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The restaurants of Zwolle

Saturday, June 29th , 2013

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The Dutch city of Zwolle is home to the three star Michelin restaurant De Librije and its two star sibling Zusje. It is ages since I visited De Librije, and the meal I ate here was an improvement on my experience of 2004. The very modern cooking style managed to also use high quality ingredients, and delivered logical taste combinations even where these were unfamiliar. Much modern cooking, in the hands of the less skilled, can be jarring, but the dishes at this tasting menu generally worked very well. Service was also superb, and the dining room itself, set in an old monastery, is unusual and interesting.  

Zusje serves the same style of cutting-edge food but in a much more casual setting. It is based in the boutique hotel of De Librije, which was originally a women’s prison and has retained many of the original features; you can still see the cell doors and the bars on the windows, though you will be glad to hear that the rooms have been substantially upgraded. Zusje’s food was less precise than that of de Librije, but still a good example of modern cooking.

Bai Yok is a Thai restaurant that appears very popular in Zwolle. In reality it was a very ordinary place, with spicing levels toned down to suit the locals and cooking that varied in quality but was never more than ordinary. This probably is the best (only?) Thai restaurant in Zwolle, but I doubt that it would last long in London. If you are visiting this area, Zwolle is not far from the former royal palace in Apeldoorn, which has very fine French-style formal gardens (pictured).

Back in London I had a good meal at old favourite Royal China, and encountered a rare thing in a Chinese restaurant: pleasant service. The waitress smiled and everything. I have been going there regularly for two decades but even so this turn of events came as a bit of a surprise. Fortunately the food provided no such disturbing deviation from the norm, with excellent Sichuan prawns and my favourite gai lan with garlic amongst the dishes tried.

I also returned to Angler, which has one of the more appealing menus in London. Despite its ultra-cool location the dishes are resolutely classical and pleasing, with no sea-buckthorn to disturb the palate and little danger of shrubbery popping up in your dessert. The shellfish bisque served as an amuse-bouche here is a good example of old-fashioned kitchen technique, packing stacks of flavour into this seemingly simple soup. One dish had a slight technical flaw, so this was a less consistent meal than my previous one here, but it was nonetheless a most enjoyable experience. 

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