Dutch horse meat is the most sustainable meat. They are always old racing, jumping or hobby horses. The fact that they also yield something as food afterwards is a pure bonus. I just happened to look into that last week. So when I saw horse steak on the menu at Madeleine in Utrecht, I immediately stopped by.
Madeleine is a real bistro: wooden tables and chairs, long bar, checkered tea towels serve as napkins. It’s packed on Saturday night, guests keep pouring in. The atmosphere is bustling. The acoustics do not suffer greatly from this, the temperature does: it does get stuffy at a certain point, so wear layers so that you can peel. In the open kitchen at the back there is old-fashioned banging, which is nice to see. The service is also nice and knowledgeable. Sometimes you have to wait a while for the wine, but hey, that’s part of a bustling bistro.
On the map
The cardboard menu in A3 format offers a choice of nine entrees, seven plats, two potages, a two-course chef’s menu with coffee (29.75 euros), a rib of 800 grams for two people (35.50 euros pp) and on the back four game dishes. Then there are also some daily specials and a surprise menu. How many courses? Ah, says the waiter, boom is ho.
Bistro means classics such as steak tartare, snails, steak, chicken. It certainly doesn’t mean everything on the map is easy, but don’t expect revolutionary, experimental combinations. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is the starter of veal loin with king prawns and paprika sauce (10.50 euros). Unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense on the board either. Prawns with spicy paprika, that’s okay. But the thinly sliced loin is completely drowned out, the aubergine stew is nowhere to be found and the tasteless slices of black olive do nothing at all. Weird dish, fortunately the only real outlier.
The most important thing is that cooking is done expertly and consistently. From the king prawns to the horse to the Brussels sprouts and the salsify, the cuisson is always exactly on point. From the crispy egg in advance to the fried egg on the steak, the yolks run. The fact that the kitchen with such a wide range and this killer pace never gives up that control is an absolute recommendation.
There is also plenty to note. The truffle tapenade in the thick gravy with the horse steak (21.50 euros) is completely unnecessary, the slice of toast under the steak is attacked from two sides by the gravy underneath and a slice of wet spinach on top. End result: a soggy porridge. The ‘raw sauerkraut’ with the partridge (in two sizes 13.25/22.25 euros) is cowardly and very fat. Those kind of things.
Also worth mentioning are the fried mushrooms under the crispy egg (8.50 euros) – tasty bite, lots of fresh parsley, very fresh – and the white bean potage (6.50 euros): much lighter and thinner than you would expect from a bean soup, with fresh slices of crispy celery, again lots of fresh parsley and salty, fried bacon. Very sparkling. Nice detail: the pan remains on the table, so you can scoop some more. The vegetarian main course with salsify (18.75 euros) is also very tasty. The salsify itself is served classically, like asparagus, with a chopped egg and lots of melted butter. In the tray next to it, Brussels sprouts, chestnuts, sour parsnips and fried palm cabbage offer winter comfort. The fries are top notch (also not unimportant) and the wines by the glass (4.50 – 7.50 euros) fine: the pinot is nice and cool, the ripasso is sultry and full.
And then the question that burns on everyone’s lips: how are the madeleines? That’s fine: warm and cooked, but soft and fluffy with such a nice crunchy edge.
The food is not earth-shattering, here and there they drop a few stitches, but Madeleine is all in all a cozy and good bistro where the basics are perfectly fine and most dishes are very decent. Nobody can fall for that.