Amsterdam Foodie

How not to look like a restaurant critic

I’m not quite sure how AA Gill reviews restaurants anymore. Everyone knows who he is, surely? And part of writing an objective, independent review relies on being anonymous. Luckily (ish), I don’t have this problem. Not only am I small, inconspicuous and easily forgettable, but no one in the restaurant business has ever heard of the Amsterdam Foodie anyway.

So when I visited Indonesian restaurant Blue Pepper last week on behalf of a newspaper for which I’m writing an article, there was no real danger that I was going to experience anything other than the ‘real’ restaurant. Amusingly, when – at the end – I asked to take a copy of the menu to help me with my article for a certain rather well-known American publication, the waiter looked at me with frank incredulity. Ok, so the fact that I was wearing rain-sodden jeans, am clearly under 30 and had been overheard discussing my comedy love life for the past two hours probably didn’t help any attempts to look like a credible journalist…

But onto the ‘real’ food: we ordered the menu known as ‘The Voyage’, so called because it ‘offer[s] a panoramic view of contemporary Indonesian cooking – light and serene’ (apparently). Our journey started with a sort of cup-shaped open loempia filled with wild pigeon, shrimp, chicken, glass noodles, egg and various vegetables. If that sounds like a lot of ‘stuff’, it’s probably because it was. It worked, just about, but the portion size was too big for the first of five courses.

Next came a lobster soup, which was sort of a cross between tom yam and clam chowder. In fact, it wasn’t really lobster soup at all because the soup itself – while delicious – did not in fact taste of lobster. The actual lobstery bits were completely overpowered by the tom-yam-chowder in which they were floating, like wallflowers at a party full of social butterflies. Which was a shame, because I like lobster and it’s expensive.

The fish course, on the other hand, was a piece of well-considered kitchen mastery. Monkfish, with an ever-so-slightly charred tinge (in a good way), lay on a puree of ‘kencur carrots’ (so the menu informs me) and lemongrass, with a couple of spears of asparagus on top. The puree was chilli-hot without masking the smoky, tangy, citrusy flavours of the other ingredients. Excellent.

The main comprised various elements on a square plate: something chickeny with lots of little bones (again, the menu tells me it was hen, which probably explains that) and a spicy coconut sauce, deep-fried aubergine with a chilli sauce, and carrots in a different type of spicy coconut sauce. The hen was a little dry, and something about the other elements somehow just didn’t quite hang together as a plate of food.

Many Asian countries don’t traditionally serve a lot of desserts, so there’s often a dicey fusion with Western cuisine at the end of a meal. The Voyage brought us steamed chocolate brownies with coconut ice cream and a martini glass of red-fruit sauce. The brownie was a little light on chocolatey unhealthiness for me, the sauce like melted jam (in a bad way), and the ice cream perfect. Highs and lows.

I’m being more critical of this restaurant than I would generally be of Indonesian food because, for a menu costing €68 a head (approaching €100 with wine), I expect things to be pretty damned perfect. They weren’t bad, but they certainly weren’t perfect, which means they didn’t represent good value for money.

Luckily, you might think then, that I could expense the meal to the newspaper. But given that I managed to leave behind not only the specially-requested menu and my house keys, but also the requisite bill to file my expenses, I may be footing it myself. Needless to say, none of this made me look any more like the restaurant critic I was purporting to be.

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Blue Pepper (Indonesian)
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