Auberge Jean et Marie, and Why French Food Was Cool Before Instagram Existed

When I first moved to Amsterdam over a decade ago, French food was pretty much it. The dog’s testicles, to paraphrase a British expression. All Dutch chefs seemed to have been French trained, hadn’t travelled a lot, and were wary of experimenting much past a peppercorn sauce or a pimped up crème brûlée. If you did ever veer off a French menu, it was probably disastrous.

All that’s changed now, of course – with plenty of Amsterdam chefs demonstrating their considerable skill in cooking ingredients and techniques from Japan to Argentina. French food fell out of fashion for a few years during this process, perhaps unsurprisingly. Out with the old, in with the new ‘n all that. But like most things (80s leg warmers, for instance, or those funny 90s choker necklaces), what goes around generally does come around again. So French food – top-notch, high-end French food – is starting to make a comeback. It’s starting to be cool again.
Auberge Jean et Marie, where the interior is as classic as the food

An invitation to dine at Auberge Jean et Marie – a recently opened restaurant in de Pijp – was testament to that trend. The interior is as classic as the food: all white tablecloths, dark wood, classy tones of grey on the walls, and a touch of stained glass. Even the terrace outside looks like a French brasserie spilling out onto the pavement.

We tried four courses plus an amuse, the latter being a single frog’s leg in a sauce rich with white wine, garlic and cream. As I said, we’re talking seriously classic French fare here. It was quickly followed up by a coarsely textured, gamey pâté stuffed with chestnuts and pistachios; and then a smooth, coral-coloured bisque that was full of flavour from the (Dutch) shrimps and deftly sliced fennel.

The bisque – making soup sexy!

At this point it’s worth noting the wines: although I particularly enjoyed the Bandol rosé that came with the bisque, all the wine pairings went above and beyond a basic knowledge of grapes. The sommelier at Auberge Jean et Marie definitely earns her keep.

Our meat dish was an entrecote steak (not as tender as that at Breda, but good nonetheless) with a potent Roquefort sauce and a simple gratin dauphinois. Dessert was the only bum note: our poached fig was bitter and tannic from the red wine it had been cooked in – as though the alcohol had not sufficiently burnt off. Although I can’t fault the crêpe, nor the ice cream it was served with.

A simple steak, served rare with roquefort sauce

But here’s the thing about French food: it may be delicious, but there’s a reason it was cool in the 80s – before we had Instagram. It’s food meant to be eaten – not photographed. Despite my best efforts with a decent camera, I can’t make this food look anything like the food porn that social media craves. And that’s ok – I’m 36 years old and I remember a time before we lived life through the lens of our smartphones. But for those of you from a younger generation, who didn’t grow up with French food being synonymous with the only decent restaurants in northern Europe, I implore you: give French food a chance. It might not look all that on Instagram, but anything with that much butter sure does taste good.

Poached fig with French crepe

Disclaimer: I was invited to eat for free at Auberge Jean et Marie (usually you’d pay €34.50 or €42.50 for three or four courses respectively). However, as regular readers and several chefs know, I’m unwaveringly honest in my opinions!

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Auberge Jean et Marie (French)


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