or Germany. In the mid 00's, Oud Sluis put Netherlands on the map and became the talk among (serious) foodies. Little did we know that a couple of years earlier - in 2004 to be exact, a restaurant named De Librije, located in the beautiful small town of Zwolle, was awarded 3-star Michelin. Early in 2015, De Librije dining place was relocated to the current historic building - a former prison for more than 200 years. The restaurant was at the basement while the boutique hotel under the same name occupied the higher floors. Slowly but surely, De Librije (owned and run by the venerable couple in the gastronomy industry - Jonnie and Thérèse Boer) has become the most iconic and influential restaurants in the country particularly in the past 5 years or so. It was very common to find people who would dine here once / twice annually for several years. After sometimes, finally I had the opportunity to visit De Librije (my maiden visit) for lunch with my wife in the early Autumn 2017.

After we had been greeted upon entering De Librije, the hostess escorted us to the striking salon. The first impression was the bright colors sofa, cushions, grey walls and floors as well as some modern artworks. After that, we moved to another salon in which we were served several canapes. Then, chef patron Jonnie Boer would come and explained the menu. Several minutes later, he returned and took our orders. My spouse and I shared as many different dishes as possible so that we could share. Based on the order of arrivals, the staff brought guests to their respective tables in the huge courtyard with really high ceilings. It was divided into 2 parts: the main dining room accommodating 30+ guests to enjoy their meals and another part was used for the plating of the dishes, putting wines that would be used for the pairings; there were private tables near the kitchen. The interior, mainly designed by Eric Kuster, displayed impressive glass ceilings, some big & live plants as well as strong iron structures. The big tables covered by white linens were well-spaced and the chairs were leather covered. It was a sunny day with lots of natural lights yet the room felt cooling. A beautiful dining room setting as if guests dined outdoor in the nature. Talking about the food, some of the best amuse-bouche of the day were veal tartare with herring caviar (pretty and delicious) and passion fruits with trout roes (refreshing and clean).

Degustation menu
M would refer to my dish; W would refer to my wife's dish; no info meant we had the same dish. I ordered a longer tasting menu by the way

M / Noordzeekrab, kippenlever, kalfshart (North sea brown crab with chicken liver, smoked celeriac and veal’s heart) - An unusual combination that worked well. There were extensive flavors from the mild & tender crab (seafood), velvety liver (poultry) as well as moist heart (beef); all of these produce was brought together beautifully by the smoky juice, olive oil and peppery spices. A solid start ..

W / Ganzenlever, spruit, rookaal, mandarijn (Goose liver, mandarin, Brussels sprouts and eel) - Similar to my first dish, my wife's also had eclectic flavors variations from the land and the sea. The foie gras was smooth while the local eel was light with pleasant texture.  They were in harmony with the refreshing yuzu sauce and nutty & rounded taste from the sprouts. A very good opening ..

M / Noordzeekreeftjes limoenblad, tomaat en eierdooier (North Sea Lobster with lime leaf, tomato, kombucha and cured egg yolk) - It's one of the classic dishes at De Librije. The Langoustine was actually 'fermented' / soaked for a few hours in water, ginger & sugar blend. As a result, the translucent big prawn was very flavorful. It was even enhanced by the turnip, seaweed juice and grated of salted yolks. 

Accompanied by wine: Albarano Spain (fresh & dry, peach & apple flavor, nutty with medium finish - good pairing with the seafood)  

River Trout with lovage, almonds, and sherry - The local Trout was tender with subtle / clean flavor. The white sauce (a mix of lovage, coconut and almond juice) and bright roes improved the dish's overall enjoyment. There were some texture differences especially when including the raw and cooked mushrooms. A nice and elegant surprised dish from the kitchen.  

M / Rivierbaars "kruudmoes" (River Perch “Kruudmoes”) - Jonnie Boer elevated the humble kruudmoes (a combination of buttermilk, bacon, barley etc.) to the gastronomy level. His version was refined and sophisticated yet still faithful to its origin. This perfectly complemented the freshwater Perch which was lovely, tasty and rather firm. It looked complex, but all elements (smoked sausage, thick white sauce) worked harmoniously. I didn't expect to be this good.

W / Gul, blauwe kaas, sparrentop, tulp (Young cod, blue cheese, spruce tip, and tulip) - A more 'feminine' dish for my spouse. The fresh Cod was soft with mild flavor. It was accompanied by the (thankfully) light blue cheese, delicate and lemony spruce tips as well as tender tulip. It was good but I wish the flavor had been more robust - rather pale in comparison to the pike Perch.

M / Zeeduivel verzuurde paprika en aubergine (Monkfish with soured pepper and eggplant) - The Monkfish's quality was superb; it was perfectly cooked and succulent. The dish was carefully balanced by the fermented bell pepper, butter sauce and onions. A well-deserved classic dish.

Accompanied by wine: Contraste Portugal (fresh & fruity white wine, nice acidity with good finish) 

Milk cow with eel, mushrooms and baharat - Strips of the dry-aged (6-8 weeks) were carefully seared, one-side only, on the hot rocks. Yes, the other side was indeed still raw. It was the 2nd surprise dish for us. The rib eye was served on the cow's shoulder plate, dusted by the cep's powder and a blend of middle eastern spices (sweet & smoky). The beef was, as expected, luscious and tender. The sides of potato crisp, smoked eel and acidic sorrel enhanced the overall experience.

M / Ree, sauce royal, doperwt (Venison with sauce royale and green peas) - The carefully executed venison (medallion + its leg) was really tender / soft with deep flavor. It was enriched by the elegant & deep brown royale sauce. In contrast, the kitchen provided the fermented peas that nicely 'neutralized' any gamey flavor - a refined dish.

W / Boerenduif, baharat, rode kool (Farmers pigeon with baharat and red cabbage) - The breast part was carefully sliced and served with its jus; they were tasty - the best part. The leg was glazed with bbq sauce while the cabbage and pigeon's heart were alright.
Accompanied by wine: red wine Kepos Toscana (medium body, little oak, soft tannin, round)

M / Ganzenlever, lychee, abrikoospit (Foie gras, litchi, and apricot seed) - It was a good example that De Librije's pastry chef was talented. Duck liver as a dessert? The first time I encountered it. This 'sweet' lychee with floral perfume + some aromatic vinegar turned out was capable of cutting through the poached foie gras's rich flavor. The apricot seed gave some bitter sweet and nutty flavor to the dish - smart & interesting.

W / Thai combined with Holland dessert - I don't know how to properly describe this dessert. The 3 separate bowls & plate were enjoyable by itself as well as when you combined them. There were root, ginger with some interesting spice variations such as turmeric & lemongrass. Then, my favorite part was the sticky rice with carrots and banana in coconut soup. Lastly, pandan with kaffir lime & macadamia. We're not blown away nevertheless it was playful and fun.

M / Beetroot rose with lovage - The beets were earthy and a bit sweet. The lovage's ice cream had distinct flavors that worked quite well with the blueberries and liquorice. The presentation was pretty but the taste was only Ok. My wife's 2nd dessert was better ..

W / Compleet losgeslagen Appeltaart volgens recept van Jonnies moeder (Deconstructed apple pie according to the recipe of Jonnie’s mother) - To enjoy and taste this sweet, ideally we would put together a bit of everything - good vanilla ice cream & jelly, solid chocolate, sour & sharp apples - all elements complemented each other. This way, we would re-create our own apple pie; awesome.

Accompanied by wine: sweet wine Anjou (young, lively & fruity aromas, acidic - lovely chenin blanc grape variety)

After the desserts, the pastry kitchen served some mignardises such as Jasmine tea sorbet with grapefruit (refreshing) and Dehydrated orange, black mint and mascarpone (creamy & a bit salty).  Honestly, it was a stunning meal. The last time I was this impressed when visiting a restaurant outside France / Japan for the first time was my lunch at the Fat Duck, nearly 4 years ago. Jonnie Boer was incredibly talented and certainly among Europe's finest chefs. His cooking was sublime and creative; his dishes were innovative and exciting. Everything coming from the kitchen seemed natural and effortless following Chef Boer's instinct and passion. The commitment to source locally has always been his philosophy even when it was not fashionable years ago or when obtaining overseas luxury ingredients was just a phone call away. All of the dishes at De Librije may not always be changed each season, but the cooking would evolve continuously and it's been Jonnie's habit to keep reinventing himself. Bravo chef!

Therese Boer's roles to ensure memorable overall experience were also significant. She's leading from the 2 fronts: as the head Sommelier and as the Lady of the house - she excelled in both areas. Compared to the fine dining in France or Scandinavia, a meal here provided really good values. The same also applied to the wine. De Librije did not push for high end / expensive wines for the pairing, yet without even fully realizing their brand and origin, most of the wines offered went harmoniously with Jonnie Boer's cooking. If one preferred drinking French top wines, the selection was also enormous. Along with Stefan de Wilde, the charming restaurant manager, Therese led the waiting staffs deliver attentive and friendly service in a relax and fun manner. The service was efficient and smiles / laughter could easily be found everywhere. Our lunch was indeed exceptional. I hope this would not be my only meal here. Probably, I would include a hotel stay in the future. The pictures of our lunch can be found here: De Librije Oct '17 

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 97/100

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