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Image 1: The historic town of Zwolle is located 120km from Amsterdam. The city is surrounded by canals which are occupied by boats in summer and skates in winter. Though this isn't a big town, it has one of the two 3-star restaurants in the country and also a 2-star!
Image 2: Started in the basement of this 15th century old library, hence the name of the restaurant, Chef Jonnie Boer has been developing his own cuisine for 22 years using meat and seafood from the region and vegetables from his greenhouse, making the most out of Dutch produces.
Image 3: Having attained the highest honour of a 3 Michelin Stars for their restaurant, Jonnie and his wife Thérèse’s success knows no bounds as they’ve recently achieved a second star for Libirje’s Zusje (translates to Librije's sister) which can be found in their Relais & Châteaux hotel.
Image 4: The contemporary dining room, in contrast with the medieval building, has only 12 tables serving about 35 guests, supported by a team of professional black gloved servers.
Image 5: From the stylist decor, the abstract paintings, and the fact that Chef Boer was brave enough to convert an old women's prison to a luxury hotel (where we stayed that night), we knew he would be the one who had the ability to take Dutch cuisine to the next level. We were prepared for an innovative experience ahead!
Image 6: Each table had a rising bread dough to display their fresh bread in the making. After they filled our table with an elaborate set of amuse bouche, they took our dough away, to the oven I guess.
Image 7: The table had a small black envelop where the server placed a card with descriptions for each course they served . The only two other restaurants that I know of who do this are Steirereck and Schloss Schauenstein.
Image 8: This was just a little taster of what was about to come; a mini roll of peanut cream and spicy pickle.
Image 9: Suddenly, a black metal chargrill took the centre spot of our table depicting an outdoor barbeque scene! On the grill were savoury potato puffs wrapped in aluminium foil.
Image 10: Wow, delicious was the best word to describe the burst of smoky and savoury cream! More tasty surprises to come!
Image 11: The serviceware here was as mind-blowing as the food. This amuse bouche was cleverly served on a whole fish bone! Incredible!
Image 12: This fried cod skin had a dust of lemon and seaweed. The amuse bouche really created a sense of excitement as each item was like a cliff-hanger for the next!
Image 13: Another creative idea -- instead of wasting the cod skin, dry it and use it to serve cod. This was Chef Boer's version of a kibbeling, a typical Dutch street food, but he used cod tongue and chicken skin instead. I didn't know the tongue is actually the best part of the cod with a very distinct delicate texture! We were impressed, very impressed!
Image 14: This serviceware was another one designed by Jonnie and Thérèse - a stack of three wooden trays, opened up to three more surprises!
Image 15: These fragile and thin pig scratchings had a nice acidity from the lemon cream and a slight kick from the touch of horseradish.
Image 16: I also enjoyed the sweetness from these banana chips filled with coffee cream and a tiny bit of cauliflower.
Image 17: Remarkable texture from this quail egg yolk - creamy and sticky at the same time. It was a perfect yolk! Instead of cooking it for hours at a 63°C temperature, by freezing it at -20°C overnight actually would create the same result! The fruitiness from the apricot oil cream underneath gave a further lift in flavour. So far, the food here was not just exciting for the eyes, but exciting on the palate too!
Image 18: After such an extravagant opening scene, we finally had a chance to look at the menu that was partially made with cod skin! The amuse bouches heightened our expectations. We had no choice but to opt for the tasting menu in order to enjoy the full experience!
Image 19: We were already impressed by what came out from this kitchen so far but there was one more surprise that really made this meal memorable! The server placed on our table a tray with various mini items and asked us to hold our knuckle out!!!
Image 20: No joking, she then started plating the food on my knuckle, one by one! I could feel the temperature and smoothness of the cream on my hand, a truly sensational experience allowing the diners to feel the food! They called this knuckle food instead of finger food. How could food can be more fun than this?! I was basically astonished with my jaws dropped while she continued to assemble layer by layer.
Image 21: This was eating food Russian caviar style, I sucked the whole thing in one go - chive, veal, oyster cream, oyster, oyster leaf, a hollow potato sphere, and licking every bit of the avocado cream on my knuckle. Even I have all these goodies merging together in my mouth at once, the flavour of the moist oyster was not lost despite the complex combination of all the other ingredients. An amazing combination of flavours, a remarkable combination of textures, what a fun and interactive amuse bouche!
Image 22: And one last amuse bouche - another charming presentation, depicting mushroom hunting in the woods as these were brioches of matsutake fresh from the oven. We had some serious food already even before our first course! This place is exceptional.
Image 23: I admired the work here; even the bread was creatively presented. These baguettes were excellent with a flaky and crispy skin.
Image 24: It has the restaurant logo on the back. Very thoughtful!
Image 25: Our first course was fermented red cabbage juice surrounded by a spiralling foie gras garnished with hazelnut milk curd, sea crab meat, and black olive gel. Yes, it sounded ridiculous and I never knew seafood and foie could go together. We were, however, all pleasantly surprised at how well did they married in our mouth.
Image 26: The foie was high quality to start off, creamy without being overly rich, followed by the distinct deep red cabbage bringing in an acidity component while the crab meat and milk curd brought a light texture to the dish. Stunning first course!
Image 27: The second course came with drops of pine oil drizzled on top - Seared shrimp with various seeds and nuts sticking out from the pumpkin mousse. These shrimps were almost raw with a soft and moist texture; having them barely cooked is certainly the best way to enjoy such beauties. We were amazed at the quality of these Dutch produce.
Image 28: The other components were essential as well -- the pumpkin provided sweetness to the elegant flavour for these moist shrimps while the seeds provided something fun to bite on, making the dish more lively. I couldn't believe all these outstanding dishes were all coming out from the same kitchen!
Image 29: A complex dish of red mullet on a bed of couscous, garnished with an arrangement of shellfish - mussels, clams, baby shrimps, and a crispy shrimp head. This was again a show of quality ingredients. I enjoyed the fish as it didn't have the usual strong stinky mullet smell; the mussel had an intense flavour; the tiny shrimps were delicate; and the crispy head created an additional texture. A good course again!
Image 30: This was a seafood dominated cuisine and I was not complaining at all. The intensity of this black fermented garlic purée was very light as Chef Boer wanted the scallop's freshness to speak for itself. Also, the roasted celeriac essence, made from roasting, crushing, boiling, and thickening, offered a light sweetness with a subtle hint of charcoal. A beautiful course!
The rising dough from our table has transformed into bread with pumpkin seeds.
Image 32: Chef Boer took the cod's tongue for the amuse bouche, the cod skin for the menu cover, the cod's bone as a serviceware, it should be obvious that he saved the cod fillet for one of his main courses! He really knew how to highlight the cod by serving it in a mild Jerusalem artichoke broth.
Image 33: Despite the textural contrast between the flaky cod and the crunchy walnut, and a flavour contrast between the savoury bacon and the sweet broth, everything worked well together as a whole. I liked the dish, contrasting but complementing at the same time!
Image 34: For the meat, it was hare with circular custard of curly kale and drizzled on top a rich liver sauce. The meat was gently cooked with a pink centre. We were glad to see a reasonably small portion main course as we had to save some room for the dessert.
Image 35: We had lots of food, I meant lots of spectacular food. We needed a break before dessert so we stopped by the kitchen to see Chef Boer in action. He was 100% focused on his job, cooking non-stop even though it was close to the end of the lunch service! They did the final assembly in this small area right next to the dining room, but the full kitchen was actually in the basement.
Image 36: Back to our table for cheese course, which turned out to be extraordinary! With a fair amount of hesitation, I scooped a spoon full with a bit of everything - the thick chorizo cream, a piece of potato, a slice of rabbit kidney, and one of the liquid balls, and let them all interact in my mouth.
Image 37: First came the explosion of this salty Époisses Burgundy cheese; but it was quickly washed away by the deep chorizo cream; then dominated by the soft potato and the crunchy kidney. Who could think of such a crazy combination? Sounded bizarre but we all agreed that it was a brilliant cheese course!
Image 38: Nothing is simple at this place. A pre-dessert consisted of meringue with spices, pieces of chicory, ginger beer sorbet, and passion fruit at the bottom. The ginger and passion fruit combo did a superb job of refreshing our palate before the sweets.
Then here is a kiss from Thérèse, decorated with blobs of lychee, mango, and green tea.
Whoa, inside the lips was salted coconut cream.
Image 41: The food here was visually entertaining. These rock-looking things were pandan rice accompanied by apple, water mint, and plum purée.
They then rolled over an attractive box of petits-fours.
Image 43: I appreciated the surface of these chocolates; very shinny and polished without sticking to the fingers. We were completely full but we couldn't resist from trying one of each as they were unique! At the bottom, another kiss with almond cream instead, then vanilla ganache, banana & peanut, pork crackling caramel, wild mushroom dark chocolate, fennel seed ganache, and coffee with a piece of apricot inside! Very original stuff!
Image 44: Though we were extremely full, a few of the petits-fours were exquisite that we got to have another round!
Image 45: What a thoughtful way of reminding us that what we had was a Dutch cuisine by serving marijuana as the final item in a Dutch clog!
Image 47: The "marijuana" was actually a mixture of spiced chocolate dust, crushed nuts, and coconut flake wrapped in an edible rice paper. Nice powdery texture, sweet, nutty, a touch of spice, and a hint of coconut! Wow, it's addictive!
Image 48: I lost count on how many times we used the word "impressive" throughout the meal. Not many meals that I experienced could be both fun and delicious at the same time. It is a very difficult balance but Chef Boer surely got it spot-on. There wasn't any moment that we felt dull. It was an entertaining and delightful meal from the very beginning to the very end!
Image 49: A well-deserved Grand Chef! The concept of the cuisine, the visual aspect, the quality of ingredients, and the overall flavours of every dish… Too bad the most star a chef could get from Michelin is three!
Image 50: And believe it or not, our experience wasn't over yet because we have a room booked at their hotel. A limo was waiting for us with our luggage intact for a short 5min ride to the hotel. The butler could also take you there by boat during summer upon request!
Image 52: I had to see it to believe it! Jonnie and Thérèse really had the guts to convert this women's prison to a prestigious hotel! We were welcomed by a tour of the prison!
Image 53: A kitchen workshop used for gastronomic conference with many signatures from top chefs in the ceiling!
Look at who I found!
Located in the basement was a cozy bar.
Image 56: And on the ground floor was the 2-star sister restaurant of Librije, Librije's Zusje, where we had a lighter meal that evening; still five courses!
Image 57: They retained a few prison cells on the ground floor for historical purpose but of course, our hotel room upstairs was nothing like a prison!
Image 58: If that was not enough, the experience continued the following morning with a breakfast in the 2-star restaurant starting with yogurt, cereal, cheese, and three choices of fresh juice blended with herbs and spices.
Then a series of small bites…
Image 60: If you are usually not fully awake at breakfast time, I am sure this will do the job - black truffles with runny scrambled egg served in an egg shell! The intense black truffle aroma is seductive anytime of the day!
And the quality of these bacons were superb that we had to order two more rounds.
Small burgers as the main plate.
Followed by a refreshing pre-dessert of tropical fruits…
Image 65: … and a soufflé as main dessert. I never had such an extensive breakfast in my life. It beat our breakfast at Michel Bras I have to admit!
Image 66: Librije is a truly successful establishment offering a memorable comprehensive experience for gourmand travellers like us -- 3-star lunch, then 2-star dinner, followed by a night at the Relais & Châteaux hotel and full-blown breakfast the next morning. We were totally indulged by Librije!