The city of Zwolle is located around 75 miles (120km) north-east of Amsterdam. Its most prestigious restaurant, De Librije (“the library”), is located in a 16th century building that was originally a Dominican monastery that in the 20th century was taken over by the Dutch defence ministry. Jonnie Boer joined the kitchens in 1986, becoming head chef in 1989. He and his wife Therese, who both grew up in the area, bought it in 1992. They quickly earned a Michelin star, and a second in 1999. The ultimate third star accolade came in 2004, which it has held ever since.
The dining room at De Librije seats around 35 diners and has a very tall ceiling with plenty of natural light coming through from the high windows. A large central chandelier dominates the room, and tables are well spaced. There is also a private dining room available upstairs. Music plays in the dining room, which may not be to everyone's taste. The tasting menu is €182, or there is a shorter five course version available at €165. If you go a la carte then starters were €25-50, main courses at €67.50 and desserts at €27.50.
The wine list had around 800 labels and included wines such as Marques de Murrietta Castilla Ygay 2005 at a very fair €52.50 for a wine that you can find in a UK high street for around €45, Marcel Deiss Schoenenberg 2003 at €115 for a wine that retails at €78, and Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 2008 at €175 for a wine that will set you back €94 in a shop. The list included twenty different vintages of Chatequ d’Yquem.
As you study the menu there is a plate of seed bread proving on the table, which will later be baked for you, a little piece of culinary theatre also to be found at Frantzen in Stockholm. The meal started with a little bowl of tea made from red cabbage and red pepper plant leaves with a little vinegar, a well-balanced palate cleanser. A nibble of halibut fin with orange and cream of apricot was served with halibut brandade and tomato quinoa. This was followed by cod skin with seaweed and lemon, with a little chicken skin and a hint of mustard, which worked well. These were pleasant nibbles, attractively presented and with a good balance of textures and flavours (17/20).
A revived dish from the early days of De Librije was actually "plated" at the table on to the hand of the diner: a mayonnaise of basil was topped with tartare of beef, cream of oyster, pomme soufflé, a little piece of oyster and topped with an oyster leaf. This was a clever dish, the beef and oyster flavours nicely balanced with the mayonaisse (18/20). Baguettes are made from scratch in the kitchen, and had very good texture (17/20).
Spicy crab with wild sorrel leaves on a bed of goat cheese worked well, the crab having excellent sweet flavour, and not overpowered by the goat cheese or the subtle spices (18/20). Goose liver was prettily presented in a spiral, with milk of almond, a little crab and beetroot. The pâté had smooth texture and deep liver intensity, the beetroot working well as a counterpoint to the richness of the liver, the crab adding an extra flavour note (19/20).
Langoustines were served in two ways. The first was as a "ceviche" but not made using the traditional citrus marinade. Instead a tea of kombucha (a type of yeast) and vanilla was used, the shellfish served with celery and quinoa. The lack of citrus meant that the ceviche was not too sharp, and the celery with it had lovely flavour, as did the langoustines, with the quinoa providing a crunchy textural contrast (19/20). The langoustines were also served cooked, with a mild Madras curry and runner beans.
Scallops were served raw, with pickled cucumber and verbena distillate. The scallops were high quality with plenty of inherent sweetness, and the hint of lemon form the verbena and the sour note from the pickle combined well (18/20). Next was flesh from the back of a cod, with pine tree tops and cabbage. The cod was carefully prepared, and the vegetable accompaniments went well with the cod (18/20). Monkfish was served with a jus made from roll-mop herring, the fish prepared with a baharat (i.e. Middle Eastern blend) spice mix including paprika. This was an unusual dish, the monkfish accurately cooked, the spices quite mild; it was interesting to see a traditionally Dutch ingredient such as herring incorporated into the dish (17/20).
Beans with bean flowers grown in the restaurant greenhouse were attractively presented and served on a bed of goat cheese with a ponzu (Japanese citrus) dressing. This was a simple but very successful dish, the beans having excellent flavour, the ponzu dressing providing just the right level of acidity to balance the cheese (19/20). I preferred this to a very pretty dish of watermelon and beetroot with a clear tomato juice and white beans with lemon geranium, which for me was a little too sharp (16/20).
Beef from a 7-year-old dairy cow was cooked at the table on a hot stone dusted with cep powder, served with potato crisp, mushrooms and bone-marrow. The cep flavour came through nicely, the beef excellent (18/20). Cod with curried strawberries that essentially tasted like piccalilli was an interesting idea, but suffered from being too salty (16/20). Better was roe deer with fermented vegetables, the leg of deer confit served with yoghurt of magnolia. The venison had fine flavour and was accurately cooked (18/20).
At this stage there were a pair of partly savoury dishes that were notionally pre-desserts. One was sweet Thai green curry with ginger beer, basil, mango and banana. This sounded very odd on the menu but worked surprisingly well, the ginger flavour coming through well and the mango ripe and refreshing (17/20). I was less convinced by warm Epoisse with rabbit kidney, cordial and potato, which tasted pretty much as it sounds.
Toasted white chocolate was served with grapefruit, pistachio and dill ice cream. The pistachio cake was very good, and the grapefruit and chocolate worked well with it, but I wish that the dish had stopped there and not included dill ice cream (16/20). I much preferred a deconstructed apple pie, the elements involving surprises such as a clove which was really chocolate, and a vanilla pod that was actually vanilla jelly. More to the point, the apple itself had excellent sharpness, and the vanilla ice cream was very good. This dish seemed to me much better, the culinary tricks not distracting from coherent, complementary flavours (18/20). Coffee came with a trio of petit fours: passion fruit and white chocolate, dark chocolate with strawberry and banana with peanut. There was a also a take on an "After Eight" mint with a sponge used to scoop up liquid minty chocolate.
Service was hard to fault, the waiting staff very attentive yet unobtrusive, able to answer any questions posed, friendly and efficient. Waitresses were dressed in a very smart uniform made by a local designer, with design input from Therese, Jonnie Boer's wife, who runs the front of house.
I enjoyed this meal a lot more than my previous one here many years ago. The cooking seems to me much more technically refined and controlled. The style of cooking here is inventive and very modern, which is not my personal preference, but it is hard to find any fault with cooking technique or presentation, which was exceptionally precise and attractive. Although there were some flavour combinations that for me worked less well than others, that is perhaps inevitable over a lengthy set of courses, and there were some very fine and inventive dishes. Ingredient quality was high throughout, the vegetables particularly excellent. If you are a fan of modernist cuisine then this restaurant will be right up your street.
Further reviews: 01st Aug 2004