Beer – once the preserve of old men in brown cafes – seems to be enjoying a bit of a revolution in Amsterdam at the moment. We probably have the hipsters to thank (or blame) for this, as microbreweries and craft beers seem to be something of a hipster movement – and since Amsterdam is full of them (hipsters, that is) it’s no real surprise that beers that you’ve never heard of before are suddenly on every menu. What’s more, there are beer tours springing up all over the place (check out Amsterdam Craft Beer Tours, for instance) and even beer workshops (Dutchie Amsterdam has two dates coming up this winter).
But there’s one restaurant that’s been dealing in beer a little longer: Dwars. Opened in early 2013, Dwars claims to specialise in Bourgondisch Limburg-style dining (i.e. the kind of bon vivant attitude to food and service you usually associate with the south of the Netherlands and our Belgian neighbours rather than with North Holland) as well as artisanal beers paired with each dish.
Naturally, we started with a beer aperitif of Gulpener Ur-Pilsner, which was surprisingly light and not too bubbly. The dinner menu itself didn’t take a lot of decision-making time, as there’s just one main course, a selection of three starters (or you can order all three if you fancy a five-course menu), and a simple cheese vs. dessert choice to be made at the end.
I started with the pork belly (no surprises there) served with “piccalilli” – I put it in inverted commas because it was really a deconstructed version: lightly pickled vegetables in a thin sauce, rather than the jarred relish I’m used to from England. Still, the spice on the pork belly was good, and the veges crisp and subtly sour, so I wasn’t complaining.
The main was a combination of wild boar stew, venison fillet and a sort of trio of beetroot. It all tasted very organic and well made, but there was something that wasn’t quite singing to me… It wasn’t helped by the fact that none of it seemed all that hot, but it’s hard to put my finger on what was missing.
Uncharacteristically, I opted for the sweet dessert rather than the cheese course – the former being best described as a sort of Dutch rice pudding. I wasn’t wholly convinced by it (the Dutch description included the word “pap” – which seemed about right), although I did like the stroopwaffel ice cream it was served with. I didn’t think the sugary square of puff pastry added much, but the caramel sauce was a welcome addition.
The Honey Badger got the cheese, however, and damned it as supermarket cheese as soon as we got home. I took his point: regular old Gouda and komijnekaas in plankjes aren’t restaurant cheese in my book, either, however organic they may be.
It’s at this stage that I have a confession to make: I drank wine. I know, I know – the whole point was to do the beer pairing thing! But my stomach just can’t take it: something about the volume of bubbles means there isn’t enough room for the food (or, at least, that’s what it feels like). Luckily for you, however, I was at dinner with a true beer drinker – one who doesn’t fall at the first hoppy hurdle. Dutchman Doorn – the handsome chappie who stars in this review of Smokin Barrels – is here to save the day:
“I had the Vuur en Vlam from De Molen with the starter. It went well but it wasn’t that special. With the main, I had the limited edition La Trappe. That pairing was way better. During the starter I thought of it as more of a gimmick (which I always thought a bit about beer pairing), but with the main they really complemented each other. Which is weird because compared to the food it was a reasonably mild/light beer. La Trappe tastes great by itself but was also perfect with the main because you get this sort of hearty stew versus fresh, cold beer. You’d expect the other beer they recommend to be a better fit (it was a Dubbelbock, and bock always goes great with game). You wouldn’t expect the La Trappe to work but it did.”
So there you have it: if you’ve got the stomach for it, Dwars is the place to go for beer pairing. As for me, I guess I’ll be sticking to the Pinot Noir…Leave a comment...