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212 in Amsterdam

Rating: 93.
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Last year, at the end of August, news broke that chefs Richard van Oostenbrugge and Thomas Groot of restaurant Bord'eau (2 Michelin stars at the time), would leave Bord'eau by the end of the year to start their own kitchen counter restaurant in Amsterdam. Two weeks later, around my birthday, I had one final meal at Bordeau, a truly outstanding meal that was nothing short of three-star quality. I only mention this in passing, but it shows that these two talented chefs starting their own restaurant might be one of the best things that could happen to the Amsterdam dining scene. Richard van Oostenbrugge had been excecutive chef at Bord'eau since the opening in 2012, with Thomas Groot as his right-hand man and head chef, and their cooking was awarded a Michelin star within the first year of opening, the second star followed the year after.

(courtesy of 212)

The new restaurant is called 212, named after the address of the building it's housed in (Amstel 212), and it has 30 seats, most directly at the kitchen counter. There is a kitchen team of around 10, which includes a number of chefs from the old Bord'eau team. Front of house also includes some ex-Bord'eau members, among whom sommelier Daphne Oudshoorn (also the partner of Richard van Oostenbrugge), who has put together an impressive wine list.

212 is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The restaurant offers an à la carte menu with dishes priced between €23 and €58 (and €123 for a Wagyu main course) or you can go for a multi-course tasting menu (5 courses €108, 8 courses €138). I had lunch with my husband at 212 in February 2018 and we both ordered the 8-course tasting menu plus one à la carte dish (the turbot) to share, which dish turned out to be complementary in the end. *I was recognised.

First to arrive was a selection of appetisers, starting with a "Liquid shiso chicken pie", comprised of a perfectly thin chicken skin tartlet, with a thin layer of cold "sauce Royale" at the bottom, and topped with a liquid blob of shiso juice. An exquisite bite with good, strong flavours, that married well together. Next up was yoghurt consommé, topped with some glossy Tonburi Akita (the dried and pearled seeds of a Japanese cypress, also known as "field caviar") and smoked potato ice cream. A lovely dish with contrasting temperatures and textures, and the ice cream was wonderfully smoky. Equally lovely was a delicious pine nut Ajo blanco seasoned with smoked garlic, the latter giving the Ajo blanco a nice oomph. Finally there was some coarsely chopped seabass (lightly smoked by hanging above the open fire in the kitchen), served with a plankton mayonnaise, radish, and a seasoning of passion fruit. Nice and pure seabass with a delicate smokiness to it, and the mayo added a nice smoothness to the dish. However, the passion fruit flavours were too subtle.

On to the tasting menu. First course was an excellent dish of Northsea crab, cooked at 62°C and served with a crab "XO sauce", crispy chicken "croutons" (made with chicken and tapioca), and a light and creamy sweetbread soubise. An excellent dish, the delicate sweet crab meat melting nicely together with the sweetbread soubise, the XO sauce adding saltiness and depth. Good textures too.

Even better was the next course of curly kale, chopped poached oyster, hazelnut fusilli, salted lemon crème, and foamy and creamy sauce made with sole, mussels and oyster. The kale still had a lovely bite to it and went well with the briny and juicy oyster, and the superb sauce, which had a lovely light texture and a nice complexity, gave the dish a nice and warm finish. Creative and well-judged use of salted lemon too, waking up the brininess of the oyster perfectly. The only let-down in this dish were the transparent hazelnut "fusilli", which looked pretty and added texture, but unfortunately didn't have much flavour. 

Next up was a dish of baby potatoes and Dutch Robiola cheese, a dish that reminded me of the cheese-filled gnocchi that were once on the menu at Bord'eau. So, baby pototoes with a cheese filling, served with little cubes of Madeira jelly, a clove-flavoured sabayon, a delicate, lightly thickened sauce made with chicken/cooking juices, and the dish was finished with some freshly grated black truffle. A fantastic course with familiar and comforting flavours, each baby potato deliciously bursting with melting cheese. However, there was only the mildest hit of cloves, perhaps too mild? I'm not sure whether the clove sabayon had a real purpose in this dish. 

Certainly bursting with flavour was the fourth course of langoustine cooked in duck fat, dusted with coffee powder, and complemented by a delightfully rich dashi-based Albufera sauce (elegantly enriched with foie gras) and some freshly shaved katsuobushi. A carefully executed dish with a magnificent sauce, that had just the right touch of acidity and a pleasing silky smooth texture, and the katsuobushi lended a smoky, umami-rich complexity. I had this gorgeous dish once or twice before at Bord'eau, and I'm really happy to see that it has made it to the new menu at 212. I thinks it fits perfectly.

Fifth course was a piece of perfectly moist monkfish, first poached in oil with some smoked garlic, then flash-barbecued and finished with a light smoked garlic glaze and a seasoning of crushed rose buds and garam masala. Accompanying the monkfish was a mussel broth delicately seasoned with warm spices, and an onion soufflé shell filled with a monkfish liver crème. An excellent dish, the distinct seasoning clinging beautifully to the monkfish, boosting its flavour, making for a intense but refined flavour experience, and the addition of the monkfish's liver crème completed the dish.

This was followed by the extra turbot course (we shared one a la carte portion). Skillfully cooked turbot with a beautiful caramelisation and with a gorgeous bacon, onion and truffle "rub", served with a light oxtail jus, and a creamy aubergine caviar that had been seasoned with a touch of sesame oil. Luxurious flavours served in a relatively effortless way. The turbot and its decadent rub delivered a satisfying flavour marriage, and the oxtail jus complemented the meatiness of the turbot wonderfully. 

Sixth course of the tasting menu today was loin of venison, larded with Lardo di Collonata, and accompanied by crunchy freeze-dried olive pips, a pungent green pepper and green olive sauce, and a venison jus. Once the dish was served, a "green olive" was taken from a glass jar and placed on the venison. Expertly cooked venison, with a tender and silky texture, the lardo adding a hint of sweet fattiness, and the sauce delivering a lovely bittersweet contrast. An original dish with dynamic flavours and well-balanced fruity bitters, best of all though was the rather splendid "green olive" with a Puttanesca filling and a thin cocoa butter casing, which gave the dish a nice, spicy and tangy edge.

Next up was the cheese course (we shared one). 212 offers an exceptional, virtually all Dutch cheese board with carefully sourced cheese from famous Dutch cheese monger Fromagerie l'Amuse, including a quite spectacular six (!) year old 'Leidse Sleutelkaas'. The cheeses were accompanied by jams and chutneys, homemade by Daphne Oudshoorn's parents, which is a nice personal touch.

Six-year-old Leidse Sleutelkaas

The meal was concluded with two desserts. First up was a frozen lemon soufflé, gently seasoned with curry, and served with lemon curd. An uncomplicated but creative and refreshing dessert, with good sharp lemon flavours and the curry spicing adding a nice touch of warm savouriness. Second dessert was a very enjoyable and playful combination of whisky sour sorbet and liquid flambé cherry spheres. Both desserts were light and fresh in style, a welcome change to the usual blast of sugar at the end of a multi-course meal.

Those hoping to be served Bord'eau-style food in a kitchen counter setting will be disappointed. With 212 Richard van Oostenbrugge and Thomas Groot have made a clean cut and have chosen a clear change of direction. Their Bord'eau is now history (see my 2012 and 2014 reviews). At the new location you can sense a free-spiritedness with dishes that are significantly different in make-up, with hardly any frills or decoration. There seems to be more creative and artistic freedom here. Today's menu featured some sharp looking plates of food, infused with new techniques (eg the use of open fire), a creative choice of ingredients, and often with a surprising twist.

The pricing at 212 is ambitious (both food and wine), but foodwise that is made up for by top-drawer ingredients. Standout dishes today were the monkfish, the venison and of course the langoustine, all essentially complex dishes but with clean and compact flavours. The well-considered simplicity of the desserts showed a refreshing confidence. I did feel some of the dishes still need some fine-tuning and flavourwise there will be no harm done if they turn up the volume. That said, I very much enjoyed the relaxed informality of the restaurant, and I laud them for being able to serve such a high-quality meal within 6 weeks after opening. This restaurant clearly holds a lot of promise. 

As a restaurant, 212 chimes in perfectly with the changing times in the Amsterdam restaurant world. The city has gained much more gastronomic diversity in recent years. There's a now a wide variety of good-quality restaurants spread across town, ranging from upscale dining to casual eateries, making Amsterdam one of the emerging food cities in Europe. 212 is the first of its kind in Amsterdam, and I have no doubt that it will prove to be a defining restaurant for the Dutch capital, one that could land the city definitively on the international culinary map.

Amstel 212, Amsterdam

Posted 02-03-2018

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