Of course I love every child equally. But if you force me, I must confess: of all the fruit I personally like citrus the most.
Citrus fruit is always specifically recognizable as such and at the same time it is so diverse. What makes citrus so interesting? It’s the endless variation in the balance between sweet, sour and bitter – from the sun-baked bittersweet taste of red grapefruit and the more modest, complex bitter-sour of its white brother, to the pungent sour lime and the sweet delight of a ripe orange; coupled with the invigorating and refined aromas that emanate from the peel when peeled – think of the refined perfume of the bergamot lemon; and the segmented structure with all those thousands of juice pouches that make every bite feel like a hundred mini-orgasms in your mouth – from the plump tropical pomelo to the citrus caviar from the Australian finger lime. Citrus is always refreshing and never boring.
In short: I really like citrus fruit. I think the chef at restaurant Héroine in Rotterdam does the same. I don’t think so just because we see some citrus in almost every aisle. But especially because we only notice it after the third course. It is done so delicately: Michael Schook must be a man with a great love for citrus.
The menu structure is classic: appetizer, salad, soft-cooked egg, a chic shrimp, a piece of duck liver, etc. But we don’t realize that when we eat, because Schook camouflages it with a lot of originality – and that hint of citrus. He always uses very distinct flavors in an extremely controlled way.
The oyster in the appetizer has a harder time: it threatens to go under due to the violence of a lick of umeboshi
Example: anything that has even looked in the direction of a passion fruit, almost without exception ends up as a huge tropical surprise in your face. But the sea bass with sauerkraut does not suffer from that at all. Sour kick, tang of passion, and the fish just rides the wave. The oyster in the amuse-bouche has a harder time: it threatens to go under due to the violence of a lick of umeboshi – a rather intensely salty-sour Japanese fermented plum. Fortunately, a buoy in the form of a single tangerine segment has been thrown to her. Oyster rescued and we’re on our toes, after this mini-Titanic scene in our mouths. So good entertainment.
The mastery of the pronounced flavors is also in a good balance, in carrying capacity and appearance. The heaviest flavors are processed in light forms, the palm cabbage in powder, the spinach and leek in a dressing. For example, a little soft goat cheese in kohlrabi with baby kale that have earthy vegetable notes right, refreshed with a cream of blood orange. Not a hallway that will keep us awake next week, but a nice one conversation starter as opener of the menu.
The egg is sandwiched between a walnut cream and nutmeg foam – warm, nutty flavors again in light, serving appearance. Chives and a carrot in a modest amount of vadouvan give some salvaged vegetable soup. The kalamansi vinaigrette is aromatically meticulously thought out, it shouldn’t have been any other citrus fruit. The hearty Spanish garnacha picks up everything from walnut to kalamansi.
The duck liver dish makes the corners of your mouth curl. There’s some real fun in this: full-fat liver with orange on a salsify and hay-beurre blanc with a bitter radicchio trevise, reminiscent of one of those syrup-soaked marmalade-like orange cakes. But then sophisticated. And hearty. Such a dish that you would secretly want to take a bite of every day. The rueda on the side offers the freshness of a mature, spicy and alcoholic pear ice cream.
Then things go terribly wrong, precisely with the carabinero – the Spanish red giant shrimp, the Rolls-Royce among crustaceans. The poor beast suffers miserably from a dingy chalky bisque – it’s literally like sand in the engine on which the evening’s pleasant course runs. In another life, that verveine and clementine would surely have made for a great marriage, but in this ugly reality they too are completely overshadowed by this mud drawn from arthropod armor.
The cheese course is also less successful: the firm Trappist brings out a mossiness from beetroot and Brussels sprouts, the wood sorrel and blueberry are difficult to adapt. I get the idea, but it’s a bit of a vegetable garden (including potting soil). The main courses do not disappoint: well prepared and more than a glorified AVG – Iberico loin with black garlic and a very fine piece of brill with lemon foam for the pescetarian. The dessert after that is complete again spot on. The balance between fruity and sweet-sour (mango and kumquat) and vegetarian-savory (pumpkin and winter purslane) is refreshing and aromatic.
All in all, the menu at Héroine has a classical structure, but is original, pleasantly light and, above all, fascinating. Add that to the cozy entourage – the decor is spacious and light, warm with soft pink upholstery, a single detail like a shark in spirit and a bit of shimmer here and there like the golden life-size greyhound that greets us at the door. And the knowledgeable, attentive service – five polite, fashionable young ladies with an eye for detail keep everything in order pico bello, without being intrusive and give appropriate personal attention throughout the evening. Then you have a very good reflection of what a modern, appealing, metropolitan restaurant should be.