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De Librije - 3 Michelin stars (2013 review)

Rating: 100.
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Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
Very good to Excellent (89-92)
Above average to Good (86-88)
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Avoid (below 80)
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In 2013 husband and wife team Jonnie and Thérèse Boer celebrate their 20 years at De Librije restaurant in Zwolle. These 20 years have been quite a journey, a journey that has taken them to the very pinnacle of haute cuisine in the Netherlands and arguably in Europe. The year after Jonnie and Thérèse Boer had taken over De Librije, the restaurant was already awarded its first Michelin star; the second star followed in 1999 and in 2004 the restaurant received Michelin's highest rating, 3 Michelin stars, which it has retained since. Deo volente, there should be another anniversary next year! Librije is ranked number 33 in the World's 50.

2013 is also the 5th anniversary of the opening of Librije's Hotel (a Relais & Châteaux property) and Librije's Zusje ("Librije's little sister"), Jonnie Boer's second restaurant. Librije's Zusje was awarded its first Michelin star only six months after the opening and in 2011 the restaurant was awarded a second Michelin star. But that is not all; there is also De Librije's food & wine shop and De Librije cookery school and wine academy - the Dutch market town of Zwolle has become an important international foodie destination in its new guise of "Librije City". In June 2012 Thérèse and Jonnie Boer firmly underlined this position by hosting "Chef's Revolution", the first international gastronomic festival in the Netherlands, attended by the likes of Massimo Bottura, Christian Bau, Sven Elverfeld, Joan Roca and Elena Arzak.


De Librije is open for dinner Tuesday till Saturday and for lunch Wednesday till Saturday. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu and an 8-course vegetarian menu for €150. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday the restaurant also offers a so-called Special Lunch Menu to celebrate their 20th anniversary: 5 dishes that are featured in Jonnie Boer's latest book 'Puurst' (winner in the 'Best Chef Book' category at Gourmand World Cookbook Awards), including an aperitif, wine, coffee or tea and a copy of the book for €180.

Since December 2012, De Librije has no longer served its set 8-course tasting menu. Instead, one can now create a personalised tasting menu, democratically constructed, together with the chef. The restaurant presents the guest with a list of dishes represented by their main ingredient, divided into 4 sections, including vegetarian options. One may select one dish from each of the 4 sections. An additional 4 dishes are selected by the chef, resulting in an 8-course menu, priced at € 182.50.

I had lunch at De Librije with my husband on 9 February 2013. My last visits to De Librije were in July 2012 and September 2011. This time the menu featured the following alternatives to choose from: Foie gras, Oyster, Kohlrabi - Scallops, Dairy cow, Egg Yolk - Pigeon, Roe Deer, Sauerkraut - Epoisses, Sweet Thai 'green curry', Elderberries. I picked Oyster, Dairy Cow, Roe deer and Sweet Thai 'green curry'. Whilst I was deciding on the menu, the first amuse-bouches (7 in total) started to arrive.
  • A small bowl of clear fermented red cabbage and dried paprika plant "tea". Unlike anything I had ever tasted before. Fantastic clean flavours and beautiful acidity (no photo).
  • Sashimi-like halibut swim fin (photo 1) with orange crème and apricot puree, served on crispy sourdough toast. The apricot added a nice touch of warmth; lovely citrus flavours in the aftertaste.
  • Smooth and creamy halibut brandade with very flavoursome and crunchy tomato quinoa (no photo)
  • Crispy cod skin dusted with seaweed powder and served with a small dot of citrus crème. Lovely fresh and pure seaweed flavours; nice and sharp citrus crème (photo 2).
  • Cod tongue and crispy chicken skin served on a crunchy rice cracker. The cod tongue was creamy and delicate. Great combination of textures (photo 3).
  • A De Librije classic (served on the top of your hand): chive cream, topped with a small piece of lettuce, then some 'Roodbont IJsselrund' beef tartare, oyster cream, a potato puff, a piece of fresh oyster and finally a small oyster leaf. Great length and build-up of flavours. First the saltiness from the oyster, then the fresh and creamy beef tartare, followed by a lovely oily finish from both the chive and oyster cream. Fabulous. (photos 4 + 5)
  • Brioche with a marvellous, locally foraged, creamy Maitake mushroom filling. Loved the touch of smokiness. Absolutely gorgeous. (photo 6)
A wonderful selection of amuse-bouches with precise flavours that certainly got the tastebuds going.

1 2

3 4

5 6

Time for the first course. Oyster two ways. First, Zeeland flat oyster, mustard leaf Kimchi, curry. A beautiful large oyster with tender flesh and a crisp minerally finish, served with some pure and clear cabbage juices, home-made mustard leaf kimchi and curry cream and oil. The piquancy and subtle bitters from both the Kimchi and curry were the perfect match for the briny oyster, the curry providing warmth and aroma rather than heat. An ingenious dish. I know about Kimchi recipes that use oysters, but I have never seen it the other way around, let alone Kimchi entering a three-star kitchen.The flavours of this dish stayed with me long after they had taken the plate away.

Next was Oyster, pineapple, kohlrabi, foie gras. Oyster marinated in 18 month aged pineapple juice served with finely chopped pickled kohlrabi and topped with grated foie gras. A dish with wonderful creamy flavours that were powerful at the same time, flavours that left a tickling sensation on the tongue. The pineapple flavours were fantastic, not too sweet. Great texture and acidity from the pickled kohlrabi.






Second course: Langoustines (seared on one side), pumpkin, blue cheese, cucumber distillate and cucumber-verbena cream. Excellent succulent and juicy langoustines sprinkled with crunchy black quinoa, served with pumpkin caviar (that instantly dissolved on the tongue), pumpkin puree and slices of pickled pumpkin. Wonderful sweet and nutty flavours from the pumpkin and a nice touch of warmth from the black quinoa. The cucumber distillate was amazing and had incredible pure and fresh flavours. Lovely creamy crumbled blue cheese that delivered just the right amount of saltiness. A dazzling and visually stunning dish with an exciting and wonderful synergy between sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavours and the cucumber distillate gave the dish a fantastic clean finish.


Third course: Cod loin fillet, Jerusalem artichoke flower tea, smoked sprat. Beautifully cooked firm and moist cod loin fillet served with a delicately flavoured sweet and earthy, clear Jersusalem artichoke flower tea and foam, dried Jerusalem artichoke crumbs, soft braised Jerusalem artichoke and some mildly sweet apple baked in a beurre noisette. Jonnie Boer plants 4,000 Jerusalem artichokes in his own greenhouse every year and harvests the flowers in October for the tea (made without any coagulants) and foam. Last but not least the delicious smoked sprat that added depth and a nice flavour contrast. A very palate-pleasing dish that captured the essence of all the ingredients.


On to the fourth course: Monkfish, Baharat spices, rollmops juices. The first time I encountered this dish was in June 2012 at Jonnie Boer's two-star restaurant Librije's Zusje. The main ingredient is monkfish preserved in oil with Baharat spices and then cooked at 65°C. Perfectly moist monkfish with a nice firm texture that combined beautifully with the acidity from the flavoursome rollmops juices and the warmth from the sprinkling of 'Librije's Maggi' (oil mixed with lovage essence). The monkfish is served on a light-green mayo-like crème made with lovage oil and egg white and accompanied by pickled celery, grated cauliflower and mustard seeds. Also on the plate was a thin slice of salty 'zolderspek' (smoked and matured belly pork). A magical dish, each mouthful delivering a fantastic interplay of unctuousness and freshness. Spot-on acidity and judicious use of Baharat spices (pepper, paprika, cumin, koriander, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and garlic).




Next up, the bread course. When you arrive at the restaurant the dough (made with Librije's own fermentation starter) is already on the table on a warm slate covered with a glass cloche. The dough is left to prove and just before the fourth course the dough is taken back into the kitchen for baking. The resulting bun is wonderfully crusty and has a moist interior. It is served with a delicious mixture of creamy goat's butter and Rembrandt-grape juice (Vitis Vinifera Rembrandt).




Fifth course: Dairy cow sirloin. A thin slice of beautifully marbled sirloin cooked on a 140°C stone covered with cep powder. The rare beef is served with a pungent and fragrant lemon geranium dressing, roasted bone marrow and crispy pommes soufflés. A surprising and borderline overpowering combination of contrasting flavours, that somehow worked very well. The intensity of the cep powder was extraordinary.






Sixth course: Roe deer, black pudding, dogwood berries, mulberries, orange, buckwheat crumble, chicory sprouts. A superb piece of tender and succulent roe deer served with a marvellous rich and velvety black pudding sauce and black pudding crisp. The intensity of the black pudding flavours was terrific. The clean-tasting tart dogweed berry puree, dried mulberries and orange crème provided just the right tang to balance the richness of the sauce. Great crunch and depth of flavour from the buckwheat crumble. A rich dish with intense flavours but balanced out beautifully; great textures too.


Seventh course. Roasted white chocolate, dill sorbet, pistachio cake and bergamot. Wonderful, lightly caramelised and sweet white chocolate roasted on the Big Green Egg, served with a dill sorbet and a fantastic, intense bergamot syrup. Nice freshness from the chopped bergamot segments and grated bergamot zest. A creative and unconventional dessert with lovely savoury flavours and a wonderful herby aftertaste.


Eighth course: Sweet Thai 'Green Curry'. An absolutely stunning dessert (served on an icepack!) of fresh green curry ice cream, ginger beer syrup and jelly, basil meringues, spicy-sweet banana, fresh mango and koriander cress. A truly inspired dish with delicately balanced sweet and sharp flavours and very elegant heat. Both the green curry ice cream and the basil meringues added the perfect touch of savouriness to this dessert.


After the eighth course we were served a selection of sweet dishes, starting with Thérèse's Kiss. A deliciously soft and moist cake served in silky apple and magnolia juice. Followed by a white chocolate 'kiss' with a salted caramel and passion fruit filling and two gorgeous and beautifully made cep and caramel chocolates. Next a cocktail of refreshing beetroot and cassis sorbet served with some liquorice crème and finally an egg with a lovely boozy Advocaat and pear filling and a crunchy topping.
 
 

                                         

Do you know the delightful little book "The Tao of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff (1982)? It was written to show that Tao-masters do not have to be from the Orient and that Winnie-the-Pooh is a great master of the Tao. Zhuang Zhou says: "Easy is right. Begin right and you are easy. Continue easy and you are right. The right way to go easy is to forget the right way and forget that the going is easy." Am I saying that what Jonnie Boer does, is easy? Hardly. It may seem so easy, just like when Lang Lang plays La Campanella or Le Grand Galop Chromatique by Franz Liszt and makes it sound so easy that he might be reading a book or making a phone call while playing. Seeming effortlessness is often a sign of virtuosity, because the virtuoso does what comes naturally. Natural is the appropriate word here, rather than easy. Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration Thomas Edison says, but while perspiration cannot replace inspiration, it can debase it.

Jonnie Boer's food comes across as completely natural, both in the sense that his uncontrived creations are the natural product of his inspiration and that they are created from the produce that his natural environment provides him with. Local and seasonal is not a gimmick or a fad here but has been an essential cornerstone of his philosophy and inspiration during his entire professional career. He masterfully blends this basis with truly cosmopolitan influences, marries classical cooking to a well-judged modernity and a judiciously applied sense of humour and theatre. His natural curiosity guides him on his creative journey around the world and puts him firmly in the vanguard of European haute cuisine. His repertoire is very impressive, his knowledge of ingredients and flavour combinations second to none and (not unimportantly) the food that he produces is exquisitely delicious. De Librije serves food that you can't stop talking about and that makes you go silent. Food of a spellbinding resonance and beauty, that leaves the diner with a sense of wonder (to paraphrase Andrew Jefford, talking about wine). Is there such a thing as perfection? What a lovely question to discuss while having lunch or dinner at De Librije.



More De Librije:




SLIDESHOW of my lunch at De Librije on 22 March 2014




2011 review (click here)

 

Posted 04-03-2013




 
 
 
 

 
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