Ask a handful of food-lovers in Amsterdam about their favourite place to eat, and chances are most will say Rijsel. Unpretentious, and relaxed, it is one of the proponents of “Nieuw Ruig”, as the Dutch press calls this movement of young chefs, and restaurants. “Nieuw Ruig” refers to what is elsewhere known as bistronomie.
These restaurants serve serious, often product-focused food in understated surroundings, and have become seriously popular all around the world after taking Paris by storm. In the Netherlands, good food was only to be found at a handful of expensive, formal restaurants that were out of reach for most people. The food was very good in these restaurants, but a large share of them was no fun to eat in. It took a long time for restaurants to pop up that changed this, and Rijsel, and Gebr. Hartering have been at the forefront of this movement.
One of the differences that followers of the bistronomie movement tend to focus on is casual service. At Rijsel, Pieter Smits leads a team that is quirky, and charming, ensuring that a vibrant atmosphere reigns in the dining room. Another characteristic of bistronomie restaurants is the wine programme. Often, you will find mostly “natural” wines on lists of such restaurants. Classical regions such as Bordeaux are disregarded, in favour of the Loire, the Jura, or Champagne. The wine list at Rijsel is more nuanced. Offering wines from “natural”, and more classical producers such as Jean Foillard, or Jean-Luc Jamet. Thus, you have the best of both worlds to choose from.
The food at Rijsel is focused on the spit, which features heavily in the cooking. Chef Iwan Driessen’s signature dish is spring chicken. Simply garnished with roast potatoes, and lettuce, it is fantastic with crispy, golden-brown skin and tender meat bursting with flavour. Driessen does, however, also serve more complex dishes. Fish soup, with rouille and Gruyere toast sounds simple, but is elevated to something of great refinement. The soup is nuanced enough to be served in the country’s best restaurants, without loosing its punch. Sitting in the converted classroom, eating such a remarkable soup is an almost surreal experience. Another of our favourite dishes here, which is not always on the menu, is pig’s trotter. Served classically, with Puy lentils, it is perfection: the gelatinous trotter, has been crisped up on the outside, and its rich flavour is given a little counterpoint by the lentils, making it seem less fatty, and surprisingly light.
Rijsel is one of Amsterdam’s most popular restaurants and always difficult to book, as it ticks all the boxes. The food is fairly priced, extremely good, and comforting, and the service friendly, and quirky. If this is the face of “Nieuw Ruig”, we like it!