At De Nieuwe Winkel you will experience a swirling wave pool of flavors

The leaves of the Chinese mahogany have the aroma of roasted onion, the chef explains at the table. “During the pollarding of the tree, we found out that the wood has that too.” So he made a silky smooth chawanmushi topped with a layer of freshly pressed mahogany oil, combined with Japanese walnut. “Because it’s just a bit sweeter and creamier.”

This small passage tells us that chef Emile van der Staak has a great knowledge of ingredients. That he masters refined (oriental) techniques. There is also an eager curiosity for new flavors in different guises. And an unbridled dedication: this man stands in his spare time pruning the trees in the Groesbeek food forest.

De Nieuwe Winkel has been a well-known name in Nijmegen and culinary circles far beyond for many years. We know Van der Staak as a gifted chef. His style: modern, vegetable-oriented, with an extraordinary interest in fermentation. He operates in the vanguard – an avant-garde, sometimes with some traits of a frenetic alchemist. Four years ago, he made an impression by serving one carrot in the vegetarian menu, which had been glazed with goat butter for two and a half hours in the oven. It produced a very pleasant, slightly dried fleshy structure with an interesting rustic animal undertone.

This year he has moved his restaurant to the former orphanage on Gebroeders van Limburgplein – a building of stature with a high tower, an entrance from 1640 and within the vaults of the old monastery church that are even older. Good move. When the weather is nice, we can enjoy an aperitif on the un-Dutch, picturesque square. The interior is sleek. The kitchen is so open that the workbenches appear to be in the restaurant.

Back to the chawanmushi, that Japanese savory egg custard, almost perfectly executed: stiffened just enough not to be runny, but you’ll sneeze a hole in it. A mushroom-flavored plush pillow topped with mahogany oil like the drops of fat on my grandmother’s chicken soup. moving. It is part of a trio of dishes that really blows us off our seats.

The ‘miso soup’ is a very solid construction: a bitter foundation from the rettich, the miso from old sourdough bread as sturdy wooden beams, the intriguing licorice-like taste of stem lettuce as a beautiful parquet floor, stylishly finished with a daylily flower. At the same time it is a swirling wave pool of pleasant flavors where an ingredient is occasionally pushed up in a brightly colored pool, but above all they have an incredible amount of fun together.

These dishes are intellectual compositions and comfortable, just very tasty to eat. That same clever balance is in the mackerel aged in kombu under a skin of black garlic and ‘own garum’ (a kind of fish sauce made from the entrails). The lukewarm fish is syrupy savory, almost sweet, the skin of fermented garlic is almost fruity. Again, just perfect.

These three dishes are world-class. Point.

That is not to say that there is nothing else to note. There is a fairly extensive beer list, many beautiful sour beers, which unfortunately we don’t see much of in the menu. For the mackerel I opted for a sake or a sherry. You can argue about that. But the Loire malbec is a deeply unfortunate choice anyway.

The main course is also out of place: the chicken is beautifully cooked. A marinade of apple and brown beer sounds interesting. The combination of yeast beurre blanc and malt syrup is striking. But it dances together a bit awkwardly – ​​like Theresa May on ABBA.

All ingredients come from close by

It also starts a bit slow at the front. First a soft-cooked egg with dill, sour cream and horseradish. There’s nothing wrong with that technically – but they already did in 1973. Next, please. That’s a piece of cake again, this time with zucchini and Spanish almond soup. Fine again, but why are you stuffing me with unmemorable eggs when you’re going to kiss the stars afterwards? What would Marie Kondo say?

Anyway, one egg, two eggs. Easter egg. Whatever. The core of the message is: you must eat here. Emile van der Staak is one of the most exciting Dutch chefs of the moment. The menu is full of oriental ingredients and techniques, yet I would call it distinctly new Dutch. All ingredients come from close range and the chef transcends the origin of the preparation methods, they are part of his own style and it is quite unique.

It is mainly about fermentation. Controlled degradation under the influence of micro-organisms or enzymes. Original preservation techniques that can yield an endless exuberance of flavors. Van der Staak has clearly mastered it immensely in recent years. This is reflected, for example, in the juice arrangement – ​​zucchini and chamomile get the taste of the apricot jam through fermentation with which the apple pie is topped.

And in the split pea tempeh in the vegetarian main course: a wonderfully meaty structure and a pleasantly savory and fresh sprinkled taste. That swings with yeast-malt sauce like Patrick Swayze and, god, what’s her name again.