It’s a sunny but cold Tuesday afternoon when I meet with Jin, restaurateur and chef at Amsterdam’s newly opened GIN Neo Bistro & Wines. The restaurant is located in de Jordaan, Amsterdam’s beating heart as Amsterdammers would say, and boasts the vibe of an authentic bistro – dark, cozy and no nonsense. The wooden chairs and wooden tables provide a warm setting that makes you want to stick around all night. On the left wall side, sketches of iconic people grace the roughly painted grey wall – Muhammad Ali, Tupac Shakur, Richard Branson and family portraits. A peculiar range but one that gives away a hint of the chef’s heart and soul.
Jin appears from behind the counter and takes off his apron. We sit down to talk about his inspiration for the place, his menu and his ambition for the restaurant. Jin is no newcomer in the restaurant scene. Having worked as a sommelier previously in Belgium and Paris and with the experience he had from running his own joints Bistro Velvet, Bij Visje & Vleesje and Fong Chen in Arnhem and Overbeek over the years, Jin has learnt a great deal about how to operate in and outside the kitchen. He saw his chance to open a new restaurant, in Amsterdam this time, one that would defy the rules of gastronomy. A bistro with a laid-back vibe, no white linen table wear or whatsoever, but ruled by one measure only: contrasts and flavors.
Jin has surrounded himself with a team of chefs who hail from Redzepi’s Noma and Boer’s De Librije among others. One by one talented chefs who can’t wait to get down and dirty with food. On the restaurant’s October menu, themed “Seizoen, Jeugd, Emotie” we find dishes inspired by dishes from his youth, Jin’s current favorites and seasonal ingredients. The restaurant’s kitchen stock consists of fresh seasonal produce, mostly locally grown, and foraged ingredients. We start with two sublime amuse bouche dishes, a sweet and sour-flavored foam amuse and an amuse with a more tangy note – way to whet your appetite. The first dish from the menu, “Hollandse Nieuwe“, is an ode to Dutch herring. The dish is made with gin tonic, tomato, beer and herringbone. There’s no food waste in Jin’s kitchen – all parts of meats, fish and vegetables are used and/or repurposed. The second dish is the “Aardappel“, a potato mash with grapes, goat milk yogurt, caviar, a near-perfect egg yolk and truffle. Simple, hearty and comforting – it’s the kind of soul food that makes you want to lick your plates clean (like a lady of course).
Sommelier Merlijn Kemper, former sommelier at Vinkeles, has previously worked with Jin at Fong Chen and is familiar with Jin’s style of cooking. Merlijn stands before the daunting task of pairing drinks to go with the bold and often-changing menu of the restaurant. We are served a gin & tonic (Bathtub Gin & Vording Gin) and wine pairing to accompany the dishes that went beautifully with the dishes.
The third dish, “Rog uit het Visnetje” is a clam dish with seaweed, smoked butter and fennel. No salt was added in this dish – all flavors are pulled from the ingredients. The fourth dish, “Eend” is a seared duck dish with eggplant kimchi, popcorn, plums and pumpkin – a lovely fall dish. The dessert, “Smokey Pineapple” is served under a smoked dome. This pineapple dish with coconut, fenugreek, ground ivy and chicken liver is by far one of the best desserts I’ve had in ages. Chefs tend to play it safe with desserts. Going bold usually means adding more zing to a dessert. But here, the chicken liver brought a gorgeous savory contrast that worked wonderfully with the creaminess from the coconut.
Dining at GIN Neo Bistro & Wines is like dancing through a whirlwind of flavors. It’ll make you doubt whether you’re really in a bistro or a fine dining restaurant. The dishes are bold in flavor, daring in contrast and yet highly refined. Smokey Pineapple reminded me of David Chang’s shaved foie gras, lychee, nut brittle and riesling gelee dessert at Momofuku Ko. Such contrast.
Jin’s aim with GIN Neo Bistro & Wines is to not be defined by the status quo but to break down barriers and serve dishes that are out of this world. If the above dishes are just any indication of what the restaurant can do, it may be the beginning of a new uprise in the food scene in the Netherlands. This is the restaurant to watch you guys.
GIN Neo Bistro & Wines / Westerstraat 264 / Amsterdam / open daily / join GIN’s Sunday Brunch on Sundays