Despite the unique cuisine of Bolenius, the restaurant receives mixed feedback in the Netherlands. Some rave about its minimalist approach to cuisine, whilst others are more critical about it. What no one will contest is the fact that it is a unique restaurant in Amsterdam.
What makes Luc Kusters (chef) and Xavier Giessen (maitre) special in their approach is that they constantly try to push things forward. After having been trained by the man who revolutionised cuisine in the Netherlands, Robert Kranenborg, they are evidently very capable technicians. This classical understanding of what a restaurant experience should be does not mean that they can’t push things forward however; and that they do, more so than most others in Amsterdam.
One example of this cuisine – steeped in tradition, but constantly evolving – is a re-interpretation of the lievre a la royale. This is certainly a minimalist dish when you look at it. All you see is a bit of hare and that delightfully rich sauce. Where things are a bit different from the original is that the butter has been replaced with olive oil, and that you somehow have the characteristically strong flavour without the heaviness of this dish. That is what makes it so special, this combination of strong flavours that seem to effortlessly float above everything else.
The garden is for instance one of the ways in which the chef Luc Kusters is trying to make things move a bit in Amsterdam. His concept of “new Amsterdam cuisine” aims to use a maximum of local produce, and raise the standards of whatever is produced around the Dutch capital. Whilst this is certainly not easily done, it is something that is an admirable project.
One of the characteristic preparations of Amsterdam’s traditional cuisine is a pickled onion. Marinated with vinegar, herbs, saffron and other spices, it results in a beautiful yellow colour. At Bolenius, Kusters uses it with smoked sweetbreads, which he pairs with a sauce made with these onions and white pepper. The dish is certainly very pure, but carries bags of flavour. It is again one of those dishes that really seem effortless and masterful, which makes Bolenius’ such an interesting restaurant.
Such food is undoubtedly not for everyone, and will most certainly not please everyone. Another one of these subtle, but flavourful dishes is a broth made of dried mushrooms with chicken dumplings. The flavour of the broth is both deep and complex, whilst the dumplings are meltingly tender. With such minimalist preparations, there isn’t any place to hide, which makes it an even more challenging task. In this case it is even more impressive that Kusters manages to pull things off so well. If minimalism is the Leitmotiv of Bolenius, it is certainly very clear in the dining room. No luxurious chairs, plush carpets or other superfluous elements: Just very modern and simplistic design, which works perfectly with the food.
The cuisine of Bolenius is certainly unique in Amsterdam. Unlike the complex dishes that most Dutch chefs serve, it chooses to go down a decidedly different path.