Ciel Bleu is the fine dining restaurant of the Okura hotel in Amsterdam, part of the Japanese Okura group. It opened in 1971 and is on the top floor of the hotel, with a panoramic view over the city. The dining room has large, well-spaced tables and is carpeted, resulting in pleasingly low noise levels. In total up to 76 diners are accommodated at any one time. The restaurant gained a star in 2005 and a second in 2008.
You can choose from four to seven course tasting menus (€110 to €185 respectively) or go à la carte. The head chef is Onno Kokmeijer, who started working here in 2003 along with his chef de cuisine Arjan Speelman. The wine list arrives in a hefty tome listing 620 different labels, with a broad global selection. Lageder Pinot Gris 2013 was €47 compared to a retail price of €13, Cuvée Frederich Emile 2006 was €130 for a wine that you can find in the high street for €54, and Chateau Giscours 2008 was €195 for a wine that will set you back €56 in a shop.
The meal began with a little crisp of beetroot with a filling of goat cheese laced with horseradish. This was excellent, the kick of spice enlivening the cheese, the earthiness of the beetroot complementing it well (18/20). Next was a bit of culinary technique. Served on edible paper were the components of tom yum goong (minus the soup stock), with shrimp, ginger and red chilli. This was well presented, but at the end of the day there are limits to what you can really do to make a shrimp and some spices exciting other than to, well, put them in a soup together. This seemed to me an example of a chef being clever for the sake of it rather than considering the best possible flavours for the customer (16/20). I preferred the next nibble, a little barbecue with sweet pepper, shallot and tender octopus. This was also visually striking but also had very good flavour (18/20).
This was followed by the dish of the night, a little cone made of celeriac colours black with squid ink, containing a salad of king crab, yuzu, crisp potato and a beurre blanc ice cream garnished with caviar and gold leaf. This worked on all levels, pretty and with lovely flavours as well as a clever set of complementary textures (19/20).
Langoustine from Iceland was presented in three forms. Tartare and jelly of the shellfish came with samphire, brioche and creme fraiche, topped with a langoustine tail roasted over lemongrass, ginger and salt. This last element was particularly good, very tender and sweet and having taken on a hint of the spices (19/20).
Foie gras mousse with apricot came encased in a thin dome of 85% chocolate, with foie gras crumble and roast sunflower seeds with pink pepper. At first I was concerned about the combination of foie gras with rich chocolate, but the apricot provided enough acidity to cut through all the richness, and the crumble added a contrasting texture (18/20).
Wild sea bass was roasted and served with mousseline potato, poached oyster and cockles with salted vegetables in a champagne beurre blanc. The fish was carefully timed and had good flavour, the sauce was very good though there seemed like more elements to this dish than was strictly necessary (17/20).
Roasted scallop was served with jelly of oxtail and a foam of brown butter, with potato, coffee, almonds and grated bone marrow. I was not really convinced by this, the delicate sweetness of the admittedly very good scallops being overpowered by the bone marrow, the dish lacking acidic balance (15/20). Lamb from Dorset was served with a cutlet of slow-cooked lamb and white Dutch asparagus, with a reduction of the cooking juices. This was an enjoyable, simple dish, the ingredients seasonal and allowed to speak for themselves (18/20).
Dutch strawberries with yuzu cream, apple and daiquiri cocktail sounds better than it tasted, as for me there was not enough acidity to balance the cream, and the strawberries themselves had good rather than great flavour (16/20). Better was a deconstructed nougat with citrus, meringue, pistachio, hazelnuts, dried fruit and a hazelnut praline. Here the flavour balance was much better and the hazelnuts tasted lovely (17/20). Chocolate with caramel and basil featured good quality chocolate, though I have never enjoyed shrubbery in my desserts. Coffee was very good.
Service was superb, our waitress knowledgeable and friendly, the sommelier excellent. I was being taken out this evening so did not see the bill, but a realistic cost per head for a short menu with modest wine would be around £130. However this could quickly climb steeply with a lengthier menu and better wine. Overall, although there was the odd inconsistency, Ciel Bleu is a most enjoyable overall experience. The menu features plenty of luxury ingredients, the technical skill in the kitchen is considerable, service is top notch and you have a 23rd floor view as a bonus.
Further reviews: 01st Nov 2008