Who actually wasn’t there? butchers. mushroom growers. Horse manure scoopers. The Germans. Reformed youth. And now, restaurant and wine bar De Centrale. The Delft Koornbeurs, on the corner of the Camaretten and Voldersgracht, is a beautiful building with a rich history.
The oldest part, the cellar, dates from the late thirteenth century: in 1295 Count Floris V granted the right to start the construction of a Meat and Bread House. After the city fire of 1536 it became compulsory to build in stone. The building as it stands today was rebuilt after 1650 in the Dutch classicist style. From 1872 the meat hall became a corn market. Before the war, the basement served as a mushroom farm, bicycle shed and command center. The attic as an auction for eggs and horse manure.
All this can be read on the website of the reformatory student association, which moved into the building after the war. Today, the Open Youth Association De Koornbeurs is back in the basement. And above the Central.
Why am I bothering you with this trivia? Well, first of all because I’m a historian and still a bit of a nerd. But mainly because all this history is so tangible, the building breathes its past. From the stately, natural stone facade with the city’s coat of arms proudly in the pediment, to the vaulted, white paneled ceiling that is supported by four immense Doric columns. From the art deco decoration on the top bar, to the row of classic adjustable desk lamps on it. From the vintage wooden stacking chairs that were already there to the petite designer urinals and the antique ceiling fans.
It is incredibly clever how the current owners of the Koornbeurs have managed to forge all these elements into a wonderfully playful and graceful unity. And have also found space to exhibit the work of creative designers – currently the illustrations by Maaike Canne on the wall and the lamps of the Delft design agency Studio Stills. There is music every last Sunday of the month.
Pain in the heart
The same vibrant energy that hangs in space can be found on the map. At De Centrale they make as much as possible themselves, from the sodas to the biscuit with the coffee. We drink an adult, licorice, homemade fennel lemon soda and order the fishsticks of the drink card. The skrei is tender, springy, juicy and flakysizzling hot but not overcooked for a second. The crusts are thinly breaded, beautifully golden fried in fresh oil, but by no means greasy. This is perfection in a fish stick, it really is. Other than that, nothing is a problem. One has a menu, the other à la carte? Half glasses? What you want.
Raw Jerusalem artichoke is never a good idea; not for the one who eats it and certainly not for the one who has to sleep next to it
Everything is so very sympathetic to De Centrale that I have to write with healthy reluctance and a bit of pain in my heart that the dinner turns out to be quite disappointing. There are dishes on the menu that I cannot immediately imagine, but which absolutely stimulate the imagination. Such as octopus with marshmellow, or cod with veal cheek, cinnamon gravy and lardo, oysters with ox sausage and peanut. But unfortunately it all doesn’t work. At least not in this form. Two things are structurally wrong here. There are way too many hassles and flavors in a heap and it’s all on the greasy side.
Example of the latter: celeriac with Jerusalem artichoke and chervil buttermilk vinaigrette is a nice combination, delicious with a hazelnut and kale chips (crispy crisps that have something to add to the taste). But the whole thing floats in a pool of oil and then there is also a greasy cream of garlic. Apart from that: raw Jerusalem artichoke is never a good idea; not for the one who eats it and certainly not for the one who has to sleep next to it. Example of the first: the veal mouse comes with a fairground of misomarinade, sweet and sour vegetables, curry mayo and a kaffir-lime crumble, which fizzes on the tongue like a kind of crushed popping sugar. Why? Little is left of the poor calf.
The octopus is well cooked, the tomato prawn crackers are well made. But both lack salt and spice. A seaweed marshmallow is a fun idea, but the meringue is mushy inside. Beet gel and powder add little. The house-smoked salmon is cold and raw inside, the horseradish sprouts are covered in a full-fat avalanche of Parmesan-lemon foam, topped by three thick scoops of Parmesan-brique dough standing proudly in three tablespoons of leek oil.
The best dish is the cod: tender lamellas with a thin layer, full stew flavor and a slice of sweet back bacon. Jerusalem artichoke and hazelnut have little business here, however. The gravy consists of a bottle of red wine reduced to three drops of cough syrup (a bit too much of a good thing), but the cinnamon in it then plays a nice role in the composition. In short, all in all nice ideas and clumsy executions.
The Centrale has succeeded as a cultural stage and a vibrant meeting place. It gives substance to a beautiful monumental building in an appealing and respectful way. There is plenty of ambition, enthusiasm and energy in the kitchen. What De Centrale needs is an experienced, professional force to channel the enthusiasm and sublimate the right culinary ideas into solid, digestible dishes. Then it may well be something.
Correction February 24, 2019: An earlier version of this article stated that the white scrap ceiling is supported by four Ionic columns. That has changed to Doric columns.