Just over nine years ago, Mr Foodie and I met at a tailgate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And while we’ve now been married for more than three years, we still celebrate the anniversary of date we met as well – because you can’t have too many excuses for fancy dinners, as far as I’m concerned. So I was delighted to receive an invitation to Wils by chef Joris Bijendijk, in honour of the restaurant’s one-year anniversary that just happened to coincide with ours. It was celebrations all round.
First, a quick note about social distancing: located on Stadionplein, Wils has plenty of room and the tables are well spaced apart. The staff are all wearing masks, including some I’d never seen before: plastic shields attached to chin straps (it’s a bit hard to explain but the photo of chef Friso van Amerongen cooking one of the dishes below should give you a better idea). So all in all, it felt like a pretty covid-safe experience.
But onto the menu, since my hope is that eventually someone will be reading this when the days of the pandemic are over. Wils offers a fixed menu of six courses for €85 plus a wine arrangement for €54. There are a la carte dishes as well, but they’re more designed to supplement the fixed menu than to be ordered separately. All this means you’re probably going to sink about €300 on dinner for two, but it’s well worth it – not least because the style of cooking is something I’ve never come across in Amsterdam before.
Where I have come across it, however, is Netflix: those of you who watch Chef’s Table may have caught the BBQ mini-series, one episode of which is about Lennox Hastie – an Australian chef who cooks only over wood fire. I was fascinated by the concept when I watched it, but wasn’t about to travel all the way to Sydney for dinner. So the timing was more than a little coincidental to be invited to Wils, where the chefs cook over wood fire, but also over smoking hay, burning embers and whatever else they can set alight (including beef fat, but more on that later!).
Dinner kicked off with a quick shot of kombucha and a glass of champagne while we enjoyed our amuse-bouche and surveyed the exciting goings-on in the open kitchen. Be sure to book a “kitchen table” (rather than a “classic table”) for the best views. The first proper course was an autumnal festival of pumpkin: part roasted over the wood fire, part fermented and thinly shaved, served with an almond puree so creamy it reminded me of vegan cheese, plus a smoky sage oil and bright orange jus. From that dish alone, I knew we were in for a treat.
Next up, langoustines were seared for mere seconds in burning beef tallow – heated in conical metal contraptions in the very pit of the fire. The flavour was epic, especially when paired with smoked cabbage, finely diced apple and orange blossom-infused brioche buns.
Slightly less photogenic but no less delicious was bitter, smoky andijvie with squid, fish eggs and a creamy sauce, while the fourth course of fennel with orange and beurre blanc was a marriage of medicinal aniseed and curiously minty flavours. I should also mention that the wine pairings were spot-on: the white Spätburgunder with the langoustine was probably my favourite wine, but the red Garnacha from Madrid with the fennel was perhaps the best pairing.
Somewhere in between all this deliciousness came what Wils calls a “hidden dish”; tiny black cups filled with smoked onions, Japanese peppers and a broth that was nothing short of an umami explosion and that had the same effect as a shot of espresso. The meat course was equally impressive: wild duck with sweet-and-sour blackberries and a beetroot molé sauce. A winning medley of sweetness and pepperiness.
Dessert was the only dish that didn’t blow me away; the juxtaposition of very tart and very sweet jarred on my palate. But then again, I’m not a dessert person, and there may well be others who’d love the combination of honeycomb and sea-buckthorn. Plus, I’m never averse to having my tastebuds challenged.
We were stuffed by this point, but managed to fit in one little madeleine after dinner. Like many people, I can’t eat madeleines without thinking of Proust… And I felt a nostalgia for this meal even as I’d only just finished eating it. If my parents are ever able to travel over from England again, Wils is the first place I’ll be taking them. In search of our lost time together.