We’d always planned to have a summer holiday that was largely based around eating and driving, driving and eating; with a quick sojourn to #ArtsTown to satisfy the girl’s #documenta14 fixation.
The plan was to land in Amsterdam for a few days of timezone adjustment, then commence our driving and dining tour around Germany. What we didn’t expect was that our landing hotel would have one of Amsterdam’s most respected and awarded restaurants.
Bit of a surprise really, mainly because I normally have my shit sorted out when it comes to dining, and Bridges completely escaped my attention.
In retrospect, it was to be expected, after all, we were staying in a pretty plush hotel that had an incredibly rich history, including being a 15th-century convent, royal lodgings and a former city hall of Amsterdam.
So despite all of my careful planning and restaurant reservations months in advance of our travels, our first meal on our holiday was an unplanned tasting menu from the mind of Executive Chef Andrès Delpeut, inspired by Ron Blaauw.
As hotel guests, it was easy for us to secure a table at one of Amsterdam’s most beloved restaurants with only a few hours notice. After a quick sortie around the city centre followed by a quick shower and change of clothes, we felt a little more human after our long flight. Presenting ourselves to the maître ‘d, we were shown to a thoroughly modern dining room that really didn’t feel like a hotel restaurant.
Initially thinking that we’d have a light meal, it only took a few moments looking at the proposed tasting menu for us to make a decision. Not only was there incredible looking food, we were quite inspired by the menu itself, which was made of wood and had an inlay of snakeskin.
Once we’d ordered, a large, warm and crusty cob loaf was presented to us, accompanied by a quenelle of light and fluffy French butter. Conscious of not filling up on bread, we each cracked into the loaf, spreading the majority of the butter on the bread, letting it soak into the soft bread before munching away. Lovely as it was, we definitely kept it to the single piece each; but before we could even be tempted to eat more, the amuse bouche arrived.
I wasn’t a fan of the slate plate that our small bites were delivered on, I mean ‘c’mon, slate? While the plate had a dated feel about it, there was nothing dated about the delicious looking small bites, presented in a clear ‘red’ theme. The red celery was covered with miso mayonnaise and potato, the sharp hit from the celery contrasted nicely against the creamy mayonnaise; a madeleine was presented with a beetroot gel and creme fraiche then dusted with beetroot powder; soft, sweet and sharp all playing nicely for a sweet start.
Another treat came to the table, a little more substantial and a lot more beautifully presented! A green curry and pea mousse with gaspacho and a super thin rice cracker was sensational. The mousse was light and disolved as quickly as it touched your tongue, the gaspacho had a little heat that was cooled by a dollop of creamy curd. The rice cracker was super light, but gave a nice texture to the dish; yeah, it was freaking delicious.
It was time for the tasting menu to commence, and I was taken aback by the visually stunning first dish of Rouleaux of Black Pollack. There was a huge amount of complexity to the plating and flavours, the pollock presented flat like a terrine with slivers of seaweed between flakes for extra saltiness. Slices of baby cucumber were mixed with rice crackers, unagi and herring eggs, providing contrasting textures and interesting layers of flavour on the palate. The star was the fish though, strongly flavoured, flakey and well balanced, it was a super way to start any meal.
As good as the Pollock was, it paled in comparison with the intricate flavours of the Scallop Tiradito… I simply could not fathom how well the dish was balanced, with subtle flavours from the scallop intermingling with a sweetness that came from North Sea Crab. What I particularly loved though was the complexity of the two sauces on the plate, a sharp and hard vinaigrette of pomegranate was balanced against a creamy alternative; the sauces split by the scallops and crab. Taken individually, the sauces were all sorts of wrong but mixed together, they were so right it was almost worth weeping over!
The sensational flavours continued with the Plaice in Green; Plaice is otherwise known as Flatfish (or Flounder if you prefer) and was expertly cooked with a lovely caramelisation. In itself, the cooking of the fish was staggering, to get the caramelisation just right without overcooking the fish is a huge skill; but adding a green herbs viennoice and bathing in an emulsion of watercress was genius. The sweet and sharp flavours working with the delicate flavour of the fish. A punchy hit came from a lightly poached mussel and a bittersweet hit came from some apple; it all came together brilliantly.
The absolute star of the whole tasting menu was next, the Veal Sweetbread far more delicious than any I’ve had before (including in world #91 St John). The pan-fried sweetbread was placed in a ‘rocky bowl’ and was accompanied by toasted kale and a millet & bacon vinaigrette. The succulent and insanely sweet meat had a light golden coating that enhanced its flavour, as did the chunks of bacon (everything goes better with bacon, right?). Even the kale served a purpose, the slightly tart and astringent hit balancing out the sweetness of that golden nugget; oh-so-damned-good!!
We were heading for legendary meal status at that point in the meal; it was almost too good to be true. And unfortunately, our next course just didn’t live up to the expectations that had been set with the preceding courses. Simply called USA Steak, it was a messy looking plate of food that had medium rare beef (was ok) mixed in with red mojo and baked beans. It was intended to be a play on Inca cuisine, but I found the flavours harsh, with no contrasting or redeeming ingredients; even the chimichurri couldn’t do the job. The plate was served with a taco of veal cheek, wich was not good (in fact, it was inedible for me) – the taco shell being stiff and seemingly stale.
Thankfully, full redemption followed with a simply stunning dessert of Strawberry and Vanilla. A disk of tempered chocolate encircled a plethora of ingredients that shouldn’t have worked but somehow did. Discs of basil merengue sat alongside pink pepper-vanilla jelly, quenelles of vanilla-aniseed ice cream mixed in with wild strawberry crème and kalamansi gel (a citrus variant). The flavours came together beautifully and mixed with the tempered milk chocolate, and before I knew it, the dessert had disappeared from the plate…
One of the best things about enjoying a meal as much as we did (aside from the beef main), was that it was completely unexpected. With literally no expectations, we were blown away by the meal; which again reminded me that there is a bit of a gulf between European Michelin restaurants and Hong Kong Michelin restaurants… Not just with the freshness of the ingredients, and the supreme skill of the chef, but the price!
Our six-course tasting menu was about half to a third of the price you’d expect to pay in Honkers; which is just out of control.
Another thing that was hammered home; in Europe, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a career in service, which means that there is a level of professionalism and expertise from wait staff that is very hard to get back in HK. To say that our service was exceptional was an understatement.
We loved our meal at Bridges so much, that we followed up the tasting menu the following night with the a la carte menu, equally tasty and delicious, as well as having breakfast in the restaurant each morning…
But the story around our Michelin Starred scrambled eggs will need to be told another time…..