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Bridges at Sofitel The Grand in Amsterdam

Rating: 86.
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Bridges is the restaurant of one of the most prestigious hotels in Amsterdam, Sofitel The Grand on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal right in the city centre. The location of the hotel is steeped in history. Until Amsterdam became a protestant city in 1578, the Saint Cecilia convent was established here. For more than two centuries after this "Alteration of Amsterdam", the building, known as the Prinsenhof (the Prince's Court) since 1581, was used mainly by the Admiralty of Amsterdam, among other to house important guests; Maria de Medici stayed here in 1638. The Prinsenhof was completely rebuilt in 1661 and served as Amsterdam's town hall from 1808. In 1926 an important extension was created in the architectural style of the "Amsterdamse School" and in 1988 the complex found its current function as a hotel. From 2009 until 2011 the hotel underwent a € 46 million refurbishment; the new decor of the hotel was created by the famous hotel designer Sybille de Margerie, who was also responsible for the interior design of Hotel Le Crillon in Paris, among others.

(photo courtesy of Bridges)

In November 2012 the restaurant of Sofitel The Grand was ambitiously relaunched as restaurant Bridges "inspired by Ron Blaauw". The famous Dutch chef Ron Blaauw was the patron-cuisinier of the eponymous two Michelin starred restaurant, first in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel and since 2011 in Amsterdam. In 2013 the restaurant was transformed into Ron Gastrobar. Executive chef at Bridges is the youthful Joris Bijdendijk (b. 1984). Bijdendijk is a pupil of Ron Blaauw; he worked in his kitchens from 2004 until 2010. Afterwards he did stints at De Librije and De Zwethheul and worked as sous-chef at the famous Michelin-starred Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier (Jacques and Laurent Pourcel) before returning to Amsterdam. Bridges' restaurant manager Jos van Hunen has been in charge of the restaurant at The Grand since 2008; head sommelier Jasper van den Hoogen held positions at a number of Dutch Michelin starred restaurants, including Parkheuvel (two stars) and Ciel Bleu (two stars), before coming to The Grand.

Bridges is open daily for lunch and dinner. There's a comprehensive menu that offers 'raw bar' dishes such as oysters, seafood platters and 'cornettos' with various fish and meat fillings; a selection of 'seasonal favourites' (fish and meat dishes, all at €19), a selection of Bridges "classics", such as Côte de Boeuf and sea bass in a salt crust and finally there's a 6-course tasting menu for €89. I had lunch at Bridges with my husband on Wednesday 21 August 2013 and we ordered dishes from the seasonal favourites section on the menu and one cornetto each.

Lunch started with a brandade 'bonbon' rolled in a mixture of sage and tomato and a crispy cheese ball with a soft Old Amsterdam cheese filling. The cheese ball was delicious, but I wasn't to keen on the brandade bonbon.

Gazpacho with finely chopped Gillardeau oyster, Mexican baby cucumber, garnished with a borage flower was served as an amuse bouche. Wonderful, sharp and salty flavours with a spicy finish and not a single raw note.

A steak tartare cornetto was served next. Cornettos made a regular appearance on the menu of Ron Blaauw's former two-star restaurant. A nice and crisp brik pastry cornetto with a well-seasoned steak tartare filling, dipped in some crispy deep-fried potato brunoise. A spicy tomato mayonnaise and some extra crispy potatoes were served on the side. The spicy mayonnaise was nice, but the fiery heat in the aftertaste was very powerful and didn't really add much.

This starter was followed by four 'seasonal favourites'. First "Roasted Langoustine", a flavoursome and tender roasted langoustine, served with langoustine tartare, an elegant green curry crème, trout caviar and puffed quinoa mixed with Malto. The curry crème was light but full of flavour and added a nice touch of depth and heat. Lovely freshness and extra texture from the trout caviar. Great crunch and a lightly sweet, highly addictive flavour from the puffed quinoa. This was a very good and attractively presented dish, although half the amount of quinoa or even less would have been quite sufficient.

The second dish was "Whitebait Escabeche" a puff pastry pizza topped with a smooth aubergine 'caviar', sliced scallops, a fresh green herb salad with deep-fried whitebaits peeking out and a green tomato sorbet on top. After deep-frying, the whitebait are cooled down with an escabeche marinade. A surprising but lovely combination, however the Escabeche part was a bit lost on me. Nice balance between warm and fresh flavours. Loved the subtle crunch of the whitebait. Since this was quite a substantial dish it was recommended for sharing, which we did.

On to the third dish: "Truffle with soft egg yolk", subtitled "Messeklever crème, cauliflower and sorrel". This turned out to be a large cauliflower puree 'egg' with a small creamy egg yolk centre. The egg was placed on top of brioche toast that was covered with a truffled Messeklever (a soft Dutch cheese) crème and garnished with some freshly shaved truffle and sliced cauliflower. At the bottom of the bowl was a pure sorrel puree. I liked the individual flavours but they didn't work completely as a dish. Furthermore, the cauliflower/egg yolk ratio was not to my liking: cauliflower was the main ingredient and provided the predominant flavour. This should really have been presented on the menu as a cauliflower dish.

The final dish was "Pan-Fried Grey Mullet": a beautifully cooked piece of moist grey mullet that was full of flavour and had a lovely firm texture. The grey mullet was accompanied by some delicious well-made nettle gnocchi (wrapped in chard leaves) and a beurre rouge that had a lovely touch of sharpness. Also on the plate was a fantastic smoked eel and parsley terrine. A well-executed dish with wonderful balance between richness and freshness and definitely the highlight of this meal.

For dessert I had "Glazed cherries": soft and sticky glazed cherries served with pistachio cake, pistachio ice cream, meringue pieces, cherry foam and some buttery crumbs. A nice dessert but unfortunately the flavour of the pistachio ice cream was slightly off: it tasted of brown bread, of rye almost. I do not know what exactly caused this error, but I am lead to believe that it might be worth reconsidering the quality of the pistachio puree used to make this ice cream.

Even though it has been open for more than nine months now, Bridges strikes me as a restaurant that is still in the process of finding its feet. The ingredients are there, so to speak. The team, both in the kitchen and front of house, is skilled and experienced, the restaurant is on a triple A location, the dining room is beautifully designed and the restaurant has a delightful courtyard for service on summer's days. And yet it left me a bit confused - maybe because it is a bit confused itself?

The restaurant is billed as an establishment where it is "all about fish" - and yet you will find foie gras, steak tartare, côte de boeuf, pigeon and lamb on the menu. According to the website the cuisine is "French-internationally inspired"; "bridges French and Dutch culinary traditions", and "always looks for local produce but does not lose sight of the beautiful flavours of the rest of world". This sounds like a restaurant that is not clear about its own identity and risks being a little bit of everything. In my experience this is a price that many hotel restaurants pay for having to be many things to many people.

The menu is a bit confusing too. The seasonal favourites are presented as "small dishes" but some are indeed small and some are full-blown main courses - the concept is reminiscent of Ron Gastrobar but this is not a bar but a restaurant. The description of the dishes on the menu can be confusing too; the whitebait escabeche was a sideshow in the actual dish and the truffle took a back seat on a cauliflower dominated plate of food.

The elements of the dishes that I tasted were mainly well-prepared but only one was without errors (the grey mullet). All the others had flaws that ranged from mildly unpleasant (too much heat in the spicy mayonnaise with my cornetto and too much quinoa with the langoustine) to outright unacceptable (dodgy pistachio ice cream). Bridges is very much a work in progress. I am convinced that it has the potential to get there, but it will have to find its bearings, focus on what it wants to be and limit itself to doing that very well.

Posted 25-08-2013


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