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De Librije in Zwolle, the Netherlands - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 99.
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After having occupyied Zwolle's former monastic library for 25 years, Jonnie and Thérèse Boer announced in September 2014, that they would be relocating their restaurant De Librije to the Librije Hotel, housed in the former city prison (they do know how to give old buildings a new lease of life). The restaurant reopened in January 2015 and is now situated in the hotel's spacious and bright, covered inner courtyard with a stylish new restaurant design and an open plan kitchen.

Jonnie and Thérèse Boer took over De Librije in the early nineties and under their visionary leadership, both in the kitchen and in front of house, the restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars in 2004, an accolade the restaurant has held on to since. The couple's second restaurant, Librije's Zusje, is located in Amsterdam at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Librije's Zusje was awarded two Michelin stars in 2014.

De Librije is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday and for lunch Wednesday through Saturday (from January 2016 lunch is only served on Fridays and Saturdays). You can choose between a tasting menu or the à la carte menu, the latter featuring classic Librije dishes. The dishes on the tasting menu are divided into 4 "colours", and you are supposed to select one dish from each colour. De Librije will then extend this menu with surprise dishes to 5 (€177.50), 6 (€185) or 7 courses (€192.50). I had lunch with my husband at De Librije on Saturday 17 October. *I was recognised and I think the foie gras may have been extra course, but sometimes it's difficult to keep track with these multi-course meals, so I'm not sure.

A meal at the Librije always begins with a series of canapés. Today's selection started with a cup of sweet and tangy fermented red cabbage tea with finely chopped apple, quickly followed by a crisp peanut waffle sandwich with an elegantly sharp crème filling of "zure bom" (pickled gherkin), and there was a delicious crisp prawn soufflé garnished with a crisp grey Wadden shrimp (no photograph). Then there was barbecued cod tongue with remoulade sauce and puffed quinoa, and halibut fin with citrus crème and seaweed served on a crisp waffle.




Next up was De Librije's iconic canapé of beef tartare (Roodbont IJsselrund), oyster cream, chive crème, potato puff, a piece of fresh oyster and an oyster leaf, which is assembled on your hand. The last two canapés were cep brioche filled with bacon cream and oyster with chorizo cream, served with gin-cucumber juice. The gin used for this canapé, is De Librije's own gin, called Gin & Jonnie Gastro Gin. 

(courtesy of De Librije)

A great selection of beautifully presented canapés, all with a touch of playfulness, but with exceptionally precise flavours at the same time. 

First course of tasting menu was fresh and tender brown trout served with grey shrimps, crunchy shrimp heads, marinated cherry tomatoes, a few dots of kaffir lime leaf mayonnaise and two little cornets made from marinated radish, one filled with smoked olive oil crème and mustard seeds and one filled with trout roe. The dish was finished with a clear tomato broth, lightly flavoured with kaffir lime leaf, and cubes of fried Dutch mangalitsa pork fat. An exquisite dish, executed with great precision and with beautifully layered flavours. With each mouthful there's the freshness of the trout, a touch of pleasant sweetness from the shrimps and the tomato, some citrus notes from the kaffir lime, and finally the warm unctuousness of the pork fat. Great textures too, especially the crunchy shrimp heads. For this dish Jonnie Boer uses trout which is farmed locally (exclusively for De Librije) by radiologist Gert-Jan de Bont, who, in his spare time farms trout in spring water basins in Hattem (some five miles from Zwolle). 

Second course was Northsea crab covered with a lightly charred savoy cabbage leaf, garnished with small foie gras pebbles and crunchy sunflower seeds, complemented by a magnolia-flavoured carrot juice. A visually stunning dish with exciting flavours and textures. First, there's the crab and foie gras, which is a match made in heaven, but the crab also had a wonderful hint of spiciness, which lingered on the palate. The carrot juice was outstandingly pure and brightened everything.

Even better was a succulent langoustine, served with chopped almonds, pickled dandelions, finely chopped gherkins, crisp marinated red onion rings, almond crème and a creamy sauce lightly flavoured with coconut. The langoustine had been lightly seared with a blow torch, resulting in a perfectly juicy and sweet, off-raw langoustine. Lovely, comforting creaminess from the sauce, while the gherkins, dandelions and onion delivered a wonderful acidic contrast and texture. 

Fourth course was fillet of Northsea sole served with various preparations of Jersulem artichoke, such as a Jersulem artichoke "tea", a tartare, crisps, and a roll, coated with dried Jerusalem artichoke skin powder and filled with oyster. A fantastic dish with sublime flavours that have a great affinity for each other. The earthy sweetness of the Jerusalem artichoke worked so well with the delicate sweetness of the sole, the tartare adding just the right touch of sharpness. There was also some smoked crème fraîche, which gave the dish body. 

The next course was a beautifully presented dish of expertly cut beef tartare (Roodbunt IJsselrund, silverside), served with Baharat spices and covered with a layer of Italian Perle Imperial caviar. The quality of the beef was exquisite, fresh-tasting, delicate, creamy, and with a terrific soft texture. The saltiness of the caviar enhanced the flavours of the beef perfectly, and the fragrant, spicy notes of the Baharat gave the dish a nice edge.

On the fifth course, wild duck fillet, served with a deep-fried green olive, preserved blueberries, and a confit duck leg and cabbage "salad". The duck was served with two sauces, a reduced cabbage jus and a duck jus delicately seasoned with star anise. A dish with staggering flavours. First there's the succulent duck with two sublime sauces, the cabbage jus providing a touch of lightness and the duck-star-anise jus providing warmth, and not to forget the delicate bitters coming from the olive. Then the elegant duck and cabbage salad, with the freshness of the cabbage and the intensity and richness of the duck leg. And finally the sweet and sour tang of the blueberries. The duck was decoy caught; the Netherlands are one of the few countries in Europe which still have a number of operating "eendenkooien" (duck decoys). One of the advantages of decoy caught duck is that it has no shot damage.

The meal continued with fried foie gras served with spicy watermelon, madras crunch, and some grated goat's cheese. A surprising but delightful combination with a balanced spiciness. Lovely caramelisation on the foie gras and the Madras added an attractive touch of spicy warmth to the dish.

Next up: a refreshing dessert of preserved wild blackberries, water mint, meadowsweet, a wonderfully sharp blackberry-colostrum ice cream, a colourful and pungent turmeric mousse, frozen blackberry juice and a nice and sweet blackberry syrup. A terrific dessert with a perfect balance between sweetness and sourness, the colostrum adding a lovely delicate creaminess. This was followed by (quite literally) a spoonful of delicious creamy coffee-coconut ice cream with crisp cookie crumbs and a cardamom-flavoured caramel crisp. And finally there was a savoury-sweet dessert of avocado/guacamole, vanilla crème and chopped pistachio nuts.



And to end the meal there were some homemade chocolates: wild mushrooms-bitter chocolate (brown), spruce tops-caramel-salt (large black), elderflower-white chocolate (white), and juniber berry-lemon (small black). 

Jonnie Boer is one of very few chefs in Europe who, even after an extensive and impressive career, is able to reinvent his cooking again and again. A seemingly unending expression of creativity and vision, and always remaining true to his roots, both culturally and personally. A fine example of this is Boer's choice of ingredients. These days top-quality, expensive ingredients from France are just a phone call and an 8-hour shipment away, but Jonnie Boer's cooking has always been based on Dutch produce, using local ingredients as much as possible, long before it became fashionable to do so. On display today were grey shrimps from the Wadden sea, locally farmed trout, fat from Dutch mangalitsa pigs, wild decoy caught duck, ingredients which can match the finest produce in Europe. Furthermore, depending on the season, up to 80% of all vegetables is supplied by Eef Stel in Dalfsen, who has been De Librije's vegetable grower for many years and who grows around 100 varieties for the restaurant in his gardens and greenhouses. 

Jonnie Boer talks the local talk, but also has the perseverance to walk the walk to find these great ingredients. I have been following De Librije closely for many years now and each meal has been an experience of surprise, delight and discovery, with exemplary hospitality by Thérèse Boer and her team.

Posted 27-12-2015


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