Friday, 27th September 2019 – Restaurant Hotel Kasteel Bloemendal, Vaals
We had another deal where our dinner was included in our room rate, and so we didn’t need to worry too much about where we should go that evening. All we needed to do was get our act together and wander down to the ground floor, the bar, and the restaurant. We also had two sets of free drink vouchers, one as part of the deal I’d booked, and one set that went with the upgrade, so it would have been churlish not to at least try the hotel bar. A glass of cava went down well, and the we headed into the dining room, not wanting to be too late.
We were shown to our table and found our menu there waiting for us. Now it was just down to what would happen in terms of how good the cooking might turn out to be. When I was working in the Netherlands, on a contract through a third-party company, with Shell at Zaltbommel, back around 2007, I often stayed at the Hotel Vught, simply because I’d reached the point of being unable to tolerate the hotel that everyone else was using near the office, between their inability to turn the tables and keep the breakfast buffet stocked in a morning, and the tendency of the only treadmill in the gym to try and kill me by going from 10kph to a dead stop for no reason and with no warning. So I decamped to the Vught a couple of time, where I was at least guaranteed a good breakfast. They didn’t, however, seem to be able to turn out a good dinner, and I only made the mistake of eating there in the evenings once – and was forced into it by being late on arrival on a second occasion. What I didn’t know at the time was that Van der Valk hotels are franchises rather than a chain in the strictest sense of the term, so the restaurants may well vary. As it turned out, we had no reason at all for concern. Our waitress was slightly concerned that we had the menu in German and Dutch but not English, presumably assuming that as we are English we wouldn’t be able to understand any other language. I reassured her that I was fine with with German, and that I could deal with Dutch as well if necessary. She seemed surprised… I didn’t mention that I’m pretty fluent in menu Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Danish as well, and that I’m just fluent in French and German. I didn’t want to shake her suppositions too badly!
We took a look at the wine list (and noted some Dutch wines on the list which could have been interesting) but decided we would trust the wine choices that had been made for the dishes. Our waitress clearly understood the wines, and the wine list, and might actually be the sommelier as well. We never did figure out quite who was in charge of the wines, but she was certainly incredibly well-informed, even if she couldn’t taste any of them any more because she’d just found out she was pregnant. We were brought an amuse-bouche and this being the Netherlands it was a croquette. This one was made with “old” cheese so I assume they mean matured Gouda. It was good, cheesy and crisp, and very, very Dutch, but in a good way – Dutch cuisine often leaves a lot to be desired, is all I’m saying, but when it is good, it’s very good indeed. I put most of it down to their dour, Calvinist history which means you’re not supposed to take pleasure in anything. They do seem to be getting over it now.
The first course proper, was a rillette of cod with Dutch shrimp, a spring roll of oriental vegetables and a sesame cream. It was light and delicious, and the cod really was the hero ingredient, coming through as tiny soft layers with in the rillette. The shrimp were good too, salty and providing some structure to the dish, and there was a lovely crunch to the spring roll. The pace was good for us too, not too fast, possibly because there was a wedding party going on in one part of the hotel, and a birthday party in another. Whatever the reason, it worked well for us.
We were next serve a pumpkin soup with a toffee of pumpkin and shades of lime, or at least that was how they described it. The toffee and the lime came as tiny gel mounds in the bottom of the soup bowl, carefully laid out and with herbs decorating the space between. The soup arrived in a separate jug and was poured in, leaving us to decide whether we wanted to chase the gels individually or give the whole thing a vigorous stir to blend the flavours through the soup, and give the whole thing a massive kick. I stirred it. The sweetness of the toffee contrasted with the lime “shades” and added depth to the already deep flavour of pumpkin in the soup. It was probably as good as the soup we ate in Breisach.
After refills of our wine glasses (they were not at all stingy with the wines) our main eventually arrived, a portion of loin of veal with a cauliflower and miso creme, green herb gnocchi and a balsamic vinegar sauce. I am definitely over my fear of veal these days. This was really very good, more steak like than anything else. The cauliflower and miso puree was rich and umami packed and I am so stealing that idea, and the gnocchi were light as a feather. It wasn’t the best meal of the holiday (that accolade goes to Raben) but thus far it was right up there.
We hit dessert about two and a half hours after we initially sat down, and it didn’t disappoint. As we often do, when faced with a choice between cheese and something sweet, we opted for one of each. And thus we ended up with a very pretty plateful of sweetness, in the form of a white chocolate and apricot tartlet with structures of yogurt. Actually that’s far too simple a description of what was in front of us. The “tartlet” was soft with layers of creamy fruit and soft sponge, and it came with a dramatic and delicious ice cream combining apricot with chocolate in a way that suggested the pastry chef was very skilled. There were crumbs of “soil” and curls of tempered chocolate and the whole thing was really well done and really impressive.
The cheeses were nicely kept too, and went well with the 10 year old tawny port we were served with it. The menu simply said “Cheeseplatter (selection of 5 cheeses)” which probably didn’t do it justice in any way. The cheeses may not have been local, but the bread and the chutney and the membrillo that were also on the plate went down really well, as did the cheese.
We went back to the bar afterwards and used our second lot of bar tokens, and then retreated to the third floor in search of sleep.