Too often amuse-bouche are obligatory trivialities – from unmemorable snacks to misplaced craziness. But the effect of a well thought-out amuse-bouche should not be underestimated. One appetizer can set the tone for the entire evening, disproportionately increasing the guest’s receptivity. I love abrasive or challenging amuse-bouche – they put you on the edge of your seat, all senses on edge. But they can also let you sit back comfortably: this is what you can expect, it will be fun, we will stroke your tummy.
See here: the stuffed roll of nasturtiums. Peppery, with a smooth filling of cauliflower puree with a veil of Thai curry flavors and quinoa, dusted with a deep yellow, pungent sour powder of Amsterdam onion. The leaf is tightly rolled into a package that can be lifted by the stem. A nice taste of everything we get tonight: delicate, perfumed and fresh flavors, lots of flowers and herbs, presented with care.
Alwin Leemhuis previously cooked at a star level under the auspices of Jonnie Boer in Librije’s Zusje. In 2012, he made the switch to De Kamer, a remarkable restaurant opposite the now pony-less amusement park in Slagharen, with a kind of schizophrenic cuisine: on the one hand bacon and chicken nuggets for the amusement park audience, on the other a haute cuisine chef’s menu. The love for fragrant herbs and flowers was already evident then. A few years ago Leemhuis started a village further down, in Schuinesloot, a side project: a summer restaurant in a greenhouse in a garden, open only on weekends. He made his move at the beginning of this year.
The white pickets stand proudly along the meandering path of wooden decking that leads us to the lush semi-wild Priona Gardens – conceived by two artists in the 1970s, according to the then revolutionary principle that nature itself is allowed to design: hedges and paths provide frameworks within which there is room for both perennials and wild plants – ending at a beautiful pond with lilies, embraced by weeping willows. A wet dream by Rien Poortvliet. Next to it a slightly more industrial glass greenhouse built around an old stone barn without a roof. This is restaurant de Tuinkamer, an improbably picturesque scene.
It’s a savory candy store. Very nice
Leemhuis is clearly in the right place here, his kitchen fits in beautifully with the environment, he cooks along with the blossoms and herbs that present themselves. He makes a big impression with a number of dishes. Starting with the coffee-pickled beef loin, with dried beetroot and pearls of sour herring. There’s something candy-like about all the ingredients, the chewiness of the brined loin, the sour pearls like gummy bears. The coffee with the earthy sweetness of the sticky beets has something of a licorice fruit duo. The geranium and lemon balm of a citrus-fresh sucking candy. It’s a savory candy store. Very nice. The vegan counterpart – a rolled-up pink ribbon of smoked almond milk with beetroot – is slightly less complex but visually connects nicely: it looks like a roll of Hubba Bubba chewing gum from the past.
The blossomy, sweet taste of the langoustine in a cornetto of Japanese radish marries beautifully with jasmine, supported by a highly acidic and umami-rich tomato stock. Asparagus cooked in buttermilk is flanked by a smoked asparagus cream and (again) a jellied string of asparagus and elderflower. When the off-white asparagus soup is poured onto the black sesame oil at the table, a Pollock painting is created in a small bowl. The strings of gel like thick vermicelli in a thick asparagus minestrone.
It is now beginning to notice that the dishes so far have all been very perfumed (geranium, jasmine, elderflower and sesame) and especially the last two very high in acid. The residual sweetness in the Riesling did counterbalance the lactic buttermilk acids, but we crave a little bottom, some hearty comfort.
Vegetarian side issues
It becomes coconut foam with kaffir and white rose and violet with red mullet. Perfumed again. And sour again: the fermented cabbage underneath is almost sour. This works in a very unpleasant way with the slightly too fishy taste of the red mullet. That doesn’t leave a fresh feeling. Fortunately, the main course makes up for a lot: a juicy guinea fowl breast, perfectly cooked, with a sultry morel gravy, a hayy buckwheat hollandaise and a beautiful bouquet (literally) of green asparagus, ears of corn and fennel leaves.
Strangely enough, the vegetarian menu is disappointing. Especially because the animal main ingredients are always replaced by side effects: sushi rice instead of langoustine, lentils instead of red mullet, bulgur salad instead of guinea fowl. Not that the dishes themselves are bad (the lentils do better than mullet), but a bit unimaginative (why no bospik for example?). For a chef with such a taste for vegetation, that is somewhat astonishing and therefore also disappointing.
There is still room for some work to be done on the balance in the menu as a whole, and especially on the vegetarian options. But all in all, an evening in the Garden Room is a very pleasant experience. Chef Leemhuis has a fine touch and a feeling for ingenious, aromatic flavor combinations. Such as the butter, twisted with vanilla and arugula, which, as soon as it melts, spreads a sweet scent on the steaming hot bread and magically transforms in the mouth from pastry cream to herb butter. The Garden Room is appealing and original. And so incredibly romantic.