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Restaurant De Zwethheul (**) in Schipluiden (near Rotterdam)

Rating: 92.
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In the Netherlands there are three important restaurant guides. Obviously there's the Michelin guide, there's the Gault Millau guide and last but not least there's the 'Lekker' guide ('Lekker' is Dutch for delicious), a guide that I have been buying for over twenty years now (yes, I do buy other guides than Michelin...). The guide is always released in November and last year the Lekker team had thought of a very original way to announce the top 10. The day before the 2012 guide hit the shelves, Lekker editor-in-chief Makkie Mulder and chief inspector Wijnand Vogel both drove through the Netherlands to visit each restaurant in the top 10 in person, starting at the number 10 restaurant early in the morning and arriving at the number 1 restaurant late in the afternoon. How useful to have such a small country. A report of these ramblings could be followed on twitter. I believe every foodie in the Netherlands was glued to Twitter that day, especially in the afternoon because everyone wanted to know who would be in the top 3. Imagine Michelin doing the same thing on the day new stars are announced! Anyway, the top 3 of the Lekker guide for 2012 is: 3. De Librije in Zwolle 2. De Zwethheul in Schipluiden 1. Oud Sluis in Sluis. So ample reason to check out De Zwethheul.

Mario Ridder is the patron-cuisinier of De Zwethheul restaurant in Schipluiden (near Rotterdam). Before De Zwethheul Mario Ridder had already earned his spurs as a sous-chef at Parkheuvel restaurant in Rotterdam. Parkheuvel was the first restaurant in the Netherlands to be awarded three Michelin stars in 2002. In 2006 Ridder became the head chef of De Zwethheul. At the time the restaurant had two Michelin stars, which he retained.

De Zwethheul is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday till Saturday (no lunch on Saturday). On Sundays the restaurant is open all day and you can have a meal anytime you like to drop in. At lunch and dinner you can choose between the a la carte menu, 4 (€105), 6 (€125) or 8 (€145) course tasting menus called Mario's Favourites and the very expensive 4 course 2012 'The Detour' menu (€175). I had lunch there on 31 January with my husband and a friend. We each had the 6 course tasting menu.

First the appetisers, there were seven in total. The first two were Slow-cooked chicken thigh and Crispy duck skin served with 15 year old Balsamic vinegar. Wonderfully soft and clean-flavoured chicken thigh and a lovely piece of crispy duck skin. Both went well with the balsamic.
The next five appetizers were served in one go. The first four were served in two layered dishes; on top was a piece of foie gras served with dried and crisp quince and a small piece of trout with fennel and lavender respectively, both elegant and tasty. Underneath the foie gras was Textures of pumpkin with galangal and underneath the trout was a beetroot soup with curry and almonds, a delicious pure and clear beetroot soup with a perfect hint of acidity. A tasty curry foam was served on top of the soup.
The last appetizer was "Hollands trots" (pride of Holland) - small pieces of Leyden cheese, pumpernickel and lavender foam and matured Rotterdam cheese cream; loved the presentation, wonderful flavours and what a creative way to present these traditional Dutch ingredients.

As a pre-starter we were served Lobster, chicory and verjuice. Lovely piece of succulent lobster and wonderful caramelised chicory - nice and creamy verjuice foam. A good pre-starter with very well-balanced sweet, sour and bitter flavours.

The first course was Sea bass, belly pork, textures of leek (mousse, shredded and foam) smoked butter, herring roe, vinegar. A beautifully cooked, very tender and moist sea bass. Fantastic creamy and firm leek mousse made from the green part of the leek. The shredded leek was delicious and had a perfect hint of acidity. Wonderful richness from the belly pork and smoked butter. Lovely touch of saltiness from the herring roe. A dish with fantastic, intense flavours that had great length.

Second course. Dover sole, oxtail ravioli, pointed cabbage, truffled butter sauce and fresh truffle. Superb Dover sole, nice and firm. Absolutely wonderful ravioli. Fairly thick pasta with a filling of divine slow-cooked oxtail and oxtail juices, which came oozing out of the ravioli. The thickness of the pasta provided lovely texture. Gorgeous. The truffled butter sauce was rich but very elegant, loved the freshly shaved truffle and pointed cabbage puree too. An excellent and well-conceived dish with bags of flavour.

On to the third course, Brussels sprouts, curly kale, red cabbage, pointed cabbage, mushrooms, almond crumble, sea cabbage, nutmeg. A beautiful and comprehensive array of ingredients. Lovely, lightly marinated, crunchy Brussels sprouts leaves and a wonderful Brussels sprouts crème with the perfect hint of nutmeg. Terrific pickled crunchy red cabbage. The deep-fried curly kale was crisp and oily, this oiliness provided the dish with a lovely warmth. Beautiful pure flavours from the curly kale chlorofyl. Lovely crisp pointed cabbage leaves. The thinly sliced mushrooms and almond crumble were both smoked. The almond crumble added great texture. What a brilliant way to use all these seasonal vegetables and I'm really impressed with the perfectly judged use of nutmeg, a spice that's been used in Dutch cuisine ever since the days of the Dutch East India Company. This dish speaks of Holland and its colonial history. A revelation - in many ways. A world-class dish that would have also been a great way to start this menu.

The fourth and main course, Roe deer, apple, red currants, potato and onion. Fabulous, well-rested roe deer with a lovely touch of pepperiness to it. Wonderful sharp and sweet notes from the fresh apple and red currants, apple puree and red currant puree. Delicious sweet roasted onions. A fantastic dish, all ingredients complimented each other amazingly.

Fifth course, "Boter, Kaas en Eieren" - Butter, Cheese and Eggs, Dutch for Noughts and Crosses. The X was made with Pecorino cheese and the O was a slow-cooked egg yolk, soft but not runny, served with some nut crumble on top. The 'board' was made with truffle creme and on the board there was also some beurre noisette foam. A fun and playful cheese dessert with good strong flavours.

Next up was a pre-dessert, "Uitsmijter", Mario Ridder's take on the traditional Dutch dish of fried eggs and cheese on toast. The cheese was made from mango, the egg white from coconut, the yolk from mango and the toast from coconut. Coconut and cacao powder were served on the side, mimicking salt and pepper. A creative and playful dish.

The sixth course called 'Parade', consisted of three desserts. First was Spaghetti Carbanana: banana, pecans, bacon and vanilla. A fantastic dish with marvellous and elegant banana flavours and a lovely salty aftertaste. Great texture from the pecans. A creative dish with the perfect balance between sweet and savoury.

Second dessert, Mango tartlet, fresh mango, Earl Grey crumble, Sumac ice cream. Delicious tartlet with various textures of mango, lovely light and airy mango mousse and fantastic mango jelly, a lovely crescendo of mango flavours. Nice freshness from the sumac ice cream. The sumac and the Earl Grey provided the perfect touch of spiciness to this dessert. A very well executed dish, flawless.

Last dessert, 'Delft's Blauw' - a beautiful edible Delft Blue tile. The windmill image was made from white chocolate and underneath was a fabulous creamy mixture of yoghurt, apple and lemon. Fantastic presentation.

The name of the menu, 'Mario's Favourites', definitely does it justice. These six, but effectively nine courses, display that Mario Ridder is a chef of many talents. The menu offers a mix of classic (or classically based) and more experimental dishes, all perfectly executed; he clearly shows he has mastered both styles. Mario Ridder's cooking is very precise, creative and nothing is left to chance; everything is prepared with great skill and with attention to detail. I was particularly impressed with the spot-on temperature at which every single dish was served.

To include dishes in the menu from both ends of the stylistic spectrum obviously results in a somewhat less coherent menu. Whether this is a good thing or not is undoubtedly a matter of personal preference. Either way: the menu was engaging and exciting and interesting until the very last bite. I really like the Dutchness which shines through Ridder's food. The choice of ingredients for this menu shows a focus on traditional Dutch winter (root) vegetables and throughout the meal there were Dutch elements in the presentation. Quite a few of the dishes in this lunch menu were very recent creations and with these, Mario Ridder has started 2012 with a bang. There are very interesting times ahead at the Zwethheul.

Posted 13-02-2012


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