As part of celebrating me reaching the big 4-0, Chantal took me for lunch at Librije’s Zusje** in Amsterdam.
About the restaurant
Librije’s Zusje (literally Librije’s Little Sister) started in 2008 in Zwolle as an offshoot of Jonnie and Thérèse Boer’s much-lauded De Librije (which holds 3 Michelin Stars since 2004 and currently #34 in the World’s Top 50 Restaurants of the World).
They ventured out into another restaurant, hotel, and a cookery workshop located in the 18th century former women’s prison, a short walk from De Librije. Sidney Schutte, Jonnie’s right-hand man at the time, who had been acknowledged as SVH Meesterkok – the highest degree of culinary proficiency one can achieve in The Netherlands – already in 2006, was the first to head the kitchen of Librije’s Zusje. The restaurant got awarded a first Michelin star the same year. Schutte left for Asia in 2009, but the second Michelin star was awarded in 2012.
Chantal and I had been here late 2012 with a special combo package, including an all-in dinner, a room, and breakfast the next morning. A lot of the architecture of the prison was kept: the massive doors of the old cells opened onto a small lobby and a second door giving access to the bedroom, and the bars on the windows were still there. It was truly memorable, not just in view of the copious amounts of amuses, food and alcohol, but also in light of the fact that we had a giant hot tub right in the middle of our room, bacon hanging from a clothing line (including mini clothing pegs) at breakfast and the delicious home-made lemongrass-infused peanut butter that we got to take home.
Jonnie and Thérèse were approached by Waldorf Astoria to create a high-end gastronomic restaurant and manage the entire food & beverage concept for its new luxury five-star hotel that would span 6 monumental buildings right on the Amsterdam canals. And so it was that the second sibling of De Librije, also called Librije’s Zusje, saw the light of day on May 1, 2014. The location in Zwolle closed per December 31 of that year to make room for De Librije itself. The restaurant is located entresol on the ground floor of the Waldorf Astoria hotel on the Keizersgracht and has a great view of the hotel garden. The interior of the restaurant is in line with the rest of the hotel: classical, elegant, and luxurious, which you already notice the moment when you set foot in the hotel lobby.
Familiar faces were welcomed back to head up Librije’s Zusje. The Maitre d’ is Sascha Speckemeier. He worked previously at De Librije and other high-end restaurants like La Vie*** in Osnabrück, Palais Coburg** in Vienna, and most recently at Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet in Shanghai. Furthermore, Sidney Schutte, after his stint in Hong Kong among others at Richard Ekkebus’ Amber** and as Executive Chef in The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, returned to become the Executive Chef.
Combining local ingredients with Asian influences and produce, bold flavors, and a lot of creativity, Librije’s Zusje really took off as from the start: by the end of 2014, the restaurant was awarded 2 Michelin stars. Quite an astonishing feat only seven months after opening and the first time in the Netherlands that a new restaurant with a new kitchen team was awarded two Michelin stars from scratch. Most recently, Schutte was bestowed the Chef of the Year 2017 Award by Gault Millau.
Update: The restaurant will be renamed to Spectrum in January 2019 as Jonnie and Thérèse exit this joint venture with Waldorf Astoria. The FoH and Kitchen teams remain as is, including the 2 Michelin stars.
About the Menu:
There were two 6-course set lunch menus: one regular menu (€124) and one entirely vegetarian (€112) from which you could choose the number, of course, you would like. We decided to go for both the entire menus and opted for the accompanying wine pairings (€66 per person). As we wanted to be surprised and declined to have a look at the menus when asked, it also meant that the “damage” only became apparent when we got the bill…
We recalled that back in 2012, we were surprised by the number of amuses and that hadn’t changed. The “parade” seemed almost endless, we actually had to resort to a second glass of the very lovely Henriot Blanc de Blancs champagne (which turned out to be a lofty €24,50 per glass).
On every table, under a cloche, there was a spongiform object. After the first course, our waiter lifted the cloche and doused the “sponge” with a bright orange liquid. Without offering any explanation, the cloche was placed back. Adding to the mystery, this process was repeated after our 3rd course, and it was removed from the table after the 5th course…
Finally, we were explained what this sponge-like object was: a Tremella. It is a type of “jelly fungi”, which actually is a parasite of other fungi. They come in many sizes (from 5 mm to 150 mm across) and shapes (cushioned, leaf-like, or this varietal that is cephaliform: brain-like, lobed, and with folds and ridges). The texture is indeed gelatinous, but with a slight crunch and it does not have much flavor of its own. It did remind me of when I had sesame/soy marinated jellyfish for dinner in Thailand, although that texture was more rubber band-like). I was also told that this type of Tremella is also commonly used in Asia for soup bowls as a substitute for flat rice noodles.
We could actually relive a part of our lunch via the little chocolates that came with our coffee and tea (EUR 9). Each of them mirrored the flavors of dishes that we had earlier that afternoon. Chantal didn’t find the idea of pigeon, scallop, cod and goose liver-flavored bonbons very appealing, but was assured that they were entirely vegetarian and just flavor and spice profiles of the dishes were conveyed. And they did: they were spot on. A very clever conclusion of lunch!
Left: (clockwise) Tomatillo, Scallop, Pigeon, Cacao, Tremella, and Cerisa Cherry.
Right: Separately, we got also the Goose Liver one.
On our way out we were said goodbye by Sascha and were presented a mini jar of honey from the beehives, they have on the hotel’s rooftops. Overall, the service during our lunch was highly professional, and the staff very knowledgeable, friendly, and attentive without becoming stuffy or too stiff.
Although the 6 courses and plethora of amuses were enough to skip dinner that night, the dishes themselves were not heavy at all. No thick and creamy sauces, but all very fresh and vibrant instead. It was a genuine culinary adventure, drawing from both Asian and Mexican cuisines. Due to the bold yet refined and sometimes surprising and contrasting flavors in the food, it was quite a pleasant surprise that the wine pairings worked out very well. The only slight derailment was the overwhelming acidity in Chantal’s Kohlrabi dish, not only overpowering other ingredients but also the wine. However, our absolute highlights were Chantal’s Crispy Watermelon dish and my Carabinero dish. A must-visit, and we will definitely return!