Thursday, 9 January 2014

Ron Gastrobar

Murphy's Law played out in full force when we tried to get a cab to Ron Gastrobar after picking SB up from the apartment she was staying in. SF had managed to accidentally hail no less than five cabs while gesticulating when the lot of us had been in Amstel the day before (To be fair he has very long arms), but out in the wilds beyond Amsterdam Oud-West, those of us left on the trip were having no such luck. It even started to drizzle as soon as we walked down the steep stairs and out the door, so we had to stand around miserably in the cold and damp while zero cabs drove past. We waited for almost twenty increasingly panicked minutes wondering where they all had gone, before a lone cab finally appeared just when it started to pour. 

Safely ensconced in the cab, we heaved a collective sigh of relief that we weren't going to be doomed to stand on that street for the rest of time. We relaxed enough to be able to appreciate the beautiful houses we were passing, and when IZV remarked on how pretty the neighbourhood was, the driver told us it was because we were driving through one of the posher parts of town. IZV's taste for fine things is unerringly accurate. 

When we finally burst into the restaurant half an hour late for our reservation, we were glad to find they hadn't given our table up. While the main dining area looked full up, we were placed in a quiet section that we had entirely to ourselves for the rest of the afternoon. From there we could catch glimpses of the open kitchen and the rest of the restaurant, while still having a degree of privacy. We completely ignored the whole "With great power comes great responsibility" thing since we were after all on holiday, and used our prime position for the nefarious purpose of covertly checking out any and all good looking guys in the restaurant. Twas great fun. 

Ron Blaauw closed his eponymous two Michelin-starred restaurant in early 2013, and opened Ron Gastrobar at the same location the very next month. The 2014 Michelin Guide awarded his latest venture with a star in November 2013, and it'll be interesting to track its progress in the future. The colour scheme's mostly black, white and sand, with Neo-pop art by Selwyn Senatori adorning the walls (There's an adorable piece near the toilets in the basement). It's on-point luxe minimalism, giving the restaurant a relaxed and informal feel while still coming across as perfectly business professional. 

The menu concept is fairly interesting as well. All the tasting dishes are priced at €15, the cold dishes in the left column and the hot dishes on the right. Each of the servings is bigger than tapas-sized, although it's probably too small to have just one plate.  In order to try the most number of dishes, BA, SB & I decided to share everything, which is really the sensible thing to do. Prior experience with Q & BH during our epic journey across France, Italy and Spain back in the summer of first year had also made me realize that you get fuller on fewer dishes if you're splitting them somehow. We were told that people usually get three to four dishes each before a dessert, but we wound up with two each with a dessert after, and found it more than enough for lunch. 

Service was a little slow at the start, but things picked up once they remembered we were there and came round with fresh bread in a paper bag, served with caramel butter and pickled onions. Later, we got a fair bit of help while ordering, and when IZV ordered her own mains to ensure she didn't accidentally set off any allergies, and the staff were very helpful in making sure she didn't ingest the wrong kind of nuts. 

As a Gastrobar, there were lots of cocktails on offer, so IZV went for the Classic Cocktail listed on the front page of the menu, the Rhubarb Amsterdam. It was created in-house, and shaken with honey rum and champagne. 

While there were a couple of items we already had in mind, we asked for recommendations as well. When we mentioned the Foie Gras McFlurry with Meringue Bits, Tangerine and VOC Spices, our waiter literally burst out "That one is f-ing amazing!" then made the universal gesture for "I have no other words to describe it but if there's something you absolutely have to try, it's that." 

On first bite, all of us went some variation of "Mmmm..." There was nearly a fight for the last spoonful, but BA very wisely chose not to cross me. 

We were informed that the BBQ Spare Ribs with Homemade Sambal, Smoked Beet, Crunchy Onions and Horseradish was going to be the best ribs we'd ever tasted, and he wasn't too far off the mark. Thinking on it, I don't know why I haven't had spare ribs with sambal before, when they work so well together. It really ought to be more of a thing. 

The Smoked Eel with a Salad of Leek and Parsley Sauce and Quinoa broke up the heaviness of the first two dishes. It was the first time I'd seen eel this colour, and it was chewier than I was expecting. 

The difficulty with splitting dishes with people lies mainly in the initial carving up of the food, and I must say it wasn't always very pretty watching the beautifully crafted items crumble under the relentless need to hack everything up into three portions. Still, three was a very good number to split the dishes by - everyone had more than a mouthful to slowly savour, but there was never any fear of getting sick of anything. 

We'd started with everyone choosing a dish each, and when we felt ready for round two I also asked to check out the main cocktail menu. I ordered the Pornstar Martini, and while we waited for the rest of our food the cocktail came around with a bit of a show as they set the passion fruit half on fire. 

It was passionfruit and vanilla with a champagne chaser. There was nothing not to love. 

As IZV had her Wagyu Burger with Tarragon Mayonnaise Fries, the rest of us went a slightly more adventurous route with the Pita Bread stuffed with what the menu called "a selection of chicken (organs)", which turned out to be de-boned wing mid-joints, a couple of kidneys and I think some hearts. It was served with a dollop of 'Beurre de Paris', here more a complex cream with a hint of mustard that brought out the gamey flavour of the organs. 

Two shellfish dishes rounded off our selection. The first was the Pan Fried Langoustine with Pumpkin and Curry, I didn't quite know what to make of the sauce or the vaguely coconutty foam - both seemed a tad too watery and underpowered. The langoustines themselves were fresh and sweet though, and the pumpkin perfectly roasted. 

There was much more flavour in the Crispy Ravioli of Lobster and Gamba with Tom Kha Kai and a Sauce of Shellfish. The crispy, puffed up ravioli was stuffed full of lobster and gamba chunks. Six dishes later, BA declared he was full and wouldn't be having any dessert. 

It just so happened that us three girls couldn't decide which of the four desserts we desperately wanted to try to kick out, so we ended up passing a decree that he'd share them with us anyway. We got the Surprise Egg 'Ron Gastrobar', which looked like a completely tricked out Kinder Surprise. There was an initial hesitation over who'd open the surprise, but IZV recovered first and was all over it. 

The hows of opening the surprise hadn't been planned through though, so when the egg rather violently exploded as she tried squishing it, all of us went "Aaargh!" as bits of chocolate and fruity jelly went flying. Well, no one could say we didn't get a surprise in the end. 

We'd been warned that people normally found the Apple Dessert with Beurre Noisset Cream and Saffron Foam too much on the heavy side, but we didn't have that problem and enjoyed it immensely. 

The Pate Choux with Banana, Baileys and Cacao Sauce was tasty, but there wasn't anything very outstanding about it. Perhaps eating it after the rich apple dessert and the strong berry sorbet that came with the Surprise Egg wasn't the wisest thing to do. 

Hands down the best dessert (In our humble opinion) was the Crispy Cannelloni with Toffee, an Olive Cake, Sea Salt and Vanilla Ice Cream. It felt like fireworks were going off in my mouth, in the best possible way. 

Our meal was rounded off with complimentary teas, and when we asked which flavours were available, a magnetic stand was brought over for us to slowly sniff all the blends. 

Lunch had been an enjoyable but epic two hour long affair, and after due consideration, I had a soothing cup of gunpowder tea, which seemed necessary after all we'd eaten. The cost of the meal was very reasonable considering the quality of the food and drink as well as the good service, so all of us left the restaurant happy. Well-fed as we were, even the persistent drizzle could do nothing to dampen our spirits for the rest of our time in Amsterdam. 

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