Groningen, one of the major cities in the northern Netherlands and also one of the country’s youngest – one in four people here is a student – was not a location that I expected to find refined dining in, so I set my expectations low. After a two-hour drive on the motorway from Amsterdam airport, my Google navigation route took me to a residential neighbourhood in the city and I ended up in front of a church. I hesitated, double-checking the address, but there was no mistake, my dinner for the night was indeed inside this church!
With their combined experience of working in some of the top restaurants, (including the likes of De Librije and In De Wulf) Marleen and Jeroen Brouwer ran successful farmhouse restaurant De Loohoeve before they took things to the next level. They moved a little further north and decided to transform this centuries-old chapel into a world class venue. This resulted in a magnificent dining room with modern features while retaining the original characteristics of the structure. Upon entrance, every guest gets a chance to walk past the kitchen and be greeted by the kitchen team before entering the dining area.
About the food
The meal opened with a spectacular set of precisely handcrafted amuse bouche: hibiscus macaron with chicken liver and cherry, tomato with horseradish and parmesan, and tartlet of seabass and yuzu topped with fried brussels sprouts. A shot of langoustine bouillon with a hint of vadouvan concluded this part of the meal. The fruitiness of the cherry with the richness of the chicken liver, the freshness of the seabass paired with the fragrance of yuzu, the delicately constructed pastry accompanied by an infusion of Indian spices from the warm broth – I was already impressed by the well-executed opening. Its complex mix of textures and balanced flavours went beyond my expectations!
The first course of the meal was Filet Américain, a spread traditionally made with finely minced raw beef. This version was made distinct by its topping of shaved egg yolk instead of the usual runny yolk that you would expect in a steak tartare. I enjoyed the way the balanced acidity and sweetness from the piccalilly sauce cooperated with the crunchy texture of the thin pastry disk on top.
A multitude of similarly high-quality dishes followed. A beautiful scallop from the North Sea was one of many examples. Served as a trio, the slices of moist scallop came with Jerusalem artichoke and a tiny blob of smoked yoghurt. What seemed to be a myriad of elements turned out to be a harmony of cohesive flavours. Of them all, the Celeriac is the one dish not-to-be-missed. Marlene explained the steps involved to intensify the flavour of the celeriac before creating 5 textures out of it and finishing it with Moroccan lemon and a drizzle of bay leaf oil. Despite the amount of cooking techniques and textural transformations this dish underwent, the star was still the flavour of the celeriac! It sounded like a labour intensive process but one that was truly worth the effort.
The fish for the evening was sea bass topped with a generous amount of caviar. It was precisely cooked, ensuring a moist centre. However, I found the combination of spinach and verjus sauce was a tad on the salty side, especially with the Amur x Kaluga caviar on top adding more saltiness to the dish. The main course was a lamb dish consisting of loin, belly, and sausage. It had an appealing garlicky fragrance and the black garlic provided a lovely sweetness. I always enjoy a meat course that has multiple components; it often brings in diverse textures from different parts of the meat.
After a short break it was time for the cheese course. They had an impressive trolley not only serving local Dutch cheese but also a good variety from France and Italy. These came with an amazing warm brioche on the side that was flaky and fluffy. There was even a thoughtfully provided leaflet listing every type of cheese available on the trolley.
With many outstanding dishes already coming out from this kitchen, I knew Marleen–responsible for the pastry – wouldn’t end the meal with a simple dessert. Lo and behold, presented next was a bergamot banana foam, which was crystallised by a dip into liquid nitrogen at -196°C. This was served on a disk of aerated chocolate, with a sweet yolk sauce created by curing the yolk in caramel. A sophisticated dessert to say the least. You can imagine the complex combination of textures when putting all these components into the mouth. Incredible!
The finale of the meal was a visually appealing set of petits fours: cannelés, raspberry macarons, citrus caramel tartlets, chocolate truffles and cute “magic mushrooms” (white chocolate in the shape of a mushroom). Needless to say, similar to the amuse bouche, every item here was beautifully handcrafted.
Noor has a very strong kitchen team and a slick service team. The staff were knowledgeable and paid good attention to the details of each dish. The menu was a well-constructed showcase of local ingredients and talented chefs. With such a well-distributed balance of flavours and variety of textures, it is really hard to pick out a dish that I didn’t like.
One important feature of the evening was being able to look into the kitchen from my table. I was amazed at how peaceful it was throughout the whole service. Every member of the kitchen team knew exactly when they needed to do what. There were no screaming or loud noises from pots and pans here – in fact, it was a very quiet kitchen where everyone worked to deliver the full tasting menu to 20+ diners in the calmest way that you can imagine. It’s clear that this restaurant has a team of well-trained and skilful chefs. I am very happy to say that this meal surpassed my expectations and I’m glad that I made a trip to this major city in northern Netherlands.