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Central Park by Ron Blaauw in Voorburg (near The Hague)

Rating: 89.
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Central Park by Ron Blaauw ("Central Park") is a new, brasserie-style restaurant housed in a stately building on the the Vreugd and Rust estate in Voorburg (near The Hague), a space previously occupied by the illustrious and long-standing Michelin-starred restaurant Savelberg. The restaurant is run by first-time restaurateur Carsten Klint, and the menu is overseen by renowned Dutch Michelin-starred chef Ron Blaauw. Until two years ago Ron Blaauw held two Michelin stars at his eponymous fine dining restaurant in Amsterdam, a restaurant that relaunched as the more casual "Ron Gastrobar" in 2013. The kitchen at Central Park is run by Gijs Verbeek (the former Chef de Cuisine at Savelberg) and both in the kitchen and in front of house, the team consists mainly of the former Savelberg crew too. At Central Park, "some things change, some stay the same".

Central Park is open daily for dinner, and for lunch Sunday through Friday. The menu is similar to the one at Ron Gastrobar with charcuterie and small dishes priced at €15, desserts at €9, and there's a special BBQ section, with a choice of aged Dutch or USA steak (starting at €90 per 2 people), or Japanese Wagyu (when available - expect to pay London prices). As an homage to the restaurant's predecessor, the menu also has two signature "Savelberg" dishes on offer, priced at €30 each. I had lunch with my husband at Central Park on Sunday 22 February 2015.

Lunch kicked off with Central Park's charcuterie platter, containing a lovely selection of charcuterie from the artisanal producer Brandt & Levie in Amsterdam, including three types of dried sausage (garlic, fennel and chipotle & cacao), thinly sliced pancetta, "Ossenworst" (cured beef sausage), and Cognac and green pepper paté.

Next to arrive was fresh burrata accompanied by marinated cherry tomatoes sprinkled with sesame seeds, lightly charred avocado coated with sumac, some chorizo crumble and a fresh yuzu and orange dressing. A fantastic combination of flavours and textures; the milky burrata complemented the avocado nicely and their combined richness was balanced out well by the citrussy zing of both the sumac and the dressing.

This was followed by an indulgent yet light dish of barbecued green cabbage, simply served with smoked bone marrow and oyster crème. Superb cabbage, which was nice and crunchy with an elegant hint of smokiness, its natural flavours enhanced wonderfully by the oyster crème. Clever, creative and utterly delicious.

Even better was the next dish of wonderfully spiced chicken, barbecued to succulent perfection and successfully paired with an elegantly sweet corn puree, Piment d'Espelette popcorn, and some pickled corn for extra texture. A deftly executed dish with harmonious, warm and creamy-sweet flavours, offset nicely by a drizzle of salsa verde.

Dessert was Central Park's unpretentious but delightful take on the traditional "Dame Blanche", essentially a chocolate fudge sundae. Delicious vanilla ice cream, flavoured with muscavado sugar, was served with large quenelles of whipped cream, dark chocolate sauce, and milk crips.

At Vreugd and Rust in Voorburg, "something is lost, but something is found". Restaurant Savelberg epitomised old school fine dining, about as classical as it got in the Netherlands. It was about the proverbial lobster, truffle and caviar, white gloves and crystal glasses - not to mention butter and cream. Today Central Park serves barbecued green cabbage and Piment d'Espelette popcorn in a setting that is as informal as Savelberg was highbrow. The transformation has been very successful and the more flexible concept now makes this rather grand building accessible to a broader audience, both financially and gastronomically.

It is clear that the concept of Central Park is inspired by Ron Gastrobar, but it is certainly not an exact copy; both the location and the partnership with Carsten Klint clearly give it an identity of its own. Blaauw & Klint are not "Pretenders": in this relaxed but comfortable restaurant they serve cleverly conceived dishes, presented in an elegant fashion with just the right level of finesse. Very well executed, creative and attractive food that does not need to go to extremes to impress the diner. There is no doubt that Central Park will find favour with many punters.

Posted 15-03-2015


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