For Fenno (2002 - 2016), the best dog in the world
MY 15 BEST DISHES OF 2016
Let me start with a summary of my year in gastronomy.
My first restaurant meal of the year was on January the 1st, at 45 Jermyn St. (Fortnum & Mason) in London. A disappointing meal, especially the main course of Steak with Café de Paris butter, the latter not turning out to be the classic I'd hoped for, but more of a spiced seafood butter. But even worse were the side dishes of Petit Pois à la Francaise, served in a pool of butter and Cauliflower cheese with lumps of cold butter, which I had to send back to the kitchen. I didn't stay for dessert. So, not a great start of 2016, but things could only improve from there on.
Later that month I had some very good meals in Amsterdam, including Restaurant Breda, Restaurant Sinne and EN Japanese Kitchen & Sake Bar. Not so good was my meal at Kaagman & Kortekaas. Highlight of the month though, was my trip to Madrid. The main reason to visit the Spanish capital was the Alinea pop-up at the NH Collection Madrid Eurobuilding Hotel. The food at the Alinea pop-up was excellent, but overall it was a rushed experience - dinner done and dusted in 2 hours sharp. The pop-up did give me a taste of Grant Achatz' cooking, but I guess for a full-on experience I still need to fly out to Chicago. You can find a full review of the Alinea pop-up here.
My most memorable meals in Madrid were at PuntoMX (1 Michelin star), Coque (2 Michelin stars) and Restaurante Sacha.
February was a relatively quiet month. My best meals of this month were at BAK in Amsterdam, Choux in Amsterdam, and De Nederlanden in Vreeland, but a true highlight was my lunch at Chapeau in Bloemendaal, some 15 miles west of Amsterdam. This was my third meal at the restaurant in 12 months. The previous two meals were outstanding, but this time it was extraordinary, with a procession of faultless dishes, showcasing the finest produce. The kind of meal you enjoy reminiscing about for days, and I would score it 97/100. Shortly after my meal it was announced that Chapeau would close its doors for good in August 2016. But I have good news to report. In August 2016 chef Jan Sobecki opened his own restaurant Tribeca in Heeze (near Eindhoven). The restaurant has debuted with 2 Michelin stars in the 2017 guide for the Netherlands.
In February I also visited De Groene Lantaarn in Zuidwolde, the Netherlands, a restaurant that at the time had just been awarded a second Michelin star in the 2016 guide. Overall very enjoyable food, but it wasn't a really convincing 2-star experience, and the overcooked chocolate soufflé didn't help either.
March was a great month with fantastic meals, highlights being Cheval Blanc (3 Michelin stars) and Tanja Grandit's Stucki (2 Michelin stars) in Basel, The Jane in Antwerp (2 Michelin stars), Restaurant Schanz (2 Michelin stars) in Piesport (Mosel), Germany, and the always exceptional De Librije (3 Michelin stars) in Zwolle, the Netherlands.
But best of all was my lunch at Victor's Fine Dining by Christian Bau (3 Michelin stars, previously known as Schloss Berg). An off-the-charts meal, where the flavours were dancing off the plate. Christian Bau is one of the greatest chefs of his generation, with an unsurpassed mastery of his craft. This is the best table in Germany and it was my best meal of 2016.
April was a very busy month. At the time I was compiling a list of 38 Essential Restaurants in Amsterdam for Eater.com, so I visited lots of places, mainly to see if they were still up to standard. See the 38 Amsterdam here. So, that was the first two weeks of April covered.
A week later, April the 23rd was the start of two week Michelin-starred extravaganza in France, including visits to Le Cinq, Epicure and l'Ambroisie in Paris, Michel Bras in Laguiole, Mirazur in Menton, La Vague d'Or in Saint Tropez, L'Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux-de-Provence, Le Petit Nice in Marseille, Régis et Jacques Marcon in Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid, Lameloise in Chagny, and Les Crayères in Reims, amongst others. I must have brought some good restaurant karma to France, because with the exception of two restaurants, I had outstanding meals everywhere. The exceptions were Le Petit Nice (really disappointing, best course was dessert) and La Passagère in Antibes (1 Michelin star).
At the end of May I spent some time in London and Oxford. In London I had fantastic meals at Hoppers, Frenchie's, and the consistently brilliant The Ledbury.
June is about return visits to favourites, like Japanese restaurants Yamazato (1 Michelin star) and Sazanka (1 Michelin star) at the Okura Hotel in Amsterdam, and the aforementioned BAK, but I also returned to Hertog Jan in Bruges (3 Michelin stars), which was a solid 3-star experience. In London I revisited Kitty Fisher's, if only to have the beef tartare (no 6 in my 2015 top 10 Best Dishes) again and The Clove Club, the latter clearly having upped their game even more.
But I also went to two new London restaurants, Jason Atherton's restaurant Sosharu and Adam Handling's The Frog. Sosharu delivered the usual Atherton quality standard, but my meal at The Frog was a poor experience, including a weird and bland reinvention of macaroni and cheese.
I continued the revisiting theme in July, starting in the Netherlands with one of my favourite Amsterdam haunts, Ron Gastrobar (1 Michelin star), followed by restaurants Breda and Choux, and outside Amsterdam I had lunches at De Nederlanden in Vreeland (1 Michelin star), De Lindenhof in Giethoorn (2 Michelin stars), and Ron Gastrobar Indonesia in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Ron Gastrobar Indonesia is the latest opening of restaurateur and former two-star chef Ron Blaauw.
Back in the UK I returned to The Royal Oak in Paley Street, and in Bray I went to The Hind's Head, The Fat Duck and The Waterside Inn. The Fat Duck was as dazzling and extraordinary as ever, but my meal at The Waterside Inn was anything but. It was decent still, but so far off the 3-star mark, that I wondered whether they were even trying. See my review here.
I also experienced a wonderful, first-time meal at The Beehive in White Waltham (UK).
August was about exploring and travelling. Things kicked-off in Copenhagen were I had meals at Geranium (3 Michelin stars), Relæ (2 Michelin stars), Marchal (1 Michelin star), Bæst, Manfreds, Eldorado, and Hija de Sánchez. The highlights were Geranium and Relæ, but my meal at Manfreds was a bit of a disaster with unpleasant and raw flavours.
After a quick stop in the Netherlands with a wonderful meal at the ever excellent Aan de Poel in Amstelveen (2 Michelin stars), my culinary adventures continued in New York City. Generally I can be positive about my meals in New York City, but this time not all restaurants lived up to their billing. My meal at Gabriel Kreuther (1 Michelin star) was good but not great and three-star Eleven Madison Park and Le Bernardin didn't really blow my mind. Don't get me wrong, both meals were excellent but not at the same level as some of three-star restaurants I visited earlier this year in France. Lunch at Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns on the other hand, was a unique and truly magnificent experience, and I really enjoyed my meals at Del Posto, Russ & Daughters, and Minetta Tavern. Not so enjoyable were my meals at Semilla (1 Michelin star), MIMI, and Agern. Finally a special mention for Momofuku Nishi, were I got to try the he Impossible Burger, a 100% meatless burger that "bleeds" like meat.
The first two weeks of September were relatively quiet. My dog Fenno had just had surgery and there wasn't really time or interest to go out for lunch or dinner. The first big meal of the month, on my birthday, was dinner at Bord'eau in Amsterdam (2 Michelin stars) and they were on great form that night. Later that month I was in London where I had meals at Hedone, Blandfort Comptoir, Koffmann's, and Dinner by Heston, amongst others.
The month ended with heartbreaking news on September the 29th. Fenno was very ill, an agressive form of cancer, and the vet told me he only had a few more months to live at most. I didn't want him to suffer, so we decided together with the vet that euthanasia would be the best for him.
Fenno was euthanised on October the 3rd; he was 14.5 years old. My husband and I are childless by choice and we got Fenno when he was 2.5 years. I guess you could say that Fenno was the closest thing in our lives to a child, so his death was and still is a devastating loss. I cried for a week and I needed something to sooth the pain. So I did what I know best and got out the Michelin guide and booked some last-minute meals at three-star De Leest in Vaassen, the Netherlands, and three-star Vendôme in Bergisch-Gladbach in Germany. Obviously I doesn't take away the pain, but at least the beautiful food of Jacob Jan Boerma and Joachim Wissler helped me to forget about Fenno's death for a few hours.
Food continued to be the perfect distraction for my grief, and there were quite a few "distraction" meals in the following weeks, including two lovely meals in Amsterdam, one at Auberge Jean & Marie and the other one at Ron Blaauw's brand-new Gastrobar Paris.
The last weekend of October I spent in Germany. Friday dinner was at Aqua in Wolfsburg (3 Michelin stars) and on Saturday I had lunch at La Vie in Osnabrück (3 Michelin stars).
Originally I had intended to go Piemonte at the end of November, but because of October's sad events, I thought it best to spend some time with friends in London, which turned out to be a good decision. During my time in London I enjoyed some great food at two new London restaurants: Kiln in Soho and StreetXO in Mayfair, two of the most exciting new openings in London this year. Other stops on this trip were Noble Rot, Phil Howard's new restaurant Elystan Street, Spuntino, and the new Margot in Covent Garden.
Other highlights this month were my meals at Rijks and Breda in Amsterdam, Joelia (1 Michelin star) in Rotterdam, and Aan de Poel in Amstelveen; I also had an exquisite lunch at Librije's Zusje in Amsterdam (2 Michelin stars).
December started in Frankfurt and the Rheingau. My first stop was Villa Rothschild in Königstein im Taunus (2 Michelin stars, near Frankfurt), a disappointing meal, including a slightly bizarre main course and an inedible dessert. Much, much better was my meal at Restaurant Lafleur the next day, a very convincing two-star restaurant. Most surprising meal of this trip was at Gustav in Frankfurt (1 Michelin star), with attractive and well-executed dishes.
Back in the Netherlands I spent some time in the southern parts of the country and I had dinner at Tribeca in Heeze. At the time of my visit, the restaurant had only been open for four months. It was an outstanding meal, although Jan Sobecki's cooking is not yet at the same level as it was at Chapeau in Bloemendaal. I guess the new kitchen team is still finding its feet. Can't wait to go back in 2017.
The following day I had lunch at Inter Scaldes in Kruiningen (2 Michelin stars), a restaurant that has been cooking consistently and convincingly at 3 star-level for years now. One of the best meals of 2016.
Last stop this trip was Pure C in Cadzand-Bad (1 Michelin star), a restaurant that had been on my list for ages. An impressive meal, and I could kick myself for not going sooner.
A week later I was in London for Christmas with lovely meals at Bob Bob Ricard, Park Chinois, and The Colony Grill Room, and I was lucky enough to finally get to admire and taste the Pâté en Croûte from chef Calum Franklin at the Holborn Dining Room. I also had a terrific lunch at the wonderful Guinea Grill in Mayfair, the third time this year.
Here are my 15 best dishes of 2016, enjoy!
15. Guacamole at Punto MX in Madrid, Spain
Made to order, "Guacamole Punto MX", is prepared on a special guacamole trolley. Beautifully ripe and buttery avocados (ripened to perfection in the restaurant's own, temperature-controlled avocado room) are ground with an authentic mortar and pestle, and then seasoned with finely sliced green serrano chillies, chopped onions, fresh coriander, lime juice, salt and a drop of olive oil. Finally the guacamole is garnished with pomegranate seeds and served with a bowl of crisp totopos (corn crisps; some people insist they may not be called tortilla chips). The guacamole was perfectly creamy and spicy, without a single raw note - the best I have ever tasted.
My full review of PuntoMX can be found here.
14. Christmas Pâté en Croûte at the Holborn Dining Room in London, UK
A masterfully made Pâté en Croûte by chef Calum Franklin, beautifully decorated with intricate patterns, and a well-set and compact filling of turkey and bacon, sage and onion "boudin", and a superb turkey and Madeira jelly. I have been following Calum on social media for years now and he's always had a keen interest in pastry. Starting some 18 months ago, he regularly posted photographs on Instagram of gorgeous-looking pastry, like pithiviers, sausage rolls, and wellingtons. This year, I think it was in May, he took things to the next level, when he started experimenting with Pâté en Croûte, a complex art he seems to have mastered quickly, and this Christmas version is a triumph.
13. Pata Negra, beetroot, potato and foie gras at Joelia in Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Potato mousseline, melted foie gras, thinly sliced Pata Negra, Pata Negra vinaigrette, and hiding underneath the Pata Negra was a delicious beetroot ice cream. A sensational interplay of rich and decadent flavours and with a brilliant texture and temperature contrast. The crunchy ham against the soft potato, the cold ice cream against the smooth and warm potato and foie gras. This dish is an illustration that chef Mario Ridder is still one of the finest chefs in the Netherlands.
12. Scallop and trout tartlet & celeriac with scallop and brown butter bouillon at Geranium in Copenhagen, Denmark.
A delicate and crisp tartlet with an astonishingly good filling of scallop (seasoned with a touch of cream) and cured and dried trout flakes/fibres, and an accompanying dish with strips of roasted and pickled celeriac, sandwiched together with lemon verbena leaves, garnished with purple thyme, and served with a delicately flavoured scallop coral and brown butter bouillon. Two extraordinary dishes executed with great precision, the tartlet being a thing of real beauty. Great flavour profiles too: the tartlet had a terrific flavour intensity and the celeriac and scallop broth was elegant, with subtle, fragrant and floral notes from the lemon verbena and the purple thyme.
My full review of Geranium can be found here.
A kaleidoscopic act of raspberry and rhubarb. There was rhubarb ice cream, a little rhubarb jelly cube with a milky rhubarb filling, rhubarb-shaped raspberry puree, a fabulous rhubarb tartare lightly seasoned with vanilla, a sphere with a semi-liquid raspberry filling, iced raspberry and some iced buttermilk pearls. A stunning dessert with superb sweet and tart flavours, and displaying the highest level of skill and precision.
My full review of Victor's Fine Dining by Christian Bau can be found here.
10. Omelette with Iberico and truffle at Restaurante Sacha in Madrid
A beautifully thin, off-raw omelette with Iberico ham/fat and sliced black truffle. Simply magnificent and lush.
9. Bresse Chicken at Chapeau in Bloemendaal, the Netherlands
Three pieces of perfectly tender and succulent chicken topped with mushroom duxelle, sweet potato crème fraîche and slices of black winter truffle, served with a rich chicken consommé and a few drops of juniper oil. And there was a sublime side dish of chicken leg gyoza with Albufeira sauce, sweet potato puree, and black truffle. The finest ingredients shown at their best. Chef Jan Sobecki is one of the very few chefs in the Netherlands to have a deep understanding of classic flavours and of top-quality produce, but more importantly he has the skill to create extraordinary and memorable dishes like this one.
8. "Penne" Bolognese at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, US
A spectacular dish of dish of zucchini stem "penne" served with a zucchini and ground pork Bolognese sauce. The type of zucchini used here was originally grown in Bologna. A truly brilliant dish, both in flavour and texture, and using zucchini stem as pasta is beyond genius.
My full review of Blue Hill at Stone Barns can be found here.
7. Pigeon at StreetXO in London, UK
My full review of StreetXO can be found here.
6. Blood pigeon with pumpkin caramel and mustard leaves at La Vie in Osnabrück
Just a few words a needed for this dish: simply brilliant, and brilliantly simple. I takes a great and exceptionally confident chef to serve pigeon like this. Hats off to Thomas Bühner.
5. Aylesbury duck, pickled red cabbage puree, white beetroot, and pickled beetroot at The Clove Club in London, UK
The Clove Club were on brilliant form in June 2016 with the cooking being at two-star level. Winner of the day was a magnificent dish of duck, roasted whole with heather honey & black beer, and seasoned with coriander seeds and lemon thyme. The duck was served with pickled red cabbage puree, white beetroot, and pickled beetroot. For once I will let the photograph speak for itself.
4. Langoustines with yoghurt, buttermilk, and caviar at Inter Scaldes in Kruiningen, the Netherlands
Lunch at Inter Scaldes was a parade of astonishing dishes, but for me the real showstopper was a dish of langoustine carpaccio, delicately seasoned with a few drops of basil oil, and topped with dollops of Anna Dutch caviar, and yoghurt tuiles. Also on the plate were dots of buttermilk crème. A truly outstanding dish with possibly the sweetest langoustines I have ever tasted.
3. Pork Mille Feuille at l'Oustau de Baumaniere in Les-Baux-de-Provence in France
"Feuille à Feuille de Cochon", an absolutely brilliant main course best translated as Pork Mille-Feuille, with gorgeous, seemingly endless thin layers of tender pork fillet, sweet and rich onion confit, and bacon. A thing of real beauty, and to accompany this beauty there was some cylinder-shaped blood pudding, garnished with puffed rice and apple, and a rich and sticky pork reduction. Best of all though, was a side dish of potatoes cooked in trussed up lard, a technique called "en barde". I'm familiar with the barding technique (in short: wrapping meat in fat), but I've never seen it used with potatoes before - magnificent! Unquestionably the pork and the potatoes were a rich combination, but surprisingly refined, and everything executed with great finesse and expertise.
2. Bresse chicken at Epicure in Paris, France
Chicken! But not just any chicken. When I had lunch at Epicure in May 2012, I noticed the restaurant had the classic "Poularde de Bresse Cuite en Vessie" (Bresse chicken cooked in a pig's bladder) on the a la carte menu, and I believe at least two tables were served this iconic chicken dish that afternoon. I remember, because before the chicken is taken out of the bladder, it's presented to the table in the inflated bladder, which is quite a sight. As far as I know, only a few restaurants in the world have this dish on the menu, the only other restaurant in France where I've spotted and eaten it is Paul Bocuse. However, Bocuse serves a so-called "demi-deuil" version, with thinly sliced truffle underneath the chicken's skin, demi-deuil meaning "in half mourning". In the UK the restaurant at The Ritz in London had one on the menu in 2013 (see my review here).
First the chicken is put a pig's bladder, which has been turned inside-out, to avoid any potential flavour pollution; it is a bladder after all. Next the tied-up bladder is placed in a chicken broth and poached for 40-60 minutes, the poaching creating a steaming effect in the bladder, causing it to inflate. This cooking process results in an incredibly moist and tender chicken.
At Epicure the chicken is presented on a beautiful silver chicken leg display, then removed from the bladder, carved tableside and served in two courses. First the fillets are removed from the body and served with a suprême sauce, stuffed morel mushrooms, green asparagus, crayfish, and a farce made with chicken liver, cream and truffle. The legs and oyster (sot-l'y-laisse) are taken back to the kitchen for some extra heating, and later served in a rich chicken, leek and potato soup, with cubes of foie gras and truffle.
My full review of Epicure can be found here.
1. Seabass at Victor's Fine Dining by Christian Bau in Perl-Nennig, Germany
Seabass, topped with grilled baby leeks, deep fried okra rings, and served with barbecued eel, a smooth Japanese aubergine puree, charred baby onions, and a sublime "Kojyu" vinaigrette, seasoned with burnt leek powder and chives. The quality of the seabass was spectacular, perfectly moist and tender and deliciously rich in flavour; one of the finest pieces of seabass I have ever eaten. Equally impressive was the complex vinaigrette that had a good sharpness to it, but there were also some lovely, bittersweet umami notes coming through. An "all guns blazing" kind of dish, the richness of the seabass and eel balanced by the vinaigrette, the aubergine puree softening the sharper flavours.
My full review of Victor's Fine Dining by Christian Bau can be found here.