Utrecht is a lovely Dutch city with small canals and old buildings. It's less touristy than Amsterdam but just as charming. There's one ambitious restaurant in the old city center (Karel V) but for really great food at reasonable prices, it's best to explore the residential areas just outside the center.
This week we tried Het Ketelhuis in the Rivierenwijk (the river area). The restaurant is named after the location-- it used to be the boiler room of a Dutch-design furniture factory. The interior has been kept largely intact and furnished with a playful modern urban vibe. It was a lovely warm summer evening when we visited so we could sit outside along the canal and watch the pleasure boats go by. A highly recommended Utrecht experience!
As far as we understood, the restaurant only serves 4- 5- or 6-course surprise menus. Upon making the reservation we were asked to communicate all our preferences. We were a group of eight, including one vegetarian, one fish-hater, one gluten intolerance, one picky kid, and a few food phobias. We pointed out who was who upon arrival and after that the chef and waitstaff accommodated all our needs completely.
Prior to the first course we had a few amuses: fried chicken skin with creme fraiche, a whole roasted carrot dotted with chicken liver and cream, and a small piece of white fish with chevril ice cream. All were lovely. The first course was a sea bass ceviche with shaved horseradish, vegetables, and coconut milk soup. The dish was light but bursting with flavor, and the crunchy vegetables contrasted well with the soft fish. Second course was a play on traditional Belgian potato mash with buttermilk served with smoked eel and an herb oil. Again, full of bright flavors without being heavy. The main course was a lovely piece of veal with bulgur risotto and a rich jus. Dessert was a variation of cherry: ice cream, soft meringue, cherry jelly, and marinated cherries. All the food was beautifully presented, and the vegetarian and gluten free options were valued just as highly as the 'classic' dishes.
Really the only point that could improve was the wine. We had a mixed group with non-drinkers, little-drinkers, and wine aficionados. We decided to order by the bottle so everyone could enjoy at their own speed. Unfortunately, the waiter would not share any information about the food courses in advance, so it was impossible to make an educated pairing choice. He advised us to 'just choose something we would enjoy'. The selection was limited, but we chose an Austrian gruner veltliner and a South African pinot noir. The waiter made an uncertain face when we ordered the pinot and when we asked why he said 'It's okay. I'll put it to chill for half an hour and it'll be fine.' Strange way to recommend wine! I expect the restaurant staff to be enthusiastic about every wine they serve, and certainly the wines should be at serving temperature before they are ordered, no? Anyway, long story short, if you want wine you're probably better off ordering the wine arrangement at 7 euros per glass, otherwise trying to have a good pairing is hopeless.
Maybe one other tiny detail to be improved-- the cutlery was not always fully appropriate to the dish served. The sea bass ceviche really did not require a knife, while the whole roasted carrot definitely did. No problem in informal company (we decided to consider the carrot finger food), but could be awkward if you're trying to make an impression. A tiny kink that will hopefully be ironed out in the future.
Overall, beautiful food, light and fresh while providing an indulgent flavor experience in a fun and unique location. Definitely worth the super-short train ride from the old center if you're visiting Utrecht!