Nordic cuisine is not easy cuisine. Every self-proclaimed Nordic restaurant is set to the highest standard. You can cook French without having to measure yourself directly against Alain Ducasse. But New Nordic Cuisine is so inextricably linked to culinary titans like Faviken’s Magnus Nilsson and NOMA’s René Redzepi—who have set course over the decades with their hyper-local philosophy and revival of ancient preservation and fermentation techniques—that anyone who follows in their footsteps also operates directly in their wide shadow. Then you better go in with your leg stretched.
They are presented as culinary ‘rockers’, the three of them photographed from below as if on a martial arts gala poster: Swedish talent Rasmus Olander (worked at Geranium*** in Copenhagen), Tilburger Nick Tonglet (The Fat Duck*** and NOMA** ) and Mark Groenendaal. “Like in a rock band, where the lead singer and lead guitarist excel together with the drummer and bassist, our new restaurant is all about the synergy of the team,” the website says. Well, I can tell you from experience that excelling in a rock band often involves a lot of hassle – but we understand the message: with restaurant Benz, the stakes are high.
Benz at Kazerne must be the culinary crown jewel of design platform Kazerne. In the old military police and later fire station on the Eindhoven Paradijslaan, a cultural institute has been steadily built in recent years where people sleep, eat, drink, meet and meet in the midst of current, committed art and design. At the beginning of this year, the renovation of the monumental complex from 1825 was completed with the completion of eight luxurious hotel rooms and, in the former coach house, fine dining-restaurant Benz – named after the first motorized automobile fire engine in Eindhoven, nicknamed ‘D’n Benz’.
The amuse-bouches are light and understatedly exciting. The tableware is simple but elegant
Razors with beach herbs and a mussel foam as brittle as bath foam. Roasted pig skin with pink pepper berry powder, soy glaze, sprinkled with violets and marigolds. The amuse-bouches are light and understatedly exciting. The tableware is simple but elegant. The layout is sleek and stylish. The tone is set – a tone that the Scandinavian legacy, both in culinary terms and in design.
But Nordic cuisine is not easy cuisine. It is a naked cuisine, an unconciliatory kitchen. If you elevate pickled birch bark with mussel beard oil to a dish, it has to be the very best hand-dived bark and the oil from only fresh, wind-dried beards, otherwise you will be naked as a chef.
The fermented asparagus with old cheese foam are a good example. Nice combination; could have been a special dish. But the lacto-fermentation has gone too far. The asparagus is sharp and sour, it gives an unpleasant tap to your throat. The cheese foam cannot hide that. The only thing you can do as a chef is: don’t serve it.
A few more technical points: the chawanmushi of peas is more of a souffle that hasn’t risen than the silky, savory Japanese egg custard it should be. The vegetarian forest chicken (a fleshy white mushroom) is as dry as a smashed chicken breast. The turbot is beautifully cooked, but quite salty.
The preparation may not be flawless here and there and not all dishes are equally strong, but Benz is interesting. Olander has fun, modern ideas. Apart from a single Nordic cliché – mackerel with cucumber and horseradish yoghurt (very well executed with peppery nasturtiums and salty bran) – the menu mainly consists of original and beautiful flavours.
Some are very distinctly New Nordic, such as the hay-smoked beetroot with licorice, fennel blossom and chamomile granite (I call it: ‘Strepsil in Sauna’.) Others are more classically French with a Nordic twist, such as the morrilles filled with an excellent lamb farce with wild garlic gravy. . Or the turbot with caviar-beurre blanc, in which the small, hard pieces of intense parsley stem cause a slight discomfort. My favorite is the nettle soup with coriander seeds, poached egg yolk and buckwheat. A very comfortably warm dish – earthy, hayy and spicy, like snails in herb butter.
The Swedish Hönö bread – which is rightly presented as a separate course – is genius: a kind of soft fluffy cream cracker, something in between nan and American pancakes. The incredibly deep meatiness of the vegetarian main course is also impressive: the dried and blackened beets with the deep-dark vegetable gravy draw you into the plate. The dessert – rhubarb on a parfait of pumpkin seeds and lovage meringue – is a bit too much for the hand in its care.
The kitchen may still be looking for something, but the restaurant is rock solid. The coach house is incredibly beautifully designed. Just like the Kazerne, Benz has been created with a lot of vision and style. The service, led by maître-sommelier Alexander van der Voort, radiates the same tranquility and style as the interior. His wines are all beautifully paired with the dishes – from the veltliner as a cold shower for the strepsil, to the green pepper-jalapeño notes in the verdicchio with the horse mackerel, to the non-alcoholic ‘dessert wine’ made of grape juice, honey and PX -vinegar – never as showstopper, but always as an integral part. And let’s not forget that the chef is only 24. Something is slowly being built up here.