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Ciel Bleu restaurant at the Okura Hotel in Amsterdam

Rating: 92.
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The Okura Hotel in Amsterdam is a wonderful foodie destination. Over the years I have had many great lunches and dinners at their (ground floor) Japanese restaurant Yamazato (one Michelin star), one of 5 restaurants at the Okura hotel. A little while ago I had lunch at their more informal restaurant "Serre" which opened earlier this year. Serre restaurant serves simple but elegant dishes that are inspired by Ciel Bleu, which is the Okura's third and most prestigious restaurant on the 23rd floor of the hotel. The hotel also has a teppanyaki style restaurant called Sazanka and there's La Camelia which serves breakfast only. Both Yamazato and Serre restaurants are open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week, which is quite rare in the Netherlands - unfortunately not many restaurants do lunch on weekends. Sazanka and Ciel Bleu on the other hand are open for dinner only from Monday to Saturday and since I'm very much a lunch person, it took me quite some time to go and have dinner at Ciel Bleu, However, within days after my lunch at Serre restaurant I finally found myself at the 23rd floor of the Okura Hotel.

Since 2003 Onno Kokmeijer has been the executive-chef of Ciel Bleu restaurant and in 2005 the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star; a second star followed in 2007. In 2008 Arjan Speelman joined the Ciel Bleu team as head-chef. Ciel Bleu is one of thirteen two-star restaurants in the Netherlands and until February this year, when Ron Blaauw restaurant moved to Amsterdam, it was only two-star restaurant in the Dutch capital.

As mentioned before, the restaurant is situated on the 23rd floor of the Okura Hotel, one of the tallest buildings in Amsterdam, and this offers the most amazing views of the city. On the same floor as the restaurant there is a bar, appropriately called the twenty-third bar, which is perfect for an aperitif. The twenty-third bar serves six Champagnes by the glass, including Taittinger 2004 and Bollinger 2002. I had one of my favourites, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, and Xavier ('X') had a Besserat de Bellefon Brut.

For dinner you have the choice between the a la carte menu, a 4-course Menu “d’été” Alliance (€ 85) or a 7-course tasting menu (€ 147.50). X and I decided on 3 courses from the (not exactly inexpensive) a la carte menu and settled in for a dinner with a view. 

As a pre-starter we were served a carrot, lychee and blood orange foam. A beautiful merry-go-round of flavours, with the carrot, lychee and blood orange all shining through very well.

The next pre-starter was a Munster cheese and foie gras crisp, a small cone filled with a creme of red paprika and sea-bream topped with
with roasted rice, and a vadouvan "bitterbal' filled with barbequed courgette served with a tiny pipette filled with lime yoghurt. Three excellent and creative pre-starters. Wonderful clean and refined red paprika flavours in the cone and the smoky barbequed courgette in the bitterbal was so divine it rendered the lime yoghurt somewhat superfluous perhaps.

The final pre-starter was Bonito 'crunch', lightly smoked mackerel, razor-clam crackers, red cabbage salad, beetroot lacquer. A refined and exciting dish with good textures. Obviously there's a lot happening on this tiny razor-clam shell but you really experience a lovely journey of flavours. Beautiful smokiness from the mackerel.

My first course, called Surf & Turf, was served on two plates. First plate: Steak tartare, lobster salad, soft-boiled quail's egg, crispy fried soft-shell crab, baby cucumber, radish. Second plate: Veal cheek, langoustine cracker, seaweed crisp, lobster tempura lacquered with lobster caramel, wakame salad. I started with the second plate, delicious veal cheek with terrific lobster tempura with lovely concentrated Asian flavours which were balanced by the refreshing wakame salad. The veal tartare on the second plate was perfectly seasoned and so was the lobster salad. An exuberant and smooth dish with a nice bite from the crispy soft-shell crab and baby cucumber. A very sophisticated take on East meets West.

X's first course was Scallops, beef stew, textures of onion, dressing of oxtail and truffle. Beautiful thinly sliced scallops and beef stew served with a fabulous rich oxtail and truffle dressing/jus. The truffles gave the dish a glorious depth of flavour. Scallops went perfectly with the textures of onion: button onions, spring onions, crispy onion rings and onion crisps. The onions didn't in any way overpower the scallops and provided the dish with the required bite. A well thought out dish, conceptually very adroit.

My main course was Halibut, sea lavender, lobster, foie gras, Lardo di Colonnata, Parmesan 'bitterbal' and sauce, served with different textures of asparagus, baby turnip, spinach and artichoke. Perfectly cooked firm halibut served with sea lavender, lobster and foie gras, covered with the Lardo and served with a rich and creamy Parmesan sauce. Wonderful vegetables and really scrumptious Parmesan 'bitterbals'. An incredibly tasty and visually very attractive but extremely rich dish. In fact a bit too rich and generous perhaps and even for an a la carte portion it was a quite a challenge. I would have been happy with just one piece of halibut rather than two but somehow I managed...

On the other side of the table X had Suffolk lamb, saddle and knuckle. Saddle: lightly smoked served with star anise jus. Knuckle served with celeriac puree and mustard seed 'crumble'. Both the saddle and shin had an absolutely perfect cuisson. The saddle had a wonderful smokiness and an absolutely perfectly judged star anise jus. Neither the smoke nor the star anise were in any way overpowering and the star anise gave the dish a fantastic aromatic lift. Glorious lamb knuckle and excellent fluffy celeriac puree - great flavour and texture from the mustard crumble.


After our main courses we were served a pre-dessert. Blanc-manger with blueberries and textures of verbena. Lovely rich blanc-manger, freshness from the fruits, flowery touches from the verbena. An excellent pre-dessert and beautifully presented.

On to dessert, Peach Melba: peach, raspberry, vanilla and almond prepared and presented Ciel Bleu style. Fresh marinated peach, pieces of fantastic almond sponge cake, delicious fresh raspberry and raspberry jelly and a raspberry crumble, a fun and delicious peach Magnum and last but not least a sublime peach soufflé. A cutting edge dessert with an impressively precise balance of the peach and raspberry flavours. Auguste would have been proud and Nellie would have been pleased.

X had Ciel Bleu's Citrus 2011 dessert. A playful and actually stunning citrus dish. The citrus smoke emanating from the lower part of the plate was incredibly fresh, pure and fun. Full-on bitter-sweet citrus flavours were perfectly balanced by creamy and sweet elements. Exciting and intense, with incredibly thin slices of dried bitter orange that almost melted in the mouth.

The six a la carte dishes gave me a good impression of Onno Kokmeijer's cuisine. As he puts it himself: cooking is painting with flavour and writing poetry with aroma. I certainly experienced an adventurous journey of innovative flavours and textures on a thoroughly classical basis. Onno's food manages to combine power and elegance, is beautifully presented, with precise flavours that clearly shows his instinctive sense for balance and proportion. He is a well travelled chef, with an international frame of mind and happily one gets the impression that the chefs of Ciel Bleu and Yamazato occasionally meet in the elevators on their respective ways up and down to exchange ideas. Service is excellent and we were looked after very well by the thoughtful and knowledgeable sommelier Jasper van den Hoogen.

Ciel Bleu is a cosmopolitan restaurant, on a high level in all respects - the restaurant, the food, the service and the pricing.

Posted 26-07-2011


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