In 2007, I was traveling alone to visit a few 3-star restaurants in Belgium and Holland such as Hof van Cleve and Oud Sluis. Looking back to those times and my restaurant notes … I just realized that I’ve never returned to that regions for about a decade. My meals at both places above were memorable, but not really sure why I “didn’t bother” to return or try some other places around there. Well, finally I made another return to Netherlands using Amsterdam as my base last year. One of the most important reasons was a visit to arguably the current finest restaurant in that country – De Librije.
The access to De Librije was not too complicated; just a short train ride to the small & beautiful town of Zwolle. “The Library’s” current location used to be an old prison building in which the main dining room was located in the ‘jail courtyard’. It was a huge and impressive dining room with very high glass ceilings stood elegantly under the support of black steel structures – plenty of natural lights but the temperature inside was still cooling. There were plenty of big and real plants as well. Given the space and kitchen’s size, De Librije could easily accommodate more people but the owners (Jonnie and Therese Boer) chose to keep it as it is to maintain the quality.
As my spouse and I were enjoying our aperitifs and canapes, we could spot the owners right away. Chef Jonnie Boer was even the one who passed the menu to us and explained how the meals would work. Unlike most gastronomy restaurants which require the whole table to order the tasting menu with the same courses, at De Librije, the kitchen was comfortable and welcomed each guest to order different dishes with the aim so that guests could share some dishes. After a few snacks, Therese came and took the order. Then, one by one tables at the main dining room were filled and then the real show began.
The degustation menu was impressive. The whole experience was probably even better than the sum of its parts. That being said, there were many remarkable individual dishes nevertheless such as:
-In river Perch dish, Jonnie Boer elevated the humble kruudmoes (a combination of buttermilk, bacon, barley etc.) to the gastronomy level. His version was refined and sophisticated yet still faithful to its origin. This perfectly complemented the freshwater Perch which was lovely, tasty and rather firm. It looked complex, but all elements worked harmoniously.
-The monkfish was perfectly cooked and succulent. The dish was carefully balanced by the fermented bell pepper, butter sauce and eggplant. A well-deserved classic dish.
-Strips of dry-aged local beef (luscious and tender) were carefully seared on one-side only, then dusted / seasoned by the ceps powder and middle eastern spices.
-This one was a very interesting dessert as the main ingredient happened to be a duck liver. The litchi with some aromatic vinegar nicely cut through the poached foie gras rich flavor while the apricot seed gave some bitter sweet and nutty flavor to the dish – innovative
There were too many to mention all of the dishes we had; please check the link below for more details. Oh, don’t forget to order for at least 1 dish from the restaurant’s classic selection – proven to be ‘safe’ and superb. The wine selection by the glass had many international selection, reasonably priced and matched really well with the dishes. Therese Boer carefully & closely worked with her husband for years to produce this great pairing. Next time, probably I should order the full wine pairing.
The hospitality at De Librije was fun, relaxed yet professional. We could see that staffs enjoying their work; they did with ease and smiles. Laughter could easily be seen & heard during the waiters and guests’ interactions. Each table did not really have any assigned maître d’, yet (surprisingly) most staffs pretty much knew what’s going on and the sequence of your meals. Therese and Stefan de Wilde (the manager) did not only observe from a distance, but they lead by example - did hands on and sometimes served the guests themselves including our table.
The cooking at De Librije was indeed sublime and exciting. Even more impressive, most of the ingredients were sourced locally; Jonnie Boer has consistently been doing this more nearly 2 decades even though getting overseas luxurious produce couldn’t be any easier nowadays. It’s been a while since I ate at a restaurant for the first time in which the experience for both the food and the service was as amazing as this in Europe especially outside France. There’s no doubt that De Librije was an absolute 3-star establishment in my book.