In the web2.0 fine dining blogs and forums are much more up-to-date and in-depth than the usual gourmet guides and are truly complimentary to these. Some restaurants create more buzz (like noma) and some less (like Arzak) but almost any high-end restaurant is covered somehow. Among food bloggers worldwide it is some kind of sport to write about the usual suspects to give an update and personal account and to discover new places.
Much different for Jonnie and Thérèse Boer’s De Librije in Zwolle (NL). Although any foodie is aware that this restaurant carries three stars and offers both modern and interesting cuisine there is only an old report from Andy Hayler and a more recent very positive account by Lo Mejor (and the latter is not even a blog in the strictest sense). This maybe in part due to a seemingly remote location and the lack of agglomeration of fine dining places which make a good tour. Nevertheless, the booking situation is awesome – it is impossible to get a table without planning 6or 7 months ahead. This kept me from going so far…
The recent International Gourmet Week at Burg Schwarzenstein came in handy as Jonnie Boer was scheduled for a Monday night and there were some places available on short notice. Whereas I normally try to avoid gourmet festivals like the plague as the performance is mediocre at best. Not at Burg Schwarzenstein as only the gourmet restaurant is served (limited number of couverts) and most chefs do bring most of their team, products and tableware (!) along. Jonnie and Thèrèse were supported by 8 cooks and 4 charming ladies and gentlemen from the black brigade. Moreover, a big van transported most of the ingredients from Zwolle to the Rheingau.
Another pleasant surprise was that Jonnie did not serve a reduced version but the usual 8-course De Librije menu accompanied by outstanding wines mostly from Weingut Wegeler:
It started with a nice parade of small snacks (“Holland’s Pride”!) – from the bottom against clock direction: beetroot krupuk with BBQ mayonaise (excellent contrast of textures and delicious taste), pak choi with mango and sesame yoghurt (slightly crunchy and fresh), porcini crackers (what an intensity in flavours!) and crispy cheese (with the Dutch flag;-)). Excellent as well were the hering sandwiches and the pigskin with apricot mustard. A wonderful start, just enough to water your mouth and get your palate activated.
The Geheimrat “J” is the Grand Cru of Wegeler carefully selected and assembled from up to 16 Erste Gewächs vineyards, only brought to the bottle in very good years. The 1993 was still very present with good minerality and acidity – strong and versatile enough to go nicely with the different flavours of the snacks.
The actual amuse was winter truffles in peas soup – very good, but maybe the weakest element of the menu. In retrospective I think it is good not shoot out all your powder in the beginning…
Then the big bang started and did not end until the very last course: “on the rocks” north sea crab, foie gras and lemon. Served on two plates this had it all – freshness, richness, acidity and clever variation of textures. By using lemon he takes out the fatness of the foie and makes the dish light and indulgent. In a way it is similar to Juan Amador’s foie with green apple sorbet and goat cheese (see here).
But, in adding a strong regional product like the north sea crab it gains another textural dimension and presents the product in the forefront. This regional product orientation is clearly is one of the cornerstones of Jonnie’s cooking. Some technological gimmicks appear here and there but only if there are truly unique. Not necessary for this dish which was quite classic and tasted absolutely delicious – excellent to outstanding. The wine pairing was excellent – the 1997 Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Spätlese from the Mosel had wonderful citric flavours and a good but not too strong sweetness.
Then: tartare of veal, fat bloater and broth of poultry with calf’s tongue and cauliflower. This is modern cooking at its best when it comes to textural variations around a product but here the idea of pairing veal tartare (tartare due its texture) with fat bloater is ingenious. On the plate the two “snakes” are almost intimately connected – this demonstrates the balance between the two and forces the diner to really eat them together. What an experience – the strong smoked floater is balanced in flavour by the veal and this somehow grounds the dish.
Several accompanying elements like the cauliflower add texture but the really surprising element was a poultry broth served a part with an innocent cauliflower sphere. Eating it creates a taste explosion as it is filled with an intense calf’s tongue compote. Outstanding, outstanding, outstanding – clearly a candidate for my personal hall-of-fame.
Wine-wise the 2005 Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling 1. Gewächs had the power to counterbalance this intense dish. The Rheingau minerality served a similar purpose like the lemon in the foie/crab dish before, namely reducing the fatness.
Another regional product was the protagonist in the next dish: Dutch red mullet with lemon gras and a warm salad of couscous, shrimp and squid. If you can source such ingredients who needs a red mullet from Brittany? Pure, simple, delicious and a clever variation in temperature as the sea food salad was lukewarm. Excellent! The 2007 Geheimrat “J” was good to go with this but still has some journey to take before its full potential is unleashed.
Having eaten literally tons of scallops in the last couple of years rarely one dish was truly memorable. Scallop with “bacon from the loft” and jus of toasted brioche is maybe the best scallop dish I ever had. The jus made it so special – I can still taste it with its light sweetness which formed a nice accord with the bacon. The scallop itself was of best quality and also sourced from the north sea. Outstanding again.
The 2007 Weisser Bugunder from Krone Assmannshausen was a silent and good fit – it simply did not distract from the dish. This is how a good wine pairing could work: stand back if the dish is outstanding and let it shine and just bring harmony to the overall degustation.
The main: dear, “new” boudin noir, celery and hazelnut jus. Amazingly balanced and delicious, earthy, crunchy with a top-top-top product. A part Jonnie served a dear confit together with an incredibly intense mini apple marinated in liquor. Outstanding.
2004 Assmannshausener Höllenberg Auslese trocken* also from the Weingut Krone was more than good company – it is simply not true that there are no good German reds. For centuries the Höllenberg has been among the best German Pinot Noir vineyards and is mostly owned by Weingut Krone and August Kesseler. Harvested quite late and produced like a good burgundy this wine is rich, complex and delicate and its berry flavours were a perfect match to this dish.
The cheese dessert vacherin, sauerkraut jus, rabbit kineys and winter truffles was one of the most compelling versions of sweet-sour contrasts I have ever eaten. Rich vacherin served as spheres, light sweetness in the kidneys and a formidable jus. Excellent.
A Riesling Spätlese from 1959 – what can I say? Amazing how present this wine is, with still some fruit clearly shining through. Amazing!
The apple pie of Jonnie – nothing is like it seems. Here the gimmick kicks in as cinnemon, vanilla, star anise as well as the clove are not what they look like. Actually they make molds from the different spices and then fill it with different ingredients: so the vanilla is actually chocolate, the cinnemon stick is vanilla pudding to make only two. Together with warm apple pieces and crunchy bits resembling the bottom of an apple pie this dish was simply wonderful. Outstanding! I would travel to Zwolle only to eat that dish again – well, maybe they would have to serve some other things along;-)
The 2002 Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Eiswein could stand the richness and depth of this dessert and was more subtle that overly sweet. Very good choice.
The trick with the egg – another visual fake: in a bowl you get a very fresh combination of blood orange, tarragon and yogurt and then Jonnie comes with a packet of eggs and breaks each one at the bowl and the egg turns out to have a blood orange sphere inside and tarrogon jus. The egg-shell is made of white chocolate. Very fruity, intense and a perfect step to conclude an amazing meal!
Finally some petit fours:
This was simply one of the best meal I ever had. Given the away game character it just forces me to applause and cry out loud: Chapeau! Perfectly composed dishes much away from the mainstream, incredible precision in execution (a big thank you also to Sven Messerschmidt and the whole Burg Team) and technique used only where needed. All with a twinkling eye it shows that Jonnie is a chef by heart and really enjoys what he does.
Regarding his philosophy he uses only local products which in a way makes him different to Sergio Herman who provides a tour de world with some Asian influence. Herman is more complex wheres Jonnie Boer is more to achieve the ultimate taste sensation. Both are in themselves unique and sensational but each in his own way.
This is an absolute MUST-GO for any foodie!!!