When word came that our own Michelin-star chef Ron Blaauw was going to open a fine dining restaurant with a Chinese-inspired menu, Ron Gastrobar Oriental, it caused a bit of a rumble within the Chinese community. Who was this fellow, marching in here, telling us he could better the time-proof traditional concept of Chinese restaurants (quick, good and cheap)? And why did it need change? The idea was received with skepticism by those holding on to the Chinese culinary culture but welcomed by those ready for something different.
Skepticism is rooted in any fool-hardy Chinese, including this one. Although my regular visits to Ron Gastrobar and Ron Blaauw’s The Fat Dog have given me ample reason to believe that, softly put, the man knows food, the question remained: does the man know Chinese food? And moreover, does he know it well enough to strip it down and to make it his own?
The menu may show a predominantly Chinese influence, but it has hints of other cuisines as well. We start the night with a gin & tonic and a creamy cocktail of coconut and lychee (Oriental Amsterdam). The cocktail reminded me of nights in Bangkok, sipping cocktails in the heat of the night, listening to the sound of the city. The dark and crowded atmosphere of the restaurant was the perfect backdrop for it. We travel from Bangkok to Japan with the first dishes; a crunchy dish of squid ink tempura and a light scallop sashimi dish with turnip and ginger. The latter was refreshing but had a subtle kick in the vinaigrette.
From Japan we move on to more Southeast Asian-inspired dishes; a soft shell crab with king brown mushroom and coconut (a dish we finished as quickly as it came) and a roasted cod with bumbu Bali, coconut sauce and crispy chicken skin. Indonesian bumbu goes well with roasted fish, a preparation you see more and more in restaurants these days. We continue with a (spicy) baked lamb pancake with a lovely mango chutney.
We end with three of my favorite dishes of the whole night. First, the roasted Peking duck. This is one of those dishes I imagine the chef does not want to screw up. It’s a staple in Chinese cuisine and has a preparation method that dates back to the imperial era. A Peking roasted duck is considered good if it has thin and crispy skin and is juicy and moist. Notable restaurant like Bianyifang, Quanjude and Dadong serve some of the best roasted ducks in Beijing. Ron Blaauw’s roasted duck has a more Western approach. The duck is served pink/rose, in thin slices. The skin is crispy and the meat moist. The dish is served with buns, hoisin sauce, cucumber slices, scallions and bits of fatty and crispy duck pieces. The only thing I missed were pickles for the added contrast.
The second dish was Ron Blaauw’s take on one of my favorite Cantonese pastries: the egg tart. The dish featured a creme brûlée ice cream with yuzy caramel and dough pastry shards that complemented the creaminess of the ice cream beautifully. Easily my favorite of the night.
The last dish was the Surprise egg, a dish you may have already seen at Ron Gastrobar, this time the Oriental variation. This surprise egg was an egg with a chocolate ganache, crumbs, and passion fruit ice cream. It was a good combination of chocolate, crunchy and fruity, well balanced and beautiful.
Does the man know his Chinese, or Asian, food? He definitely does. With a chef like Ron Blaauw heading a restaurant, you can trust the dishes are great and up to par. The dishes on the menu are ‘safe’ bets in any given Asian restaurant in town, but that’s easily forgiven by the refined and balanced execution of the dishes. The underlying element of Ron Gastrobar Oriental is that it has the chance to be innovative. It is doing so already in some dishes, but others show a certain reservedness. I don’t know where the chef plans to take the restaurant, but I for one would love to see bigger and bolder contrasts and more Western and Asian cooking techniques weaved into dishes. The future of Chinese (or Asian) cuisine does not lie in a exclusive settings – it is meant to be widely examined and wildly enjoyed.