For the past couple of weeks, my Instagram feed seems to have been flooded with photos of PARK – the recently reopened café-restaurant just inside the Oosterpark, attached to Hotel Arena. (Which, by the way, is a sure-fire sign that they just held a press/blogger event – not that the place is actually any good. I’m not saying this is a bad thing – just don’t trust everything you see on the Internet.) So I decided to stop by anonymously with friends on a Friday night and find out what all the fuss was about.
I’d heard great things about the kataifi gambas, so they were first on my agenda. Kataifi is like a cross between vermicelli and pastry, and in this case had been wrapped round king prawns and deep fried. The prawns were served with a mango-chilli salsa that’s at once fresh, sweet and a wee bit hot. A refreshing snack for a summer’s day. Meanwhile, these baby arancini look like bitterballen, but were in fact filled with risotto and served with a green herbal dipping sauce.
PARK’s charcuterie platter comprised mortadella, chorizo, salami and serrano ham on the meat front, served with toasted bruschetta and various compote-esque sides made from figs, pear and tomatoes respectively. Simple, but effective.
The temperature had started to cool down by this point, so we moved inside to start working our way through the rest of the menu, starting with the tartines section. Avocado toasts looked like a hipster Millennial’s dream, but in fact the avocado mash was over-salted and too acidic. Even the addition of quail’s eggs, chilli and coriander couldn’t make these palatable. The aubergine and goat’s cheese tartines, on the other hand, looked less impressive but tasted far better. The seasoning was right, and the toasted hazelnuts added a welcome nutty crunch, although the aubergine could’ve benefited from a little smokiness.
From the main courses, we shared the scallops, which were nicely cooked (i.e. not for very long) but the orangey sauce they came with was too sweet for my taste, while the macadamia nuts were powdery rather than crunchy. Meanwhile, sea bass came with baby spinach, piperade (sautéed onions, peppers and tomatoes), and interesting crisps that tasted vaguely like prawn crackers but I suspect were made from something else – fish skin perhaps? In any case, a good textural contrast.
As sides, we ordered a couple of salads. Tabbouleh was made with pearl couscous (or mograbiah) and was more about the grain than the herbs, and was strangely made with red peppers rather than tomatoes – both of which meant it lacked its characteristic freshness. Tomato salad was a simple but effective combination of different varieties of tomatoes and herbs, contrasted with some lightly roasted pine nuts. Summer in a bowl!
All in all, a mixed bag food-wise. However, the wines were good, the service attentive, and the venue a refreshing retreat from the drukte of the city centre. I’d recommend PARK for the overall experience, if not for the food alone.