We recently visited Daalder to find out more about the restaurant that everybody’s raving about. And also, the man behind the restaurant – Dennis Huwaë. From &Samhoud places to ‘t Brouwerskolkje and the Fat Duck – Dennis is no stranger to Michelin kitchens. But the chef has been making headlines on his own for some time now. And at Daalder, he is captaining his own ship.
When we enter the restaurant, Dennis is in the kitchen with his team, preparing for the day’s service. When I tell him I visited Daalder in the early start of the restaurant, a smile of recognition appears. It hasn’t been that long ago and yet the road Daalder has taken seems like a long and impressive one. The restaurant is constantly being named in Amsterdam‘s top lists and Dennis Huwaë certainly seems to be everywhere nowadays. The chef’s ambition is endless – you can see it in his eyes and the way he passionately speaks about food.
I ask the chef to describe Daalder and he chuckles and balls the question back at me. “That is for the customer to decide, isn’t it?” He goes on to explain how his vision for Daalder is where customers come in for a good time – and that he – loosely said, is just there to provide the food – good food. Quite a contrast for a chef who has seen many Michelin-starred restaurants, where there’s a common level of formality. Most chefs maintain a this-is-my-world-and-your-just-visiting mentality, with a strict idea about the look and feel of their restaurant, even down to a preferred dresscode for customers. But there’s none of that old and traditional formality at Daalder. The laidback and casual vibe shines through in the interior, the menu, the dishes and it all ties together in the mellow character of the chef. That is not to say that the chef’s vision for his food is mellow – quite on the contrary. It’s bold, refined and precisely executed.
The chef’s influences come from all over the place. From his past to present, from home to abroad, from personal to new and innovative. We talk about his grandmothers’ dishes, from simple and satisfying Dutch stamppot to home-y Moluccan dishes. He passionately recalls his recent travels to China and what follows is a long conversation about food and Asian street food culture. In Asia, the concept of fine-dining is a rather westernised one. In general, street food culture is what dominates in Asia. And what is to say that that’s not fine-dining? When you have a family recipe that has been passed on from one generation to another and that has been refined over decades, centuries perhaps – who’s to say that that’s not fine-dining? In the end, food is a highly personal experience. There’s no strict formula to good food – it is when it is.
The amuse bouche start
We start with Daalder’s quadruple amuse bouche sequence. First, a stunning flambéed salmon nigiri meringue with a ponzu gel – a lovely and delectable start. Second, a fresh aloë vera kombucha drink. And then a kroepoek with tuna tartare and harissa – fresh and tangy – and a scrumptious black bean taco with tomato concasse and guacamole. The amuse dishes leave you wanting for more.
We start the menu with mackerel in a yellow curry, with Sfusato d’Amalfi and hints of nori vert. A light and creamy dish with tangy notes that blend in beautifully. We move on to Dennis’ signature dish – an elegant langoustine with a finish of broccoli, onion and nori vert. Its sweet and lightly savoury notes make for a delicate and refined dish. When the cod comes in, with sweet and tangy kalamansi notes, you just want to scoop up all of the sauce in one go.
More from the menu
The menu goes on with a lasagna of celeriac root, topped with a rich foam of Pecorino cheese and notes of Sfusato d’Amalfi. The lemony notes throughout the menu work wonderfully with the overall creamy and savoury flavours. Onto the meats, we’re served venison with a chocolate and currant sauce. The chocolate worked so well with the gameyness of the meat – I nearly licked the plate clean!
Finally we conclude the menu with two desserts. First, the corn dessert with coconut, crème fraîche and bergamot. This is not only a spectacularly crafted dish, but also a wonderfully creamy dish. There’s a moment of surprise when you slice into the corn and it’s not the corn you expect but instead a soft cream. And then there’s Dennis’ signature stroopwafel dessert. A modern take on the Dutch classic cookie. The latter alone is a dish you want to come back for.
So to answer the question on how to describe Daalder: Daalder is contemporary, does not fit one certain mould or format but is the culmination of different cuisines and notes, funnelled through the mind of chef Dennis Huwaë. You’ll find an elegant quality in the dishes, with bold flavours and refined sweet and tangy notes. But there’s a ruggedness as well, a no-nonsense mentality. A quality I reckon is what makes Daalder stand out from the crowd currently.