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't Nonnetje in Harderwijk, the Netherlands - 2 Michelin stars

Rating: 88.
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In the 2015 edition of the Michelin guide, the Netherlands gained two more two-star restaurants, 't Nonnetje in Harderwijk (some 44 miles from Amsterdam) and De Lindehof in Nuenen (near Eindhoven). 't Nonnetje ("The little nun") is located in the city centre of Harderwijk, one of the Netherlands' historic hanseatic cities. Since 1998, the owner and maître d'hôtel of 't Nonnetje has been Robert-Jan Nijland and the kitchen is run by Michel van der Kroft (b. 1969). The restaurant was first awarded a Michelin star in 2004 under the reign of Van der Kroft's predecessor. When Robert-Jan Nijland brought Michel van der Kroft on board as the new head chef in 2006, the restaurant initially lost its Michelin star, but the star was regained in the 2009 guide. Van der Kroft received his training mainly in Dutch (Michelin-starred) kitchens, including celebrated Amsterdam restaurants Le Garage and De Kersentuin, and he also spent a brief period working in Switzerland.

't Nonnetje is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday and for lunch Wednesday through Saturday. The restaurant offers an à la carte menu called Alliance Signature Dishes (starters €19 - €26.50, mains €24.50 - €29.50, desserts €15 - €17.50), and there's a tasting menu, including a vegetarian option (2 courses €35, 3 courses €45, 4 courses €57.50, 5 courses €70, 6 courses €80, 7 courses €90). I had lunch with my husband at 't Nonnetje and we both had the 7-course tasting menu.

With our aperitifs we were served some delicious cheese palmiers made with "Oude Beemster", and served with a goat's cheese dip and some chive oil.

This was followed by an amuse bouche based on the flavours and ingredients of a Waldorf salad. There was a clear celeriac jelly, a salad of finely chopped celeriac, a pungent sorbet of green apple and celery greens, a bonbon with a liquid apple and cinnamon filling, pickled celeriac balls coloured with saffron, avocado puree, a gold-coloured walnut, a celeriac crisp, and fresh grape halves. There was a lot going on on the plate but all the elements were well-executed and the flavours all worked together.

First course of the tasting menu was "Dutch veal tartare, miso, spicy pumpkin, cucumber and herring caviar". The lovely and delicate veal tartare was seasoned with miso, finely chopped fresh cucumber and sliced baby gherkins. On top of the tartare was some herring caviar and some pumpkin seeds. The ensemble was covered with a spicy pumpkin foam, and garnished with cucumber and pumpkin slices. All this was served in a crisp and sweet pumpkin ring. A dish that was beautiful to the eye and had an enjoyable variety of flavours and textures, but the veal and the spicy pumpkin were fighting each other and the pumpkin ring was too sweet for my taste.

Second course was "Redfish, bone marrow, snails and winter truffle". Well-cooked cooked redfish (first briefly brined, then steamed and flash-grilled), topped with bone marrow, grated black truffle and finely chopped fresh chives, and complemented by a wonderfully rich and well-reduced Valpolicella sauce. Also on the plate was some truffled potato mash, a garlic foam, snails bourguignonne and a sweet potato crisp. The redfish, bone marrow and superb red wine sauce were a happy flavour marriage, but the garlic foam and snails did not bring anything to this dish. If anything, they threw it off balance with their strong garlic flavours.

Lunch continued with "Scallops, chicory, and trumpet mushrooms". Lovely, succulent and nicely caramelised scallop (cooked à la plancha), excellently paired with some bittersweet chicory, trumpet mushrooms, and a beautifully made trumpet mushroom sauce. A fresh scallop tartare seasoned with a touch of lime was served in a chicory top, which was lovely in itself, but because of its completely different flavour profile it was an odd man out on the plate. There also was a side dish of scallop coral mousse, a scallop beard foam, a scallop crunch, and some trout caviar. A nice side dish, although the coral mousse flavours were nondescript.

On to the fourth course: "Carabinero with bacalao, chorizo oil and artichoke", a dish inspired by Michel van der Kroft's Portuguese wife. The Carabinero is an Atlantic/Mediterranean shrimp that is rarely found in Dutch restaurants. Here it was served with a creamy bacalao puree, a prawn cracker, artichoke puree, artichoke cooked à la barigoule, and some chorizo and parsley oil. A charming and fun dish, but it did not really connect with any of the other dishes in this menu.

The fifth course on the menu was lamb, but I had it replaced with a dish from the a la carte menu, Tournedos Rossini. Well-cooked, flavoursome Irish beef topped with foie gras and sliced truffle, placed on a crouton, and served with artichoke puree, oxtail ravioli and a terrific Madeira sauce. A very good version of the classic dish.

The tournedos Rossine came with a side dish of butterhead lettuce with a light mayonnaise-based dressing and grated Parmesan cheese.

Next up was "Foie gras Gingerman with "speculaas" and braised pear gel". The "Gingerman" was made of a nice and smooth foie gras crème and accompanied by a braised pear ice cream and a savoury-sweet ice cream, the flavours of which I could not pin down, but it was very salty. However, I did like the combination of the foie gras with the pear and the "speculaas" (a traditional Dutch spiced biscuit) crumble.

Seventh and last course was "Chocolate with carrot and flavours from the forest". A lovely chocolate and carrot dessert with nice textural and temperature contrasts. Different textures of chocolate, including a tiny chocolate cup filled with chocolate mousse and a chocolate pine cone, were pleasantly paired with textures of carrot, such as carrot sponge cake and a crisp carrot "leaf", and there also was a chocolate jelly dome filled with carrot cream. Even better was a delicious parsnip ice cream that complemented the sweet and woody flavours of the carrot and chocolate nicely. The only let down in this dish was the chocolate pin cone, which was very solid and hard to break down with a spoon.

There is much that was commendable in this meal. Many dishes displayed a fine classical basis and revealed the hand of a chef who is an excellent craftsman. There was a lot of complexity too and this is where it got confusing. With a few exceptions, the individual elements were well-executed, but rarely did they manage to achieve the synthesis that should be the point of conceiving such dishes. I was left with the impression that the food lacked direction, as if it were the compromise outcome of a democratic process rather than the result of a clear, individual vision. Sometimes the flavours clashed, some dishes felt disjointed and the stylistic diversity in the menu was puzzling.

On the whole, the plates were busy but presentation was fine - the food was visually attractive. This lunch was like drinking a fine wine that is marred by a certain unevenness; you can sense the quality but the picture is a bit blurred. The atmosphere in the restaurant is informal and service was relaxed but attentive. Potentially, restaurant 't Nonnetje has a lot going for it, but on the basis of this meal I'm puzzled as to why Michelin has chosen to add this restaurant to the Dutch Premier League.

Posted 04-03-2015


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