A Culinary Experience in the Netherlands: Librije***

Every year since De Librije has been awarded its third star (in late 2004) we have celebrated our wedding anniversary on June 15th with a dinner at De Librije. The first time in 2005 was very special, as it was our first dinner at a three-star restaurant and we were completely blown away by both the food and the wine. As I’ve written before, follow-up visits to a restaurant are like sequels to a movie: it is hard to beat that first great experience. But De Librije has held up quite strongly, and that’s why we keep coming back. Soon De Librije will be the only three-star restaurant in the Netherlands, as Oud Sluis is going to close. This is the second time we’ve been to De Librije since I’ve started blogging — click here to read last year’s review.

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Librije also has its own hotel, and the story of this year’s culinary adventure starts there. When arriving in the room, there is always some kind of fancy patisserie waiting as a welcome. This time it was these orange popsicles, which are actually not icecream but filled with mousse.

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The flavor is hard to describe, it was a very complex flavor with a lot of different layers. It definitely was delicious! 10/10

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Some hours later our dinner at the restaurant started with a series of amuse bouche. Almost all of them are different from last year, and even the crunchy peanut with gherkin is gone. This first one is fermented red cabbage juice and was very good.

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The fins of halibut, very tender and tasty and a great contrast in texture with the crunchy toast. I already expected there would be something underneath those talls cups…

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…and there was. The toasted grains were added by the waitress.

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The first repeat from last year: chicken skin and cod’s tongue, and crispy fish skin.

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Nice and crispy with powdered mushroom.

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Notice the wedding band that Kees purposely included in the picture.

Another repeat from last year: tartare served on your hand. Another great set of amuse bouche, 9/10.

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The setup of the menu has changed: you can now select 4 out of the 8 courses of the degustation menu. The courses are not described in detail; you only pick the main ingredient and the rest will be a surprise.

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Very good bread.

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The first course looks deceivingly much like last year’s. For the first selection I had picked “goose foie gras” over “oyster” and “kohlrabi”. Like last year, the main ingredients are goose foie gras and crab. However there are two main differences: this year it’s fermented beetroot instead of red cabbage, and almond instead of hazelnut. The dish is paired well with a Silvaner from Franken in Germany. I liked last year’s combination of flavors slightly better, so this year I’m giving this 9/10.

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Next scampi ceviche, with the scampi ‘cooked’ in kombucha rather than citrus juice. Kombucha is a fermented ‘tea’ made by a ‘mushroom’. The scampi only provide the texture (very unctuous) and not the flavor. Served with celery. Paired well with an Albariño from Galicia. Very original dish. 9/10

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Cod confit with cabbage, fir tops and ‘wet’ almond. The cod had a very interesting texture as it wasn’t dry or flaky. All very ‘light’ flavors, paired with a 2011 white burgundy with a good balance between oak, citrus, and minerality. The dish would have been even better if it were to have the same strength of flavor as the wine. 9/10

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We had inquired about dining at the chef’s table, but that is usually only possible for groups of 6 and larger. However, there had been a cancellation so after the third course we were taken to the kitchen in the basement.

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That’s me on the left, asking about goat cheese being ‘cooked’ in liquid nitrogen.

It was allowed, and even encouraged, to walk around and ask questions. It was absolutely amazing to see how quiet, disciplined, well organized, and clean everything was. I suppose having guests down at the chef’s table on a daily basis helps to enforce the discipline needed for this. Everybody we saw knew exactly what he was doing and how to do it.

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I’ve been wanting to get a more powerful gas torch for a while, but didn’t know what to get as I had red about the wrong type of torch giving off flavor to the food. So we asked what they were using here. It turned out to be a relatively straight-forward propane/butane burner.

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Of course there is also sous-vide equipment in a kitchen like this. The water in this ‘Roner’ as the chef calls sous-vide (named after ROca — of Celler de Can Roca — and caNER, who developed the equipment) is pumped around a lot, which makes the bags with protein ‘swim’ in the water bath. I forgot to ask what was cooking here at 58C/136F.

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Our first course ‘downstairs’ was this vegetarian dish with tomato, black bean, and beetroot. Very interesting flavors, and paired well with an Austrian pinot noir.

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The second selection I made was ‘milk cow’. (The options I did not have are “monkfish” and “egg yolk”.) This turned out to be dry aged rib eye of a cow that after a live of giving milk, has been fattened up to be slaughtered. As you can see the beef looks almost like wagyu.

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Those are the hands of the chef, Jonnie Boer.

The beef was cooked on the table by the chef himself on rocks of 140C/285F, sprinkled with porcini powder.

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The beef was then served with veal marrow and a sauce made of citrus geranium.

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This is how the beef looked on the ‘cooked’ side. The beef was paired with a tempranillo from Australia that was unlike tempranillo as we know it from Spain, very nice. Very good flavor in this dish and a very original ingredient. 10/10

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The next selection was “farmed pigeon” (I did not pick “lamb” or “asparagus”.) The pigeon was cooked perfectly and served with hazelnut and star anise. Paired well with a nice Chianti Classico. The pigeon had a lot of flavor as it was cooked exactly right to have the optimal combination of flavor, juiciness, and tenderness. 10/10

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The first dessert was white chocolate and pistacchio, combined with dill! Very original and very tasty, and paired well with a muscat. 10/10

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For the final selection, I had picked “rhubarb” rather than “sweet thai green curry” or “epoisses”. The rhubarb came with rice pudding and black cardamom, and was paired with a nice auslese from Austria. 9/10

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It wasn’t finished yet, because there were some lovely chocolates…

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…as well as this chocolate thingy…

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…and something served in ice.

Another great dinner at Librije!  It was an amazing experience to watch the kitchen from the chef’s table. The service and ambiance at the chef’s table are different from being seated upstairs, even though it is not very formal there either and we always feel at home. Food 9.5/10, service 8.5/10, wine 9/10.

The culinary experience is not finished, because the following morning we had breakfast at the hotel…

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The breakfast started with these profiteroles with aged Dutch cheese and apple syrup.

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Homemade peanut butter, homemade duo penotti,  homemade jam. There was also very good bread, homemade cereals, very good ham and cheese, and yoghurt

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A ‘pizza’ with prosciutto and goat cheese.

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Mini hamburgers.

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Scrambled egg with tomato and tarragon.

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Currant and white chocolate soufflé.

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Fruit salad with a nice crunchy topping.

It goes without saying that we already have reservations for celebrating our 12th anniversary next year…

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35 thoughts on “A Culinary Experience in the Netherlands: Librije***

  1. Cheers to your Anniversary. I am envious… you guys must have had such a fun time!

    I especially like the cod tongue appetizer. I am not actually a fan of cod tongue really but I like the presentation and the idea of using the crispy fish skin.

    Incidentally, the name ‘Kombucha’ is used for a couple of different things but the root meaning is ‘Kombu’ + ‘Cha’ = ‘Kombu tea’… the kombu being the kelp seaweed (sometimes called ‘konbu’) of Japanese cuisine. I am actually going to try making tea when I feature the weed in an upcoming post… although I gather it is properly made with powdered seaweed, not like simmering whole fronds as in dashi stock.

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    1. Thanks John. The cod tongue was combined with crispy chicken skin. The fish skin was the other thing visible in the same picture.
      As I understand it, the kombucha we had was not actually tea made of kombu (as the name would suggest), but only named after that. The ‘tea’ is actually made by yeast. I provided the link to Wikipedia because I hadn’t really heard of it before.

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      1. Duh! I missed the link… Actually, this tea was one of the ‘different things’ I mentioned. I seemed to recall it as having Russian origins and the Wikipedia is a bit more specific in saying it spread to Russia from Manchuria. I cannot recall the details of the other ‘tea’ but I think it may have used ‘reishi’ (which *is* a mushroom)…We have a commercially made Reishi Tea that includes ginseng, possibly it is paired with kombu in other preparations?

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    1. Thanks Jo. I don’t know — perhaps because Zwolle is not a well-known place like Amsterdam? It is very famous in the Netherlands, but not much outside. Perhaps also because food in NL used to be bad and it has a similar bad reputation like Germany or the UK.

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  2. Happy anniversary to you and your wife. Some of the combinations sounded a bit of a stretch. Sometime simple is better but I need to go and see for myself!

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  3. A very happy anniversary after the date and a year with many more ups than downs to follow! I found this menu absolutely fascinanting both for the food and plating and was glad for you that you did ‘advance’ to the chef’s table! There was something particularly N European I thought about the menu: the word’ fermented’ came up more than once and there would be very few restaurants in the world where a meal would begin with ‘fermented red cabbage juice’! Personally found the cod confit hard to pass by 🙂 !

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    1. Thanks for the nice wishes! It is definitely a bit Northern European, although not so much as at a place like Noma. Probably because it is not as Northern 😉 I’ll have to try to make something like the cod confit. I’m afraid I forgot to ask how they prepared it.

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  4. Happy Anniversary to you and Kees! It’s beautiful that you both have a yearly anniversary tradition. My husband and I haven’t started any sort of ‘ritual’ but I love the idea of having something to look forward to every year. Passing the eleven year mark is quite a milestone! I love the fact that Kees included his wedding band in the tartare photo. Definitely significant 🙂 Thanks for sharing this special day with us Stefan. May there be many more celebrations for you and your husband as the years pass!

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  5. You two certainly know how to celebrate an anniversary. Well done to the both of you! That was an incredible meal and such an array of presentations. How fantastic it must have been. I hope you both had a wonderful anniversary and may the coming year be a good one for you both.

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