Once a Chinese takeaway, now a star restaurant

It’s tempting to tell Danny and Helena Tsang’s story like a classic romantic fairy tale: The Ugly Peking Duck or Chin.Ind.errella. But that implies an unsung or suppressed beauty that was suddenly allowed to blossom. Much more than that, it is the Dutch version of the American dream: the story of an immigrant who started with nothing and works hard for years to reach the top.

R&D: from Chinese takeaway to star tent. In the opening scene, a young Danny Tsang with only a trunk and a cartload of ambition steps ashore in St. Willebrord, the Wild West of North Brabant – Roman bastion, branch pilgrimage site of Lourdes (including imitation cave) that will later become known as ghb -hub, smuggling village and ‘roller shutter city’. It’s 1982. In LA, the first rock stars seize their girlfriend’s panther leggings. In St. Willebrord the men still wear a mustache and wide legs. This is the place and the time for restaurant Nieuw Hong Kong: a genuine Chinese takeaway, as we only know it in the Netherlands.

Of course, this Willywood original production is one for the whole family. There are children, two daughters and a son. They go far. Going to study. Law, economics, hotel school. But every weekend they come back home. To help in the family business, now called R&D, which is developing into a serious oriental restaurant. St. Willebrord grows with the Tsangs, who introduce their adoptive village to Malay, Thai and Japanese flavors.

Fast forward to Monday 17 December 2018. Danny and Helena – older, grayer – are visibly emotional on the stage of the Amsterdam DeLaMar Theater. Restaurant O&O has just been awarded a Michelin star – thirty-six years after the opening of New Hong Kong – the highest gastronomic award. St. Willebrord explodes with pride. credits.

O&O is what you imagine at a star restaurant: spacious tables with white linen, the aperitifs have their own trolley, turbot and Anjou pigeon on the menu, with the lobster we get a linen bib with the letters O&O in gold embroidery. Yet the spirit of the simple village Chinese is still present, in the original take-out hatch, in the suspended ceiling with spotlights, in the plate of fries for the spiky-haired boy next door.

Spotlessly fried

The most enjoyable are the extremely refined, exquisite versions of very recognizable classic Asian dishes. The dough of the gyoza has a nice bite, the filling of Hungarian wool pig is generous and greasy. The squid ball, fried spotlessly in croutons, is chopped but coarse enough to bounce back wonderfully when chewed and still taste like fresh cuttlefish. The Thai fish cakes (with a good dose of lime leaf, of course) are also unparalleled in their juicy compactness and slightly sweet from the lobster.

The Peking duck is traditionally prepared, fully cooked but certainly not dry. The skin is not necessarily crispy, but dark glossy, with a good, loose layer of fat underneath. The big surprise is in the hoisin. Never before have I tasted so much vibrancy in that sticky sweet sauce: fresh-dropped umami and a dark fruitiness – incomparable to the flat pasta we know from a jar (and even that is actually already tasty – you can see).

Tsang excels in his sauces. Here you will notice the difference between Chinese cuisine with its full-bodied, glassy sauces, the uplifting freshness of Thai cuisine, the warm, layered spiciness of Indonesian cuisine and the melting pot that characterizes Malaysian cuisine.

R&D is not just any very good Chinese. This star stands for sophistication, it is haute cuisine that also connects with a classic European style. It is precisely those trite ‘chic restaurant’ elements – which you encounter in all those provincial tents with Michelin ambitions – that cause irritation here too. It’s mostly in the layout and decoration: too many frills. A plump scallop with homemade XO sauce doesn’t need anything more (that’s the beauty of XO sauce). I would like to add a glass noodle underneath – it’s amazing how much attention a person can pay to a real quality glass noodle, which you rarely come across. The chips, beans, flowers, leaves and samphire are of no use. The same goes for the crackers, wasabi sorbet, radish curls with the salmon tartare. Then just do sashimi.

The dessert is about a dime a dozen dessert, with technically executed cold sweet preparations, ridiculously decorated with all kinds of frills. They go wet on the classic French friandises: the macaron is sticky, the madeleine is soggy and eggy.

The wine choices are very good. That can sometimes be difficult with heavy and spicy Oriental flavors. The Spanish Edetana is somewhat plump from the garnacha with wood aging, floral with a little viognier sur lis. Bitter, drying, cooling with the pepper. The nutty, chamomile Ximenez sherry (not really sweet, more like a little raisin in the distance) is a clever marriage with the refined cashew satay sauce, luscious, sweet, smoldering spicy on the horizon.

R&D deserves that star, the hospitality and the oriental flavors, the wine choices are very refined. But you shouldn’t want such a star too much either, all that corny, old-fashioned fiddling doesn’t add anything in this case. In fact, it’s just annoying. It doesn’t get any more chic than a scallop with this great XO sauce.