De Kersentuin, Amsterdam (April 2017)

With the kids on a sleep-over, Chantal and I seized the opportunity to try out De Kersentuin in Amsterdam.

About the restaurant
De Kersentuin is the restaurant of the Bilderberg Garden Hotel, south of the city center of Amsterdam. After 35 years the restaurant had gotten a bit of a stuffy and waning reputation, so in 2015 the hotel’s management rightfully decided to shake things up and – as one Dutch newspaper put it – resuscitate the restaurant.

To achieve a desired ‘Casual Dining’ experience for hotel guests, food lovers and neighbors alike, they started a cooperation with Head Chef Stefan van Sprang of Amstelveen’s Aan de Poel** fame.

Stefan is the Signature Chef of De Kersentuin, so he is overall responsible for the concept and menu, but the day-to day-operations are in the capable hands of Wessel Ruijmgaart, formerly Stefan’s sous-chef at Aan de Poel for 8 years. The type of cooking, plating, and condiments is instantly recognizable (as were some of the dishes from earlier menus of Aan de Poel) but executed less complicated and in a more casual setting.

Update: Wessel Ruijmgaart left De Kersentuin in October 2017 and started his own restaurant in Loosdracht, AIM in June 2018. The kitchen of De Kersentuin is now lead by Patrick Kessler, another Aan de Poel alumni.

About the menu
De Kersentuin’s menu is a mix of ‘pure products’ & Stefan’s signature dishes. There are no starters or mains as the serving size is just in-between; you can therefore really mix and match from the 15 options, of which 11 regulars (€15 or €20) and 4 signature dishes (€20 – €38,50), and 6 desserts.

From the end of March to early May cherry trees bloom all over Japan, the so-called Hanami (literally “flower viewing”) season. Due to the historical relation between Amsterdam (and Amstelveen, a couple of years ago over 10% of its population was Japanese!), more than 400 Japanese cherry trees have been planted in Het Amsterdamse Bos. Thus Hanami is also celebrated here.

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De Kersentuin (literally “the cherry garden”) had a special 4-course menu given Hanami during April (€60). We both chose it as it was also possible to opt for a vegetarian version together with one additional course from the regular menu and wine pairings.

The food and drinks:
We started off with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne (€13) to go over the menu, while snacking on some seaweed crisps and bread with butter/basil mayo and being served the following amuse:

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0. Ramen, Egg, Tofu, Nori, Ponzu Gel and Salmon Roe (latter for me only)
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1a. Tuna Sashimi, Wasabi mayo, Wasabi crisp, Pickled Cucumber, Daikon, King Fish and Dried Tuna

Our first dishes were accompanied by a crisp and peppery 2014 Grüner Veltliner ‘Kies’ by Weingut Kurt Angerer (Kamptal, Austria, €8)

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1b. Barbecued Eggplant, Vinaigrette of Burnt Oranges, Pickled Vegetables, Burnt Tomatoes

Next up was my additional course (€20): a high-end version of a Dutch guilty pleasure snack: “frikandel speciaal”. I had it several years ago at Aan de Poel and immediately wanted it when I saw it on the menu, it’s that good!

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2a. Fried Gambas with Curry, Shallots and Lemon Grass.
This dish was paired with a 2015 Chardonnay by Well of Wine (Pays d’Oc, France, €7)
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2b. Springrolls, Leek Parcels, Bok Choy, and Coconut/Curry Foam.
This dish was paired with a 2014 Pinot Blanc La Cabane by Domaine Léon Boesch (Alsace, France, €8)
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3a. Gyoza filled with Poultry with a Pumpkin and Seaweed sauce, White Asparagus and Enoki Mushrooms.
This time I got the 2014 Pinot Blanc La Cabane by Domaine Léon Boesch
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3b. Chantal’s additional course was a Herb Risotto with Fried Mushrooms, Mirin Jus and a Parmesan crisp. Due to the mirin jus, the dish got a nice Asian touch too. 
The dish was paired with a 2014 Jomax Spätburgunder Cuvée trocken by Weingut Gustavshof (Rheinhessen, Germany, €8)
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4a. Yakitori Beef, Avocado, Fried Shrimp, Crab and Spring Rolls
This dish was paired with a 2011 Côtes de Bordeaux by Château Carignan (Cadillac, France, €9)
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4b: Herb Gnocchi with Peas, Roasted Spring Vegetables, and a Foamy White Wine Sauce
This dish was paired with a 2014 Convent des Jacobins Pinot Noir by Louis Jadot (Bourgogne, France, €8)
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5: Dessert amuse: Nigiri Cheese Cake with Yuzu Granité.

The dessert amuse as well as the dessert were paired with a sweet Italian sparkling Moscato D’Asti, € 11). It paired nicely, but personally, it will never be one of our favorite wines.

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6. The actual dessert: Matcha Nama, Apple sorbet, Apple rolls, and a Sesame Crisp. Matcha Nama is a delicious fudge-like mix of green tea and white chocolate
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To go with our coffee/tea: Apricot Jellies, Bailey’s Chocolate Balls, Caramel bonbons and Canelles (€5,75)

It can be said that pretty much all dishes were full-on from a flavor perspective. Also, the vegetarian dishes had distinct Asian influences, even the one that was not included in the Hanami menu. A few times we thought it to be a bit overwhelming: the vegetarian spring rolls, the mushrooms in herb risotto as well as the mushrooms and sauce with the yakitori beef were really on edge due to the overall saltiness. The only exception was the dessert amuse which could have benefited from a lot more yusu giving the tartness in the granité to balance out the sweetness of the dish.

Overall, the intricate food was definitely very lovely and as you can see beautifully plated. Even if you have been to Aan de Poel, it will be hard to notice where the simplification of these dishes is compared to the originals. The service was amicable and attentive (even asking whether they should slow things down). The wine pairings were solid: not spectacular, but they went well with the food, and the servings are generous. Good value for money and plenty of dishes to choose from.

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I also think that it’s one of the few restaurants that actually encourages people to take out their mobile phones to snap some pics of the food 😉

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