Instead of cutlery, restaurant De Haan has a pen for every guest. Because the menu is an extensive peat list, price tables, times and equals signs. De Haan is a service-less restaurant: the cooks bring the dishes to the table and clean up, we have to do the rest ourselves. Grab your own drinks, make up the bill yourself.
A sour old whiner would say: if I always have to get up for my drink, I might as well have it delivered at home. You can’t escape the La Place breakfast buffet atmosphere either when you’re sawing a slice of bread with a serrated knife (there’s just not enough bread board with slots to catch the crumbs) and tapping coffee from a vending machine. And what does it get me? De Haan is by no means an expensive restaurant, but it is not the case that we benefit enormously from the savings on personnel costs. With six euros a glass, you get more or less the same margin on mediocre wine as a restaurant with staff. The bill is staring at you all night. And how much should I tip?
A cheerful Frans, just having a night out (who wasn’t bullied at school), would say: how funny, something different. He sees two incredibly enthusiastic young guests cooking and serving them with a brash pleasure. There is a wonderfully casual living room atmosphere. Suppose there is a very nice woman at table four, then you can ‘coincidentally’ develop an appetite for a glass of wine at exactly the same time. It remains a gimmick, but it is fun: you are with your own company and at the same time also eat out with the entire restaurant.
The dishes shoot in all directions: from exotic fruits to Middle Eastern spice mixes, back to the 1970s with cauliflower, cress and nutmeg and back to the future with gels, meringues and creams. There are witty finds, such as the temptingly vulgar chicory salad with pineapple gel, chorizo cream and crispy potato crackers – a Waldorf salad at a Roy Donders house party. For the rest, it seems as if the chefs have been stirring each other up with the enthusiasm of two puppies at the Red Bull: “this one on the side, and that one next to it”. “Yes, great, then we can also put something like that over it.” „Kick. And then that underneath…”
It goes on and on: as if someone has cleaned up the fridge at home
Then you get totally inimitable dishes such as mackerel escabeche with (note) haricot verts, broad bean, green pepper, salty vegetables, coconut foam, curry, watercress mayo, cucumber, dill, rice crackers and a gazpacho of arugula and cucumber with yuzu. Or this one: a cream of broccoli, lemon and avocado with green asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cress, a poached egg, crumb of smoked brioche, green olives and grated Belper Knolle (a Swiss cheese with a garlic-pepper crust).
In itself it is quite clever to put coconut and dill on one plate without swearing and still forge a reasonable whole in the middle of the cacophony of arugula, curry and salty vegetables. However, that doesn’t make it a good dish. And that egg with those complementary salty flavors of green olives and that tough cheese would have been fine with just a few crisp peaks of firm green asparagus tops. But it goes on and on: as if someone has cleaned up the fridge at home.
Restaurant De Haan is incredibly engaging. Every six weeks, a completely new set of tableware comes into the tent with a new menu. The chef even went to get hatched ostrich eggs from the farm to serve his eggs in (how nice is that?). Chef De Haan certainly has taste in his mouth, but he always goes overboard: sweetbreads with coffee gravy is a nice combination (it really doesn’t need passion fruit, really). Just like neck of lamb with pistachio and tomato gravy with cinnamon oil. You could serve a cauliflower buerrenoisette puree with that. Or a falafel of tabbouleh with mint. Or white asparagus with orange and carrot puree. Or kohlrabi with watercress. Not all.
The best example is dessert: beautiful strawberries with mascarpone served with crème frache, sparkling sweet peas and lemon sorbet would have been an appealing, surprising, fresh and entertaining dessert. But then apparently the FOMO and the stress of choice kick in: kombucha gel, strawberry gel, lemon gel, pea sorbet with yuzu, lime meringues, strawberry bavarois. Not. Required.
As for the concept, the cheerful Frans in me fortunately still has the upper hand. I enjoy myself without a chat with the waiter and can also smile at ‘the rooster’ on the wine glasses, which indicates where the guest should serve.
Is it ever abused? Rarely, says chef De Haan. I wouldn’t worry too much about these wines. All of the ‘thirteen in a box of wine’ caliber. There is clearly missing someone with skill and vision to deal with the wine arrangements. And that’s exactly where the concept takes its revenge: of course you can’t understand everything and run a kitchen and a restaurant with just the two of you, seems like enough work to me. So why not make a virtue of necessity: ask a well-known sommelier or other wine connoisseur every six weeks to make a suitable arrangement. Make it a little easier for that man or woman right away by deleting half the number of ingredients. That makes everything twice as good.