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Choux in Amsterdam

Rating: 90.
Rating index:
Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
Very good to Excellent (89-92)
Above average to Good (86-88)
Below Average to Average (80-85)
Avoid (below 80)
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Choux is a new venture by chef Merijn van Berlo and sommelier Figo van Onna, who have previously opened Repéré and Foyer, two successful pop-up restaurants in Amsterdam, in 2014. The restaurant opened its doors in May 2015 and has its abode in the Spring House, located on the south bank of the IJ river in Amsterdam. Where in London a new restaurant would get all the critics in, in the first weeks after the opening, the Dutch critics still allow a restaurant the time to settle in and there's no real competitiveness to publish "the first" review. However, a good review by a critic may have the same effect as it would in the UK. In August 2015 Dutch critic Hiske Versprille wrote a raving review of Choux in the Amsterdam newspaper "Het Parool", awarding the restaurant a 9 minus (out of 10). Choux has been packed since.

(courtesy of Choux)
On offer is a seasonal menu, from which you can select 3 (€31) or 4 (€39) courses, including vegetarian options, and there's a 7-course tasting menu (€55), where the chef selects the dishes for you. The wine list focuses on biodynamic and/or natural wines and offers an eclectic and mainly well-priced selection. I had dinner with my husband at Choux on Wednesday 11 November 2015 and we both ordered 4 courses.

First up was a lovely amuse bouche of cauliflower crème, with crunchy turnip "spaghetti", prune puree and some grated bottarga. Shortly after, my first course arrived: roasted pork belly with flavoursome and tender meat and a lovely crisp skin, accompanied by a gorgeous pig's trotters bouillon, squid noodles, a few pieces of battered squid, green onion puree, lots of crunchy green leaves including sprouts and kale, and some spelt. A delightful dish with a great variety of textures. I particularly loved the pig's trotters bouillon, which had the characteristic sticky gelatinous mouthfeel, but in a wonderfully elegant way. The intensity of the flavours in this dish was terrific and they were perfectly balanced by a touch of acidity and by the spelt, which brought a touch of lightness to the dish. 

Equally lovely was the next course of monkfish cheeks, complemented by a Champagne beurre blanc, a succulent poached oyster, some wilted spinach and a sprinkling of crisp and buttery bread crumbs for extra texture. Hidden underneath the monkfish were some cooked potato strings, which balanced the richer flavours in this dish nicely. The beurre blanc was well-made with just the right touch of sharpness, and the brininess of the oyster really lifted the dish. A well-executed plate of food with attractive flavours.

Third course was a beautiful piece of brill, cooked on the bone, and served with a beurre blanc, brandade, crunchy crosnes, chopped hazelnuts, mushrooms, watercress, soft Jerusalem artichoke, fresh chicory leaves and some (I believe) braised chicory root. The brill was perfectly cooked (cooking fish on the bone always gives it that something special) and the beurre blanc and the hazelnuts delivered a lovely "beurre noisette" touch. Lovely subtle bitters from the chicory, which, together with the sharpness of the watercress, balanced the dish out wonderfully. 

Dessert was French toast, soft Elstar apple, red cabbage sorbet, "hangop" (strained yoghurt), beurre blanc powder, and a lovely bright lemon thyme sauce. A truly creative combination which delivered comfort and freshness in equal measures. Lovely warmth and elegant sugariness from the French toast and the hangop was firm and creamy, as it should be. I don't think I had ever had red cabbage sorbet before, but its crisp cabbage sweetness worked well in this dessert.

If you look back at the developments that have taken place on the Amsterdam dining scene in the past two or three years, there's one thing that can be said for sure: the Amsterdam dining scene has come of age. The past 18 months have seen a wave of new restaurants, some more exciting than others, and obviously including lots of places that have jumped on the burger and pulled pork bandwagon. But I'm not complaining. Amsterdam's dining scene is bigger and better than ever and this restaurant renaissance also brings forth innovative restaurants like Choux. 

The young team at Choux delivers an informal and avant-garde dining experience and the style of cooking and the style of service are very much in sync. The food shines with its well-judged flavours and innovative touches and, whilst certainly not minimalistic, proves convincingly that in the Dutch context too, very good food does not need a stuffy atmosphere. The recurring beurre-blanc theme was attractive (I do love my beurre blanc), but I would like to see a bit more variation in the sauce repertoire. Choux is a breath of fresh air in Amsterdam and it may well prove to be one of the defining new-wave restaurants in Dutch gastronomy.

De Ruijterkade 128 

Posted 16-11-2015


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