“ Address: s-Gravelandseweg 62 / 1217 ET Hilversum / Netherlands „
~A Night Off~
On one of my far too regular trips to Amsterdam I got lucky and got a free evening to myself. As coincidence would have it, just as I was revelling in the idea of a night off, an email popped into my inbox from a Dutch friend asking "When are you coming to see us?" Within half an hour we had a deal. I would hop on the train after work and go in the opposite direction to normal and meet my three favourite Dutch ladies in Hilversum.
For those who've not heard of the place, Hilversum is a city about 20 miles south west of Amsterdam and 20 miles north of Utrecht. Anyone who is interested in old radio sets might well have seen it as one of the listed cities on the front of an old radio set. Back in the 1920s it was the home of Radio Netherlands (a sort of Dutch BBC) and ever since it has built up its reputation for media and entertainment. More recently it's known as the home of Endemol, the company that brought you Big Brother and many other televisual abominations and is the city where the racist politician Pim Fortuyn was shot dead in a car park. The media money means it's a city where properties are often swanky and very expensive.
My friends live in Culemborg which is south of Utrecht but one of them - Ineke - works in Hilversum at the head quarters of a company for whom I also used to work. Her wife Marit and their house mate Theke hopped on the train to Hilversum and we all met up at the station.
The original plan had been to walk to the restaurant but the skies were darkening and the risk of rain looked significant so we drove instead. The restaurant was located in a quiet area of large old villas and businesses. There were many tables outside but we weren't convinced it would stay dry and we opted to go inside.
~Don't put all your chickens in one basket~
De Jonge Haan means literally the young chicken (or the young cock but you can see why that might not be such a great name). It's a gorgeous old building with fabulous high ceilings and enormous windows in classic old Dutch style. The dining area where we ate was suffering from a little bit of a cultural crisis with a fabulous enormous painting of an Indian moghul and lots of framed posters of Chinese women. Next to our table was a poster of a painting of Salvador Dali's head on fire. See what I mean? Not exactly consistent.
My friends know this restaurant quite well and they know how to get the best out of the menu. I haven't been before and I was quite confused about what I needed to choose since they were talking about various dishes they could share and how they wanted to change some of the options. I was baffled but decided to just keep it simple and order what I wanted - and what I wanted was one dish off the set menu and one of a completely different menu. So in fact, not so simple really after all.
We didn't take advantage of the special offer, but it's worth being aware that every month they have a three course deal for Euro24.50 which seemed very reasonable. I wasn't hungry enough to do justice to three courses but for those who might be, there's a choice of two starters, three mains and a single pudding which is a mix of lots of other puddings. They even had a vegetarian main course which is not the kind of thing you can take for granted in Holland. For a Dutch restaurant, I'd say that's pretty good value but of course only if you like what's on offer.
To start I ordered a bowl of gazpacho (cold tomato soup) off the monthly specials menu whilst the others elected to share a large board of vegetable antipasti. I adore gazpacho and it's really hard to find it in the UK so if it's ever on a menu, I will generally want to order it. It came in a mid-sized bowl and was icy cold and bright red in colour and served with finely chopped tomato, cucumber and pepper which I tipped straight into the bowl and with chunky croutons which were deeply flavoured with garlic. The mixture of tastes and textures was perfect and I was very happy with my relatively healthy choice.
The others shared the veg antipasti which included oven roasted veg, beet salad with mint and lime dressing, wedges of manchego cheese with chilli jam, buffalo mozzarella, green olives, a thick chunk of bruschetta, some thin bread with chopped tomato and probably some other things I was too overwhelmed to notice.
For my main course I ordered a dish off their 'small dish' menu which was a mix of three types of small smoked salmon dishes. These were a chunk of marinated salmon with a coriander crust in a lime and 'dragon' (I'm guessing dragon fruit rather than fresh dragon - I'm sure it's the off season for dragons at the moment), a small mound of salmon tartar which combined raw and smoked salmon with dill and sour cream, and finally a rilette of 'candied' salmon with a bit of Pernod, fresh cream and an olive crostino. I know it sounds like a lot, but believe me it was quite manageable.
Theke ordered catfish fillet with a herb crust and salsa verde accompanied by saffron butter, green asparagus and a potato soufflé. It looked pretty impressive. Ineke and Marit are strict vegetarians but found plenty to choose from on the menu. Marit had a large salad with lots of cheese and nuts on top. I think (from my limited Dutch) that it was supposed to be blue cheese and nuts but she asked to switch to another cheese because she hates blue cheese. To be honest, if I hated blue cheese, I probably wouldn't even think about substituting the main ingredient for another cheese, but she asked and they were happy to give her what she wanted. Ineke ordered vegetarian satay which was made with 'mock meat', a fibrous type of gluten that's especially good and to my non meat-eating tongue, a pretty good substitute. This was served with fries which she generously shared with anyone who wanted a few.
My fishy trio was perfect for what I wanted. I didn't want a big heavy Dutch dinner and even though it was advertised as a small meal, it was plenty for me. One of the salmons was a small folded parcel of smoked salmon with a light Pernod scented cream inside. The tartar was a mix of smoked and raw salmon bound together with dill cream but probably the best of the three was the pile of salmon slices in a tart dressing with a coriander-rich crust on the surface. These were served with a few 'smears' of mayo and a mixed leaf green salad.
I was being good so I skipped pudding but my companions had clearly not eaten for a week in preparation for a mega pud feast. Marit was the least over the top in her indulgence and ordered a coffee served with a selection of mini sweet treats such as macarons and chocolates. Theke went for a trio of puds with a super-sharp lemon meringue, served with limoncello icing and lemon sorbet. Ineke was the real pig and went for the so-called 'grand dessert' which was a selection of puddings any one of which would have been more than enough for me. This included a bowl with two ice cream balls, a lemon flavoured pudding on a stick (very odd), a yoghurt with fruits on top and a crème brulee. Me? I sat and daintily sipped a cup of fresh mint tea feeling pious but distinctly jealous.
I was not allowed to know how much the meal came to as my lovely hosts insisted on buying my dinner. However, to give a rough indication of the price of some of the dishes, the vegetarian anti-pasto which was easily big enough for 2-3 people was Euro11.50, my small fish dish was Euro11.95, Theke's fishy main course was Euro21.95 and Ineke's mock chicken satay was Euro15.95. The mega pudding that Ineke had was Euro9.95 and Theke's was a euro less.
Service throughout was just how I like it to be - almost unnoticeable. I don't like fawning, I don't like food too fast or too slow to arrive to the table, so when I don't notice the service, then I'm happy with it.
De Jonge Haan is open daily from 9 am during the week and noon at weekends. Food is served each day until 11 at night (except on Sundays when the kitchen closes at 10) and the place closes at midnight. For the evenings and for weekend lunches, booking would probably be a good idea. Bookings for up to 8 people can be made via the website but you'll maybe need the google translator to help you if you don't speak Dutch. For a large restaurant it has a rather undersized car park. We were lucky to get a space but if you don't make it into one, you can find places to park on the surrounding streets.
Despite many visits to Hilversum in the past, this wasn't a restaurant I'd ever visited before but I would certainly be happy to go back again next time I have the chance to meet up with my friends.
De Jonge Haan Café and Brasserie
1217 ET Hilversum
Phone: 035 624 53 14