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Zusje

Spinhuisplein 1, Zwolle, Netherlands

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Editor's note: this restaurant closed in late 2014. There is a separate Zusje in Amsterdam. 

Zusje (“little sister”) is the younger sibling of de Librije. Opening in May 2008, it gained a Michelin star in 2009, and then a second star in 2012. Zusje is set within the 19 room boutique hotel owned by De Librije, itself intriguing as it used to be a women’s prison. They have retained some of the original features, such as bars on some outside windows, and some cell doors (for decorative purposes only). The dining room is set to one side of the main lounge of the hotel, with an open kitchen visible as you walk through into the dining area. The decor is modern, with assorted paintings on the wall by local artists (which seemed to be available for purchase) and fairly casual: no tablecloths here, but rather tables with red patterned acrylic tops.

There were various menu choices, from a la carte through to set menus of varying numbers of courses. Three courses could be tried for €65, a four course menu was €85, a six course menu €105, or a vegetarian version at €75. If you went a la carte then starters were €30-35, mains €42-46 and desserts €17-21. A six course wine pairing was €55 (£47), which is the way that we went. 

The extensive 600-bin wine list had choices such as Tim Adams Semillon 2010 at €55 for a wine that costs the equivalent of €19 in a shop in the UK, Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay at €80 for a wine that sells for about €37 in an off license, and a relative bargain in the form of Coche-Dury Mersault Rougeots 2008 at €450 for a wine that retails at about €430.

A series of nibbles arrived in quick succession. A quail egg was "cooked" with oil at -20C, the oil preventing the egg from freezing; this was served with a cream of apricot oil and hazelnuts. A potato shell was filled with milk and then barbecued, garnished with basil, an enjoyable and comforting dish. Pineapple was served as a crisp with paprika, little cubes of tomato and peanut sauce. Finally a meringue sandwich of eel was the least successful of the nibbles, the sweetness of the meringue rather jarring with the distinctive taste of the eel. Better was a risotto of herring roe with a lemony hint of verbena (average 16/20). 

Bread rolls were excellent, made from scratch and served warm, their texture light and airy, served with a choice of goat butter or beurre noisette (17/20). The formal menu began with raw langoustines and sweet and sour watermelon with a clear tomato jus. The langoustines were lovely, the watermelon working well with the sweetness of the shellfish (16/20).

I particularly enjoyed goose liver pâté with pumpkin, walnuts and cardamom. The liver was superb, with silky texture and deep flavour, the walnuts giving a balance of texture (18/20). Scallops came with grapefruit, chorizo and pine cream with Italian blue cheese. The scallops were of high quality, the pairing of grapefruit providing a logical acidic balance to the shellfish, the cheese a rather bold flavour to add, but a combination that tasted better than it sounds (16/20). Spaghetti of green curry came with pickled mushrooms, radish and melon; this was quite boldly seasoned, the main limiting factor being the texture of the spaghetti, which was soggier than I was expecting (15/20).

Cod with potato juice came with sweet and sour bacon, white asparagus and crispy grains and seeds. The asparagus was very good, the bacon adding some much-needed flavour to the cod. Indeed for me the dish was a little bland, and could have down with more bacon flavour or seasoning (15/20).

Monkfish with carrot, raw sausage, onion and orange sauce had good monkfish and particularly good sweet onion, though I found the orange sauce a rather odd pairing with the fish (15/20). Pigeon with jus of piccalilli came with an emulsion of butter and macadamia nuts, cauliflower, crisp chicken skin and a confit of duck leg. This was more successful, the pigeon having nice flavour though a slightly flabby texture from the cooking process. However the sourness of the piccalilli did a good job of lifting the dish, and the cauliflower and chicken skin were a successful pairing for the pigeon (16/20). 

Pre-dessert was cream of coffee, frozen yoghurt, parsley ice cream, lemon infusion and white chocolate. The individual elements were fine, the lemon infusion nicely judged and the parsley ice cream was mercifully restrained in flavour (15/20). The dessert was string bean jus with sherry shots, cassis and goat cheese. I found this an odd combination, though the goat cheese itself had good flavour, but I am unconvinced that string beans have any place in a dessert (14/10). The pastry chef here was clearly of the modern breed that seem anxious to insert bits of shrubbery into their desserts, a trend that I really hope goes out of fashion soon.

Service throughout the evening was genuinely good, with topping up happening flawlessly, the patient waitresses happy to explain the elaborate dishes, and an enthusiastic young sommelier. Overall this was a technically accomplished meal. With modernist cuisine like this, over a lengthy tasting menu you are inevitably going to get some courses that are more enjoyable than others, but there were some very interesting and successful dishes. 

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