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De Kas in Amsterdam

Rating: 90.
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De Kas has been a steady fixture on the Amsterdam dining scene for many years. Any visitor of the Dutch capital with an interest in food will probably have De Kas on their restaurant list; during both my recent meals there, the dining room counted many nationalities. One of the main attractions of the restaurant is its unique location in a vintage greenhouse which dates bake to 1926, with an attached (second) greenhouse and vegetable garden. Farm-to-table is now a rather abused marketing term, but it was still a pioneering concept when chef/owner Gert-Jan Hageman opened De Kas in 2001. Hageman still owns De Kas today, but since around 2008 he has not had a hands-on role in the kitchen.

In recent years reviews of De Kas have been mixed, including a "tourist trap" review by Dutch restaurant critic Hiske Versprille in October 2016, who scored it 5 minus out of 10. Four months later Gert-Jan Hageman announced that starting March 2017, the young and talented chef duo Wim de Beer and Jos Timmer would be heading the kitchen at De Kas, succeeding the incumbent chef team of nine years. De Beer and Timmer previously worked at Rijks restaurant at the Rijksmuseum (1 Michelin star), where they had been part of the chefs' team since the opening in 2014.

De Kas is open for lunch Monday through Friday and for dinner Monday through Saturday. At lunchtime the restaurant offers a 3 course (€32.50) or 4 course (€42.50) set menu and the evenings they offer a 5-course menu (€52.50). I had lunch with my husband at De Kas in November 2017. I requested and paid for a 5-course menu. *I was recognised and I was served one extra course (the potato dish)

First to arrive were some mustard tapioca crackers served with a deliciously pungent celery dip that had a lovely smooth and creamy texture. Shortly after this was followed by some homemade potato crisps, seasoned with dried herbs and served with a piccalilli and poppy seed crunch dip. A lovely combination. Less convincing was a final snack of roasted purple heritage carrot, heavily coated with a lemon mayonnaise sauce, and finished with some nori crunch. The carrots were nice and soft but the mayonnaise lacked freshness/acidity and there was just too much of it.

The first course of the menu was a delightful pairing of sweet and sour pumpkin, red chilli and cucumber pickles, crunchy shallot rings, a little puddle of pumpkin and kalamansi dressing, coriander mayonnaise, crunchy pumpkin seeds, nasturtium leaf, and oyster leaf. A very attractive combination of flavours and textures, the pumpkin delivering a lovely nutty sweetness and the pickles adding just the right touch of heat in the finish. Best of all though was the wonderful interplay of sweet and sour flavours.

Second course was a creative dish of roasted Jerusalem artichoke, delicately finished with smoked oil, served with a caper and gherkin dressing, a light "beurre blanc" (made with Jerusalem artichoke puree and butter), Jerusalem artichoke tuiles, and winter purslane. The roasting of the Jerusalem artichokes had made them wonderfully sweet and the smoked oil intensified the roasting flavours. A dish with a lovely purity to it, the dressing lifting the natural flavours of the artichoke.

On to the third course: stir-fried Brussels sprouts, soft egg yolk, julienne-sliced raw leek, raw  sprout leaves, and a rich and full-flavoured onion broth, gently seasoned with dashi and spiked with vinegar. A well-balanced and imaginative dish, the Brussels sprouts being nicely caramelised, and complemented well by the onion broth and the egg yolk, the latter also balancing and soothing the acidity in the broth. Loved the flavour and texture profiles in this dish: there's the crunch from the sprouts, there's the smoothness and unctuousness of the egg, and finally the double hit of richness and acidity from the onion broth. 

Fourth course was a very enjoyable combination of a well-seasoned potato and mushroom puree, potato "spaghetti", potato foam, and sliced autumn truffle. Flavourwise a tried and tested combination, served here in an original way, and the richer flavours in the dish were balanced nicely by the acidity in the potato foam, which was clearly not just a gimmick.

The only non-vegetarian dish today was veal shortrib, brined and then slow-roasted in the oven, served with fermented garlic puree, pointy cabbage, slow-roasted onions, and a proper, rich veal jus. A wonderfully lush but not too heavy dish with supremely tender veal that married beautifully with the sweet, caramelised flavour of the roasted onions.

The meal was concluded with a terrific, well-executed dessert of a smooth mandarin sorbet, lightly flavoured with purple basil, served on top of some superb thin praline biscuits, a little square of chocolate cake, a light chocolate mousse, and finished with a concentrated mandarin "broth", delicately seasoned with a touch of clove. Chocolate and mandarin have such affinity with each other - it worked a treat, and the cloves and purple basil gave the dish a nice, spicy edge.

In a short period of time, chefs Wim de Beer and Jos Timmer have put their mark on the cuisine of De Kas, while remaining true to the naturalistic approach, on which the restaurant's success is founded. The menu is entirely based on the available produce yielded by the vegetable garden next door and by the second vegetable garden just outside Amsterdam (both presided over by Gert-Jan Hageman). Meat and fish are used sparingly.

So, vegetables are still the main focus, but make no mistake, the vegetarian dishes are proper dishes, beyond the usual aubergine and courgette stuff that vegetarians are often stuck with . The cooking is creative, skilled, full of flavour and I truly enjoyed how relatively humble ingredients were turned into luxurious flavour experiences. Based on my two meals at De Kas, one in May 2017 and the meal reviewed here, it's clear that the restaurant has entered an exciting and promising new chapter.

Posted 14-02-2018

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