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Librije's Zusje at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Amsterdam

Rating: 94.
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Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
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The Herengracht in Amsterdam is probably the city's most expensive postal code. It is its Mayfair, its Upper Eastside, its 1st arrondissement, if you will. Of all the canals in Amsterdam (a Unesco World Heritage site since 2010), the Herengracht is the most prestigious. It was named in 1612 after the "Heeren Regeerders van de Stad Amsterdam" (the governors of the city of Amsterdam) and its grand canal houses were the residences in the Dutch capital of its governors, mayors and the wealthiest merchants. In the 20th century, many houses were converted to expensive offices, popular in the financial services industry (private banks in particular). No fewer than six of these (17th and 18th century) houses, located in the famous "Gouden Bocht"  ("Golden Bend"), numbered 542-556, have recently become the Amsterdam Waldorf Astoria. The hotel, with 93 rooms and suites, opened on 1 May 2014, Its general manager is the Italian-born Roberto Payer (63), the long-serving manager of Amsterdam's Hilton Hotel and undoubtedly one of the most renowned hotel managers in the country.

In keeping with the healthy ambition levels of the new Amsterdam Waldorf Astoria, Hilton Hotels and Resorts announced five months ago that they had signed up the foremost power-couple in Dutch gastronomy, Jonnie and Thérèse Boer, to oversee all the restaurants and bars in the hotel. Hoteliers in their own right and restaurateurs extraordinaire, Jonnie and Thérèse Boer are the owner-managers of a small empire in the Dutch market town of Zwolle, which includes three Michelin starred restaurant De Librije, two Michelin starred Librije's Zusje, Librije's hotel, a cookery school and a food and wine shop.

The Waldorf Astoria features a bar (The Vault Bar) and an all-day restaurant (Peacock Alley). The culinary focus however is firmly on the fine-dining restaurant called "Librije's Zusje Amsterdam" (Librije's little sister). Executive chef is Sidney Schutte (b. 1976), who trained in a number of Dutch and Belgium Michelin-starred restaurants. He spent his formative years as a chef at De Librije however (1999 - 2010), before moving to the Landmark Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong to work alongside two-star Dutch-born chef Richard Ekkebus. Also on board at the Waldorf are a few other (past) members of the De Librije family, including Sidney Schutte's partner Geralda Joziasse (F&B service manager) and Ruben Schuuring (maitre d'hotel). Sommelier is Willem van de Geer (formerly of two-star restaurant Ciel Bleu in Amsterdam).

Librije's Zusje Amsterdam is open daily for lunch and dinner and it offers a choice between a multi-course tasting menu (3 courses €68, 4 courses €88, 5 courses €98, 6 courses €110) and a vegetarian tasting menu (4 courses €58, 6 courses €78);  there's an a la carte menu too. I had lunch with my husband at Librije's Zusje Amsterdam on Saturday 3 May 2014 and we both had a 4 course tasting menu.

Lunch started with four appetisers. First to arrive was a tomato cracker with an avocado cream, Jalapeno pepper and watermelon, followed by a pita soufflé with a fresh, slightly acidic seaweed (Codium) cream filling and topped with herring caviar. Then there was a feather-light mackerel meringue, topped with smoked mackerel and Amsterdam pickles and chicken crackling, topped with a light and creamy chicken liver mousse, raisin and a small piece of 'zolderspek' (smoked and matured belly pork). Four excellent, well-executed appetisers with attractive and diverse flavours and textures.

Shortly after we were served an amuse bouche of an elegantly creamy white asparagus custard, garnished with finely diced crunchy white asparagus, grapefruit, crumbled blue cheese and fir cream. A pleasing combination of balanced sweet and savoury flavours and a nice zingy/piney touch from the fir cream.

Bread served with whipped noisette butter and caramelised goat's butter.

First course of the tasting menu was freshly picked Northsea crab meat, marinated in Fino sherry (Equipo Navazos), pieces of marinated apple, a few pieces of crunchy brioche, covered with a pile of grated iced foie gras and accompanied by dots of tangy green apple gel, mildly sharp goat's yoghurt and curry mayonnaise, and foie gras and yoghurt pearls. A marriage of lovely flavours, the sharpness of the apple brightened the crab perfectly and the curry mayonnaise delivered depth and length. The addition of frozen foie gras added a nice temperature contrast to the dish and the freezing had tempered the richness of the foie gras, allowing the crab to shine. 

Next up was green-tea marinated cod, brown algae, green beans, radish. An excellent piece of cod with a nice and firm texture and just the right amount of green tea coming through. The cod was cured overnight with green tea salt and then gently poached in olive oil. With the cod came an absolutely gorgeous dashi and passion fruit bouillon, that had a very precise blend of savoury and sweet flavours. Also on the plate was a mixture of puffed rice and algae, a few juicy cockles, crunchy sliced green beans, parsley root puree and radish filled with passion fruit and green tea puree. A brilliant combination with beautifully balanced sweet, bitter and umami flavours; the passion fruit adding a nice zing to the dish.

The third and main course was Kamper lamb (loin, neck and tongue), a crossbreed of Texelaar and Swifter. Wonderfully pink and succulent loin, accompanied by a sauce 'Anchois' (anchovies, pine nut, shallots, olive oil). A delightful and interesting take on the classic lamb-anchovy combination. First you taste the silky, mildly sweet loin, followed by the intense saltiness of the Anchois. Equally good was a piece of slow-cooked and lacquered neck topped with puffed quinoa, the latter having a nice toasty finish. A light and fresh lamb tongue and pea sprout salad was served amidst these two. Also on the plate was some chargrilled stem lettuce, a few dots of tamarillo and yoghurt-anchovy puree, a delicate aubergine puree, a crisp fried fish spine and a concentrated lamb jus. This was an exquisite lamb dish (and I'm really not that keen on lamb) constructed to have a beginning (loin), middle (tongue) and end (neck).

Pre-dessert was a playful take on the classic Waldorf salad: refreshing green apple ice cream, celeriac crème, fresh celery, walnut caramel and vanilla raisins.

Dessert was an entirely fabulous and gutsy combination of white asparagus, bloody sorrel and condensed milk ice cream. Juicy, bittersweet, lightly charred asparagus that had a hint of lemon, served with a few dollops of creamy and airy sorrel mousse delicately flavoured with basil, mini sorrel meringues, lemon cake and garnished with some nice and sour bloody sorrel leaves. A wonderful series of textures and clean flavours, that struck the perfect balance between (natural) sweetness, freshness and bitterness. Certainly not your average sugar powerhouse.

Chocolates, including De Librije's signature 'Thérèse's Kiss'

De Librije has branched out to Amsterdam. I know De Librije well; I have been going there at least once a year since 2007. Happily, the Amsterdam sister restaurant is not trying to be its identical twin. Nor is it used as a convenient outlet for dishes that were served at the flagship restaurant some years ago. At present, De Librije's Zusje Amsterdam unmistakably bears the stylistic signature of Jonnie Boer as trademark ingredients and techniques are incorporated into the menu (and long may the caramelised goat's butter continue to be served with the bread). For the time being the Zwolle and Amsterdam establishments show a clear kinship, but the restaurant in the capital is not De Librije "Per Se". With Sidney Schutte at the helm of the kitchen, I am confident that this newborn will find its own, distinct identity soon enough.

I know that it is still early days; in fact the place had been open for just 72 hours when I visited. I do not habitually review restaurants so soon after they have opened, but in this case and with this team, I was confident that teething problems, if any, would be very limited and I was not disappointed. The score is preliminary and may turn out to be slightly conservative, but it also reflects my appreciation for what Boer, Schutte and friends have already managed to achieve. De Librije's Zusje Amsterdam and me got along like a house on fire. The fine dining scene in Amsterdam has shown considerable development in the last few years and there is little doubt that De Librije's Zusje Amsterdam will be an important factor in shaping its near future.

Posted 06-05-2014


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