Our first fancy lunch after the lockdown was at Merlet* and it was fabulous!
With our last fine dining experience ending merely 3 hours before the Dutch restaurant lockdown in March, we did try to support restaurants and local businesses during the lockdown by ordering produce/take out/make-at-home boxes. We did take it easy with visiting restaurants though, so our desire for haute cuisine experiences definitely started itching again.
Last week, with the kids back at school and our puppy Hoshi set for a training day at the “dog hotel” in Spijkerboor, a small town in the countryside north of Amsterdam, we set our eyes on lunch in that region. We decided on Merlet* in Schoorl, a 45 minute drive from Amsterdam, a village divided from the North Sea by an extensive dune and forest area. Arriving early, we parked the car at the restaurant and took the opportunity to stroll around in the dunes and work up our appetite.
About the Restaurant
Merlet is a family business headed by Martin and Carla van Bourgonje, who took over from his parents in 1999. It comprises a hotel with 28 rooms, a conference centre it also houses the grand café Bourgogne. Merlet is member of the Alliance Gastronomique, and holds one Michelin star since 1998. The current ranking in Gault Millau is 17.5/20 and Merlet hold the 40th spot in the Lekker 500 list.
Jonathan Zandhuizen heads Merlet from an overall culinary perspective. After apprenticeships at several topnotch restaurants like De Bokkedoorns** and De Librije***, he started as a chef at Polman’s Huis in Utrecht in 2003. After 3 years Zandhuizen went on to Het Veerhuys in Almere. He won the Prix Culinaire Taittinger International in 2014 (as 4th Dutch chef ever), and joined Merlet the following year. Jonathan was one of the three jury members of the latest (2018/2019) season of van MasterChef Nederland. Early March 2020, Jonathan became the 150th SVH Master Chef, the highest culinary proficiency in the Netherlands. Stefan Wiarda is the maître-sommelier at Merlet since 2008 and has built an impressive wine cellar which can be seen below in the back of the “Golden Room”.
The restaurant was restyled last year and definitely has a lot of character. It is very colourful and “littered” with art. The main attraction (unfortunately not depicted) of the dining room is a huge sand sculpture window by Austrian artist Klaus Bosch and Dutch designer John Breed paying respect to the Schoorl dunes. A middle window of 1 x 3½ meters separates the open kitchen from the dining room and is turned at the start of each service, so the coloured sand will trickle down and form new scenes in the next 3 hours.
Keeping proper distancing wasn’t a problem at all as the dining rooms are very spacious as such and also outdoors seats had been created. The weather was pretty abysmal that day, and although they had a full house for dinner, we were the only customers for lunch. A first for Merlet since reopening after the lockdown according to Jonathan and Martin who both came by for a chat towards the end of the service.
About the menu
Besides the regular à la carte options, Merlet offers a “Taste of the Netherlands” menu for lunch and dinner: 4 through 6 courses (EUR 72,50-112.50) with regional Dutch ingredients prepared in mostly classic French style, but with many Japanese influences. The vegetarian version of the menu will set you back EUR 65-85.
We selected the 6 courses versions with wine pairings: EUR 67,50 for the full pours and EUR 46,50 for my halfsies accompaniments. The prices of these wine pairings are relatively high compared to similar restaurants we frequented, but they were excellent.
About the food
Then our menus kicked off:
The food was amazing, light and fresh and cooked to perfection. I totally loved the BBQ smokiness of the Pike-Perch and Eel dish, which almost gave it a “meaty” quality. Chantal’s clear favourite was the Goat’s Cheese and Cucumber dish. The wine pairings were mostly from Spain, Germany and Austria and Italy and with some some uncommon varietals and assemblages. All of them were totally spot on for both menus, which we don’t encounter that often. For good measure, I also snuck in a halfsie glass of 2016 Siebritzkloof Pinotage by Swartland winemakers David & Nadia Sadie for my main course (EUR 7) as I had never tried their red wines before. Not a better pairing with the roebuck than the wine what was offered, but I was glad I did: silky smooth and super fruity. Overall, service was very friendly, and a lot more information on the food and wines was provided than in other restaurants.