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Ron Gastrobar in Amsterdam

Rating: 89.
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At the end of March 2013, two-star chef Ron Blaauw took the Dutch culinary world by surprise, when he announced he would be closing his two-star restaurant in the Dutch capital for a small refurbishment and relaunch it as Ron Gastrobar. The aim is to give diners a more relaxed, informal and affordable dining experience. Within a couple of days the restaurant was transformed and on Thursday 4 April 2013 Ron Gastrobar was born.

Ron Blaauw's story started in 1999, when he opened his eponymous restaurant in the picturesque village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, a restaurant that made waves instantly in the Dutch culinary world. The restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star in 2003 (2004 guide), a second star followed in 2005 (2006 guide). In March 2011, Ron Blaauw moved his restaurant to Amsterdam. Through the years Ron Blaauw has been known for his contemporary and very personal style of cooking, but first and foremost for being an advocate of informal fine dining. So from this perspective, this new venture is a logical and consistent next step for Ron Blaauw.

Ron Gastrobar is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday till Sunday. As from 6 May 2013 the restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner daily. Ron Gastrobar's menu offers a wide selection of dishes all priced at €15, desserts are €8. The concept is quite simple, you can order as few or as many dishes as you like and the size of the dishes makes them perfect for sharing. I had lunch at Ron Gastrobar with my husband on Thursday 18 April 2013 and we both ordered 4 dishes (+ 2 to share) and desserts.

First to arrive were some 'Amsterdame uien' (pickled onions from the famous Amsterdam pickling company Kesbeke), whipped butter (mixed with beurre noisette) sprinkled with some chopped pork scratchings and the bread (in a white paper bag).

My first dish was Mackerel sashimi, sesame, ginger, yuzu. Excellent fresh and tender mackerel sashimi with tapioca pearls (marinated in yuzu, soy sauce and ginger), served with a wasabi mayonnaise and sprinkled with finely chopped chives and toasted sesame seeds. Lovely combination of fresh and intense flavours and a nice crunch from the sesame seeds. However, there was too much wasabi mayonnaise, which is a real shame because I had had this dish on a previous visit, when it showed a much better balance between mackerel and mayo.

This little glitch was soon forgotten when the next dish arrived. Jerusalem artichoke, crispy chicken skin, buttermilk. A wonderful dish of puffed jerusalem artichoke and a fantastic pure jerusalem artichoke puree which had a lovely silky smooth texture. Terrific flavoursome crispy chicken skin, natural-tasting, not too salty and last but not least a delicious thick but airy buttermilk sauce with a hint of beurre noisette, that added a nice warmth to the dish. A lovely combination of flavours and textures.

Mackerel sashimi

Jerusalem artichoke and crispy chicken skin

Next up: King crab, mashed potatoes, chives, shellfish sauce. Succulent and sweet king crab, topped with smooth and buttery potato mash, served with a wonderfully rich shellfish sauce and a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh chives. The shellfish sauce had a good depth of flavour and an elegant creamy finish. A perfectly balanced dish.

This was followed by the 'Green herb salad by Edwin Flores'. A crisp salad of various, lightly dressed, types of lettuce and herbs, served with a creamy tuna sauce, a soft-boiled egg and crispy deep-fried capers. A lovely fresh salad, the ingredients of which are supplied by Edwin Flores, a very well-known Dutch wild mushroom expert, forager and mushroom grower, who supplies fresh herbs, wild mushrooms and other foraged foods to some of the best restaurants in the Netherlands, among which De Librije and Oud Sluis.

King crab

Edwin Flores' salad

After the salad it was time for meat! Hubby and I both had  the 'Wagyu burger'. Two juicy and crusty Wagyu beef patties with an utterly delicious, lightly sweet crème of tarragon, wild garlic, sorrel and leek with elegant sharp notes. Also on the plate was a thick slice of potato and grilled spring onions.

Next we shared 'Ron's Cauliflower'. A contemporary take on the traditional Dutch meatball and cauliflower dish. Lovely buttery cauliflower served with a succulent pork meatball and a few spoonfuls of soft Dutch 'Messeklever' cheese. Lovely warm and hearty flavours, balanced nicely by the sharpness of the Messeklever cheese.

Wagyu burger

Cauliflower and meatball

Time for dessert: BBQ Banana and Dulce de Leche. Deliciously sweet and sticky barbecued banana served with a fresh banana ice cream and sweet Dulce de Leche cream, a few broken chocolate pieces and some biscuit crumbs. Simple but satisfying.

Ron Blaauw is a chef who goes his own way and with Ron Gastrobar he is adding another chapter to his book of culinary adventure. Comparing it to what was before, is pointless. The linen has disappeared. From a culinary perspective, the new concept has sacrificed complexity and finesse for the benefit of accessibility and flexibility, without compromising quality however - the hand of the master is still clearly visible. The food is quite restrained, there is balance on the plate and the flavours are clean and well-defined.

When I refer to accessibility I mean that the food, with its fewer ingredients, is easier to understand but also that you can go to Ron Gastrobar and leave with a bill of less than € 25 per person and not feel awkward about it. The two ladies who sat next to us and who had the langoustine and the risotto respectively, can't have paid more than that, even with a glass of wine each. Flexibility means that you can also leave with a bill of € 160 a head (as greedy me did, including lots of drinks obviously), but even I don't feel like the whole restaurant shebang and its six+ courses all the time. Ron Gastrobar will attract a wide audience without trying to be everything to everyone.

The wine list is very sensibly priced: wines by the glass start at € 4.25, a bottle can be had from € 25 and at the top end € 105 for Silex 2010 from Dagueneau or € 155 for Bâtard-Montrachet 2007 from Coffinet-Duvernay make other restaurants blush.

Is Ron Gastrobar just another bistronomy place then? Not really, it may have a slightly stripped-back dining room, but doing away with the (implicit) expectation that the diner will eat an entire (fixed) menu is novel in this respect. But what about the "small plates/sharing" restaurants, you might ask? Their food is usually much more straightforward. Ron Gastrobar has really created a niche for itself and it is a very welcome and vibrant addition to the Amsterdam dining scene. I am sure that the droves of tourists who will visit the Rijksmuseum, reopened after ten years (!) of refurbishment, will happily find their way here. And so will I.

Posted 23-04-2013


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