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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In 2013 De Leest was the fourth restaurant in Dutch history to be awarded three Michelin stars, the others being De Librije in Zwolle in 2004, Oud Sluis in Sluis in 2006 (now defunct) and Parkheuvel in Rotterdam in 2002 (now 2 stars, chef Cees Helder retired in 2006). Executive chef at De Leest is Jacob Jan Boerma (b. 1972) and maître d'hôtel / sommelier is his wife Kim Veldman. Before opening De Leest in 2002, Jacob Jan Boerma trained in the kitchens of renowned Dutch Michelin starred restaurants, such as De Bokkedoorns in Overeen (2 Michelin stars), De Nederlanden in Loenen (then 2 Michelin stars), Kaatje bij de Sluis in Blokzijl (then 2 Michelin stars), and at Restaurant Scholteshof in Stevoort, Belgium (then 2 Michelin stars). Kim Veldman spent her formative years at Jonnie and Thérèse Boer's De Librije in Zwolle. De Leest was awarded its first Michelin star in the year of the opening (2003 guide), a second star followed in 2006.
De Leest is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday (no lunch on Saturday). The restaurant offers a 5-course "Flora and Fauna" menu for €112.50, a multi-course (around 10 courses) "Micri" menu for €145, an a la carte menu, and there's a 3-course lunch menu for €57.50. The reasonably priced wine list composed by Kim Veldman is eclectic but not too extensive; it is particularly strong in Burgundy, where some (relative) bargains are to be had from producers like Coche-Dury and Raveneau. I had lunch with my husband at De Leest on Friday 19 December 2014 and we both ordered the Micri menu. *I was recognised
With our aperitifs we were served a selection of six amuse bouches, served in two rounds. The first three were: an ultra-crisp cornetto filled with a beef tartare and topped with a mini liquid yuzu bonbon - curry créme and smoked trout served on perfectly cut buttery biscuit and garnished with sliced pickled onion and black olive - tuna and duck foie gras roll topped with a warm spice meringue.
Shortly after the next three arrived: mussel cream with pickled beetroot, a beetroot crisp and iced horseradish pearls - lightly fermented salmon with a lemon-flavoured cauliflower cream - parsnip foam, kolhrabi puree topped with toasted hazelnuts (no photograph). Six beautifully presented amuse bouches with precise, attractive flavours, that certainly set the tastebuds in motion.
The first course of the tasting menu was a warm, lightly poached, oyster, served with soft pointy cabbage, dill jus, chlorophyll puree, and a foamy shellfish jus. Terrific clean and pure dill jus, that had a lovely long finish and its sweet herbiness complemented the juicy oyster wonderfully. Deliciously intense chlorophyll puree, which was based on the classic escargot seasoning, delivering subtle bitters and a hint of garlic. An excellent flavour combination, the shellfish jus adding a nice touch of comfort in the background.
A delicate and refined dish of North-sea crab and langoustine followed. Lightly dressed, creamy crab meat, covered with a fresh, butterflied langoustine, served with avocado, caviar, crunchy pickled vegetables, such as cucumber, carrot, kohlrabi, and finished with a shellfish vinaigrette, and a few dots of De Leest's homemade mayonnaise/dressing. A great marriage of flavours and textures, the shellfish vinaigrette adding depth and complexity and the cucumber delivered a pleasant fresh and grassy aroma.
Next up were two, juicy and sweet langoustines sprinkled with finely chopped confit lemon and lime zest, successfully paired with a kombava (kaffir lime) jus/oil, Indonesian bumbu creme, and different textures of carrot, including a fabulous Indonesian bumbu-flavoured carrot puree. An exquisite dish with great complexity and judicious spicing. The citrus flavours balanced the richness in this dish perfectly.
More warm spiciness was incorporated in the next aromatic course. Superbly cooked scallop, seasoned with Tandoori spices, and served with beurre noisette, pickled butternut squash, butternut squash puree, a dot of citrus gel, and a delightful Vandouvan jus/oil. The sweet and sour butternut squash created a magical flavour combination with the Vadouvan jus. Also on the plate was a gorgeous chicory salad dressed with De Leest's house dressing, which added a nice refreshing touch. A cleverly constructed and inspired dish with a wonderful variety of savoury-sweet flavours and a masterful use of spicing; after each bite the spices come on again.
The fifth course was a colourful dish of tender lobster, different textures of beetroot (lightly smoked, puree, pickled and a tartare), a basil jus, and a light shellfish foam. Another superb dish with lovely warm flavours and just the right touch of acidity. Best of all was the beetroot tartare, that had a wonderful creamy mouthfeel, as if it had been dressed with a light mayonnaise, delicious.
Sixth course was grilled sole, served with a light dill jus, lettuce, turnip, a crunchy fennel salad dressed with the aforementioned house dressing, and some lightly smoked potato puree topped with caviar and a small piece of confit lemon. Excellent moist and flavoursome sole, which married well with the beautifully flavoured herby dill jus. A harmonious dish with clean, but big flavours, the fennel salad delivering freshness and textural contrast. Loved the seductive smokiness of the potato puree and the confit lemon was a nice touch.
The next dish was an extra course called Beef, herbs and sourdough, which I had requested the restaurant to include in the tasting menu. On the plate was a lightly salt-cured beef tartare, covered with a thin herb disc, a salt-cured beef roll, iced sweet and sour "augurk pearls, avocado créme, a chorizo oil dressing and a sourdough crisp. A great marriage of flavours with elegant spiciness from the chorizo oil and nice touch of sharpness from the pickle pearls. The highlight of the dish was the sublime beef tartare; beef flavours don't get more complex than this.
Lunch continued with an elegantly rich dish of superbly cooked, tender sweetbread, a mixture of mushrooms, fresh green apple, Jerusalem artichoke puree, truffle and a dark jus flavoured with "Poudre du Voyage". I don't know the exact combination of ingredients in De Leest's Pourdre du Voyage, but this spice/herb mixture often includes sesame, thyme, cinnamon and sumac.
Equally good was a perfectly executed dish (eighth course) of tender and flavoursome "Veluws" roe deer, complemented by a deliciously meaty jus flavoured with cocoa. Also on the plate was a quince puree, a light celery salad (with the house dressing), fregola, a creamy and velvety parsnip puree and some winter vegetables.
Time for dessert, the first one being a beautifully presented blueberry dessert, comprised of a blueberry 'dome' with a crunchy casing and a soft blueberry yoghurt mousse filling, pickled blueberries, blueberry puree, yoghurt, and a meringue elegantly decorated with blueberry puree, gel, powder and some citrus zest. Hidden underneath the meringue was a tarragon flavoured ice cream. An outstanding dessert with very precise and clean flavours.
Tenth course and the second dessert was based on the wonderful winter fruit tangerine. Fresh tangerine segments were lightly marinated with yuzu, then there was a coconut mousse, pumpkin gel, meringue discs, a tangerine bonbon with a thin jelly casing and last but not least a gorgeous clean-tasting tangerine sorbet. An indulgent yet light dessert with a wonderful variety of tangerine flavours.
Last course and final dessert was a chocolate "amulet" with a wonderfully creamy and airy chocolate filling, served with a mildly tangy tropical fruit puree, a quince puree, crunchy egg white biscuits, and a few dots of sea buckthorn jelly. A sensational dessert with great textures and a fabulous interplay between the rich chocolate and the zingy citrus and sea buckthorn.
With our coffees we were served a selection of delicious sweets and chocolates, including raspberry and popping candy bonbons, blood orange jellies, calamansi meringues, soft pistachio "madeleines" and yuzu chocolates.
The food at De Leest had always been very solid, but on this occasion I also experienced enchantment, and I was swayed by the the meticulous attention to detail in all the dishes. What also impressed me was the immaculate spicing in the langoustine and scallop dishes; they were both magical, and the desserts were true showstoppers. With the "Micri" menu the kitchen produced a parade of exquisite, visually attractive and flawlessly executed dishes, that all had a touch of lightness to them. Boerma's ingredients of choice for achieving this lightness seem to be acidity (both vinegar and citrus) and bitters. The main supplier of acidity in this meal was the restaurant's house dressing, which happens to be extremely delicious.
"I can't help wondering what would happen if he takes the brakes off", that's how I concluded my review of De Leest in May 2012. Since then, Jacob Jan Boerma's cooking has evolved a lot more than I had anticipated, and I guess it's safe to say that the brakes are well and truly off. It is easy to see why his diligent style of cooking has earned him 3 Michelin stars.