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.