Barely twenty days after my sublime experience at the famed Fat Duck restaurant I returned to the rarefied climes of Michelin 3-star dining with my skating coach and team manager to one of only two 3-star-rated restaurants in all of the Netherlands – De Librije. De Librije is located in a building that used to house a monastery in Zwolle, which is fortunately quite close to Heerenveen (where I currently live). One of us had never dined in a restaurant which had received any Michelin stars, let alone three, while another had dined here once before. I was in the interesting position of having dined at six 3-star restaurants in the past, making De Librije my seventh. With the memory of the Fat Duck still firmly in my mind, as well as the knowledge of its formidable reputation as one of the very best even among Michelin 3-stars, I was almost afraid that this experience would somehow “let me down”. It didn’t, not at all in fact.
It certainly wasn’t experimental on the level that the Fat Duck was. Each dish was not a chemistry experiment, and there was no liquid nitrogen. (there was dry ice though). In many ways, this restaurant was much more “old-school” and in that sense was more similar an experience to Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant. Diners are greeted with a barrage of “appetizing” courses on being seated, and after a few of these, they are finally greeted with the menu. The menu basically gives the choice between four, six, and eight “main” courses depending on one’s hunger level. Naturally, since I was part of the group, and since the others were taking a very “we’re here, we might as well try everything” attitude, we went for the maximum, and I was well-pleased.
Zwolle, despite its current inland location, actually used to be a coastal city (everything to the north and west of the city is reclaimed from the sea). I’m not sure if it was the chef’s intention of reminding us of this fact, but there was a lot of seafood on the menu. In the picture above, was an interesting dish consisting of eel, and… eel. One was a cold preparation while the other was hot. In addition, the hot version was served in a bowl with vents for steamy, dry-ice assisted, liquorice-infused smoke to add to the sensual experience of consuming this food. Throughout the meal, our minds’ expectations of the aesthetic of what food *should* look like was continually tested. It was remarked once “it doesn’t look particularly appetizing, but so far everything has tasted incredible, so I’m going to try it”.
At the end of the day, it isn’t about looks, but is about how the food tastes. This food tasted good. “Good” doesn’t really do it justice actually. The execution of all the dishes was perfect, and the tools of the trade were mostly the same – creams, consommés, foams, extracts, mousses, and so on. An interesting addition which I had not seen previously, was the use of flowers. As can be seen in the title image, flower petals were used extensively in some of the dishes. Perhaps it was a way of signing the dishes as “Dutch” and distinguishing them somehow. I must say that the flowers actually tasted quite nice, and I’ll think twice before I call another dutchie a “tulip muncher”. Still, despite the old-school methodology, the dishes themselves were still innovative and unique. The dish from the title image was one of my favourites being built around the very simple concept of small Dutch shrimps and shrimp sauce, and adding other stuff… like flower petals. Underneath the dish, there was another dish which was made up mostly of garden vegetables (mostly grown in their own garden) which was a refreshing way to end a dish which was made up of very strong savoury tastes and textures. (stacking the dishes on top of one another was also a clever way to control the order in which you consumed the food)
All in all, it was another exceptional food experience. It was so exceptional, in fact, that it made all three of us late for our next scheduled appointments. It was so exceptional, in fact, that none of us really cared. Curiously, it is almost impossible to get a booking here for dinner, yet the lunch service is surprisingly empty on most weekdays (those crazy Dutch). The meal is identical. This is very much like Tetsuya’s was in Sydney, except that I still needed almost a full month’s advance notice to even book lunch there. What I’m basically trying to say is that this may be the most accessible 3-star Michelin experience in the world. I know of no other Michelin 3-star where you can walk-in and expect to be seated. The service is also quite exceptional, which, while expected of 3-star establishments, is slightly unusual for the Dutch, who are almost famous for slowness of their restaurant service. As for the standard of the food, I would rate it very highly. How highly? I would rate it just above Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant (but that is probably because I have a thing for seafood, if you’re not as crazy about seafood as I am, then it might fall just behind Gordo’s in the ranking), but below Per Se and the Fat Duck… placing it very near the top of a very short list – Highly recommended, and I’m definitely storing the number in my phonebook.