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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Beddington's (Amsterdam)

The day: 27th October, Dinner
The place: Utrechtsedwarsstraat 141, 1017 W.E. Amsterdam, the Neterlands (
+31 20 6207393)
The venue: Beddington’s Restaurant
The food: French based, Far East influenced fusion
Closest Airport: Amsterdam (BA, BMI, Easyjet...)
The drinks: Relatively short, good range of prices and varieties, also by the glass and half bottle.

In beautiful Amsterdam for a couple of days, we were keen to sample Jean Beddington’s cuisine in the restaurant that bears her name. It’s in a very quiet residential street stretching peacefully between the Amstel and the shopping and restaurant artery that is Utrechtsestraat.

The interior is nicely stark, in “habitat style”, all straight lines, white and black/mahogany brown, subdivided into small areas. The tables are well spaced, in fact very well spaced, all reasonably sized, and the one we grab is just glorious: huge, and tucked at the L-shaped worktop separating the dining room from the kitchen, which is in full view! (really: not even a separation glass, you could throw the food back at them if you were not satisfied…). Man made the mistake to decline Woman’s hesitant offer to sit facing the kitchen: no way can he get her interested into any conversation now… The atmosphere is extremely pleasant and inviting, the light everywhere soft but with different intensity according to the area, the ratio of customer per square metre (and perhaps the customers’ behaviour) making for the perfect compromise between noise and excessive quiet. The centre of light and energy is, of course, the kitchen. We are quite excited.

The menu is rather short: two appetizers, three entrees, four mains (two fish, two meat), three desserts and no daily specials – well, at least it won’t be too hard to choose. But to be fair, if – as we suspect, though we may be wrong - this establishment is price wise on the higher end of the spectrum for local standards, it may be commercially suicidal to push a longer list. Indeed on a Saturday night we counted just 27 heads.

The pricing structure is also very simple: three courses for €45 and four courses for €52. In both cases they have to include desserts, again betraying cost-consciousness.

First up is the bread tray:

The picture is abysmal (we were wary of disturbing the other customers with sudden conflagrations of light), so a bit more description: two slices of (rather unremarkable) brown bread and four mini brioches: rather rich, but very good. And to accompany the bread, a good looking amuse bouche:

The trio is made up of thin slivers of roasted squid (under the fork), a tomato soup, and a home made mini sausage with aioli sauce. It was all very good, the only frown earned by the squid, a touch too hard – little did we know this was to become a bit of a leitmotif. This aside, it was a congenial mix of flavours, with sweetness, sourness, tanginess, spiciness all coming together most harmoniously. So, it was with expectant trepidation that we waited for our orders.

With very little pause, here they come. We had decided to begin with:

- Breast of wood pigeon with hickory smoked panna cotta, salad of kabocha and dandelion, and pumpkin seed oil (from the two item appetiser set), and;

- Croquettes of Irish beef with date chutney and raw sauerkraut salad (from the three starters set).

The pigeon was a very refined dish. The rather fat panna cotta was balanced by the smokiness and the bitterness of the hickory. The kabocha, a Japanese kind of squash (pumpkin), lent sweetness. In fact there were so many little themes in this dish that it’s hard to recount, but we hope you can glean some intuition from the picture. Brows raised again, nevertheless, for the pigeon, rather too dry, especially for Man, who had just recently had better executed and succulent birds at both Latium and Semplice. Overall, though, an enjoyable, interesting and strikingly balanced dish.

The croquettes were punchier, with some rich tanginess to them, possibly coming from the excellent sauerkraut salad. They had also been fried very well, light and crisp, with the cleanest of tastes. For Man perhaps the best offering of the evening. No brows raised here.

Next, our mains:

- Pan fried red mullet with a trompettes de la morte crust, pumpkin puree, le Puy lentils, fennel salad and rosemary sauce;

- Wild boar saddle and cutlet with boar cheek wrapped in bacon with ceps and shimeiji mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory and tonkatsu sauce

You can see how beautiful the mullet ensemble looks in the plate. Unfortunately, the mullet did not exactly bring a whiff from the nearby sea and, the menu not at hand, we could not figure out what the black coating was – the mushrooms definitely were not coming out in the way it was intended. The rest of the ingredients in the dish, though, were very good, especially the fantastic reduction next to the pumpkin puree, a hit with both of us, deliciously sweet and softly pungent, the effect reminding us a bit of tamarind (just to give you an idea). Like for the mushrooms, though, we could not detect the rosemary either, but overall this was all very pleasant.

What was a real disappointment was the boar, brows now fighting their why up to the skies: again, whatever was not the main ingredient was truly excellent, from the Jerusalem artichokes, to the chicory and the sauce but, o my o my, with the boar the remarkable achievement had been reached of presenting meat at the same time undercooked and very (and let us underline very) tough. As you know by now, our childhood imprinting means that we never ever leave anything in our plates, let alone send it back, so we chewed our way through this too, at times with generous helpings of water to push the pebble down. But it should never have been like that. The cutlet was a better experience for Woman, since Man had gallantly fought off the though exterior part, leaving to Woman the pink and tender flesh close to the bone. But as for the saddle, even the pink interior was so elastic and resilient that mandibles as persistent as Woman’s, known to grind even a stone to fine sand, had to give in to swallowing morsels whole… well, you get the idea. A pity, because the flavours, the ideas, the right accompaniments were all there, and it could have been unforgettable for good reasons, rather than the opposite.

We were still in for desserts, though, and our choice befell on:

- Yuzu meringue tartellette with green tea icecream;

- Quince crumble with liquorice/ wood sherbet and star-anyseed crème anglaise.

The meringue, a kind of Japanese slanted interpretation of the Key lime pie, was a winner with Man, with Woman much less convinced. So let us start with the negatives: the tartellette casing was too hard as compared with the filling, with flowing Yuzu (a citrus fruit tasting like a cross between a lime and a mandarin) custard and flowing meringue, the latter simply piped over and then flamed off at the tips. The green tea flavour was so faint in the ice cream that without knowing we probably would not have recognised (and, incidentally, we consume fair amounts of green tea). For the positives, though, the flavours were good, that of the Yuzu clear, distinctive and fresh, the lemon cress a fine and striking match, and after all its crisp taste managed to mellow Man, who is more easily moved by the sight of a steaming risotto than any combination of sweets …

Man was happy too, and Woman much happier, with the quince crumble. Good it definitely was, but once more the announced flavours eluded us: again without the menu to look back at, we thought we could discern a little bit of liquorice in the custard ... but wait, checking back once at home, the liquorice was supposed to be in the sherbet, which in fact tasted more like vanilla. So, yes, a nice end to our dinner, but (for Woman) with that slight bitter aftertaste we get when the calorie counts overtakes the flavour tally.

With a 0.75lt bottle of water at €4.50 and a bottle of Domaine Richaume 2004 (Cote de Provence) 2004 at €39, the grand total came at €133.50, i.e. around £90 (remember that unlike in London the tip here is left to your generosity, there not being the pseudo-optional 12.5% service charge).

We had overall a pleasant experience. The fun element of seeing the going ons in the kitchen (finger licking included), even if it was not too busy, added to our evening’s enjoyment. Service was professional, attentive but not intrusive, sober but welcoming and warm. Chef Beddington dares concoct some bold, original, complex and imaginative combinations of flavours which are very interesting and work well, and which we enjoyed. There is a freedom in her creations that is refreshing. The problem for us was the leitmotif of dishes that, though in general good (the thought of the boar, however, still pains us), failed to rise to the expectations set by the menu. This was particularly the issue with the game dishes and the mullet, where the deficiency affected what should have been commanding attention for the reverse motives. After all, ‘when all is said and done’, there is a central element in a dish, the main ingredient: no matter how good your ideas are around this core, for a top dish you need top raw material and top cooking. We felt severely let down in this respect.

That said, this was for instance a more pleasurable evening than at Patterson’s, whose take on French food seemed to us too bent on underlining its fat elements. It is the contrary here, where a light touch pervades all the dishes. In spite of the clear effort to ‘push the boundaries’, to strike you (and perhaps herself), Chef Beddington’s cuisine is more classical than might appear at first sight by looking at some exotic ingredients: there is a sound balance in every dish, and the search for originality is always made with elegance, restraint and respect for the basic principles. This is a restaurant that you really want to like, so much love and creative joy you see in those dishes, so pleasant the environment you try them in. A pity that the execution slipped in the ways we have described. We hope next time (if ever back to Amsterdam) will be better.


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