“Distinctive. Contemporary. Ingredients from around the world blended with the finest produce from local farmers. Executive Chef Sidney Schutte will take you on a vibrant culinary journey.”
While I’ve been super fortunate to tick off some of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017, I’ve been a bit neglectful on the Michelin side of the house. With a less than memorable visit to Zass in April, my appetite was more than ready for a memorable Michelin star experience. Fortunately, Librije’s Zusje stepped up and ensure my belief in the iconic ratings system once again. As a bit of a late addition to our trip, I only managed to secure a lunch booking — but in all honesty, this reservation worked out for the best, and I would highly recommend the daytime experience.
Located in the stunning Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, the venue is a private space, with views onto one of the largest private gardens in the city. Seated by the window, we quickly bonded with the delightful restaurant manager, Mr. Sascha Speckmeier, about his upcoming trip to Asia (yes, he’s already going to Gaggan, staying at the W, and I recommended House on Sathorn as well), who, along with the rest of the team, showed professional poise and delivery throughout the eight courses.
Because Hubs is awesome and supportive, we also decided that we would try both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian tasting menus (spoiler alert: they are both fantastic). From the moment the scented towels hit our hands to the impromptu visit to the kitchen to the departing gift of fresh honey (made from beehives at the hotel – !), this meal made up for all the average plates I’ve been having in the recent past. Now, while I realize it can be a bit tedious to read superlative after superlative of how enjoyable an experience is, I’m going to try and break down what made things so special at this venue.
- Each course was a master lesson in plating and balance. Including snacks, we sampled close to twenty different plates between us, and there was little (if anything) I could fault in these dishes. While I think the words ‘culinary magic’ are a bit of an overstatement, the simple refinement of each course was a delight — not only for the eyes, but also the palate.
- A creative approach. Much like the best chefs in the world, there would be no mistaking Chef Sidney’s work for anyone else’s, and I love someone who has confidence in a style all their own. Course after course yielded something unique and surprising.
- Vegetarian opportunities. Although I’m not a vegetarian, I found it particularly lovely that a vegetarian diner could still enjoy a robust tasting menu. While I know there are other world class restaurants that deliver similar options, I wish it was a more common practice.
- Impeccable service. I bemoan this point repeatedly for venues in Dubai, but it’s when visiting Europe that these differences are significantly magnified. As a somewhat regular patron of fine dining establishments, it was easy to recognize the seemingly effortless level and delivery of service at Librije’s Zusje.
- Variety. Together with plating and creativity, I was impressed by the variety of food and ingredients throughout both of our degustations. Sure, at a two Michelin starred restaurant this should be expected, but there was a huge range and technical expertise throughout.
- Pacing. Another point where Dubai could take copious notes. I never once had to say ‘can I have the next course?’ or ‘can you please hold the next course?’ Not once. Do you know how long it’s been since this has been the case? (No, seriously). The staff knew exactly how to read our table and seamlessly delivered plates at the right time.
- Welcoming. In case you weren’t aware, one of the reasons I started A to Za’atar was based on my experience at Noma, which I thought would be pretentious and snobby, and was the complete opposite. Similarly, if I wanted to bring someone who was intimidated or put off by ‘fancy food,’ I wouldn’t hesitate to bring them to this venue to understand that yes, food of this caliber is incredible, but that for the most part, everyone involved is simply proud and enthusiastic about what they are serving.
With a price tag at just over EUR400 for two tasting menus, wine pairing, and coffee and tea (yes, Hubs is still upset the fine dining establishments are charging for this), I felt the price to be in line with the experience. For eight courses and matched wine, this feels a fair price (although certainly not the cheapest lunch in the city).
Would I go back? I certainly would! Comparing Bridges, Vinkeles, La Rive and Librije’s Zusje, while all of them have defining dishes and sophisticated food, to me, it comes down to Vinkeles and Librije’s Zusje for the best overall fine dining experience in Amsterdam. With restaurants of this caliber, it comes down to the most minute things, and, as I believe, a diner’s preference. While I have fond memories of all four venues, for my personal tastes, Librije’s Zusje edges out the others. However, it’s definitely worth mentioning the classification of two Michelin stars indicating a place “worth a detour” is an absolute correct designation for the team at Librije’s Zusje.
Where’s your favorite fine dining destination in Amsterdam?