Utrechtsestraat 141h

1017 VM Amsterdam


The Food:

Soft-boiled egg with caviar

Toast Americain of tomato

Scallops, vichyssoise, silver-skin onions and dill

Langoustines, pistachio, umeboshi and bisque

Holstein ribeye, Rösti, spinach, maitake mushroom and horseradish

Dark chocolate parfait with pecan, pistachio and Bastogne

The Wines:

Friday lunch

1993 de Fieuzal Blanc 82
1999 La Petite Eglise 89
2000 Rollan de By 85
1982 Montrose 92
1934 Cos d’Estournel 90
1970 Clinet 90
1998 Château Margaux     92
1988 Yquem 96

Saturday dinner

2008 Egly-Ouriet Brut Millésime Grand Cru 98
2015 Domaine d’Auvenay Bourgogne Aligoté Sous Chatelet 96
2008 Domaine Ramonet Montrachet Grand Cru 95
2014 Thomas Pinot Noir 95
2006 Roagna Barolo Riserva Pira Black Label 97
2000 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Italian release)   91
1947 Vieux Château Certan 100

I would recite the ribald story that transpired in 1993 during my maiden, eye-opening trip to Amsterdam involving a…ring-binder. But what goes on in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam. Perhaps if we meet face-to-face and I discern that you are not of a nervous disposition, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll tell all. Suffice it to say, it was over three decades before I returned to the Dutch capital, and for the record, that has nothing to do with the aforementioned office stationery. No, I was tempted back by a) one of the most picturesque cities in Europe, b) a promotional event for The Complete Bordeaux Vintage Guide, and c) dining at Zoldering. one of the city’s finest restaurants.

The Zoldering interior.

Zoldering belongs to that rare category of restaurant where the wine list sits at the heart, which, I must stress, no way implies that the quality of cooking is secondary. They take equal place of importance, a symbiotic relationship. After all, head chef Tomas Bron was previously sous-chef at De Librije, Holland’s only three Michelin-starred restaurant, which counts for my high expectations for culinary expertise. In a sense, Zoldering is the best of both worlds, top-notch cooking without the stuffy atmosphere that risks sucking enjoyment from the most decorated restaurants. Founder Joost Clarijs, Bron, Job Seuren (recently voted Holland's best sommelier by Gault&Millau) and Wout Jans intended to create a local restaurant where people could dress casually, soak in a convivial vibe, consume outstanding food, and drink wines that would keep the dye in the wool oenophile happy. Despite his ambivalence towards the Michelin guide, to Clarijs’s surprise, inspectors ignored the absence of ironed white tablecloths and awarded Zoldering a star in 2022. The plaque hangs in the kitchen instead of outside for all to see. The front of house team is led by Job Seuren and Wout Jans, the former having worked with Bron at De Librije.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Opening in the spring of 2019, Zoldering had to close its doors a few months later due to the pandemic. Clarijs told me it was only the government’s financial support program, the rapid dispensation of funds that allowed them, and Bron’s “meal kit’ Dinners that ensured the survival and guaranteed it was fully booked as soon as it reopened. Thereon in, there was no looking back.

Soft-boiled egg with caviar.

The inspiration for the name is a song by the Dutch singer Herman van Veen, Adieu Café, whose lyrics lament the disappearance of Amsterdam’s old cafés with low ceilings or a ‘low Zoldering’. The restaurant is located on one of Amsterdam’s main arteries, Utrechtsestraat (incidentally, just down from Concerto, an institution that has sold vinyl records since 1955, and I heartily recommended for fellow crate diggers). Before entering, take a moment to stand on the opposite side of the street and admire the architecture. The narrow building was constructed in 1667 and restored in the 1970s with its dark grey brick façade and stepped gable. The restaurant occupies the first two of six floors, both fronted by single large windows that afford the interior a sense of space and natural light. The upper floor is a mezzanine with the kitchen lodged at the rear of the ground floor. It feels warm and cozy, the rustic décor of bare dark varnished oak floors and exposed brickwork, wooden tables and chairs, a de rigueur eight-person high-table with stools by the entrance, fomenting casual ambiance. Entering its doors, you are instantly met by a hubbub of chatter and laughter. It’s a place devoid of pretension, full of people just having a great evening with friends, not to mention wine lovers bumping into familiar faces and exchanging glasses of whatever they are drinking.

The menu is deceptively simple insofar as Bron’s dishes do not set out to dazzle by dint of complexity, outré technique or risqué ingredients. What I found was the freshness of ingredients, execution and craftsmanship on the plate. His cooking style could be termed ‘modern French or European’. “I think the term ‘bistronomy’ also applies here,” Seuren explains. “Like any modern chef, there are also some Asian [influences] that do not dominate but enhance what’s already on the plate. He tries to avoid making things complicated and prefers deep flavors. There’s always balance, but also, one element that keeps it interesting and exciting.”

Toast Americain of tomato.

I ate twice at Zoldering during my stay in Amsterdam. At the first lunch I ate sparingly and didn’t take notes. I was too busy meeting and greeting, plus I was pacing myself as I had a reservation at one of Amsterdam’s most in-demand Italian restaurants that evening (stay tuned). This Vinous Table relates to dinner on the second night, wines culled from both.  

We began with soft-boiled egg with caviar, a dish inspired by the great French chef Michel Guerard. It’s a killer combination, the salty tang of the fresh caviar marrying perfectly with the gloopy sweetness of the yolk.

Scallops, vichyssoise, silver-skin onions and dill.

A Toast Americain of tomato accompanied the boiled egg. This is an intriguing dish because, if I closed my eyes, I might think it tastes like beef tartare! I know, it sounds ridiculous, but there you go. This was light and refreshing, a citrus-like freshness alerting the tastebuds and readying them for what was to come.

One of my favorite dishes of the evening was the scallops, here served with a vichyssoise, silverskin onions and dill. I might have just pulled back a little on the herbs to allow the freshness of the scallop to come through, but what made this dish is the exceptional vichyssoise, beautifully balanced and packed full of flavor.

Langoustines, pistachio, umeboshi and bisque.

The langoustine was arguably the most adventurous dish, here served with pistachio, Japanese umeboshi (plum) and bisque. The combination worked extremely well, the langoustine with exactly the right consistency and partnering the umeboshi to surprising effect. It was the richest dish of the night, thankfully, not too big in size, so it maintained the overall balance of the meal.

Holstein ribeye, Rösti, spinach, maitake mushroom and horseradish.

The ribeye came with rösti, spinach, maitake or hen of the woods mushrooms and horseradish. The steak was a domestic breed (Holstein) and was utterly delicious, so tender and flavorsome, reminiscent of Japanese beef and, again, married beautifully with the fungi and spinach. Perhaps the rösti were just 30 seconds too long in the oven and just needed a little more moisture? That aside, divine.

For dessert, I opted for a dark chocolate parfait with pecan, pistachio and Bastogne, essentially a “crunchy cookie”, to use Seuren’s turn of phrase, made with traditional spices like cinnamon and star anise. The spices were a surprise, quite pronounced in flavor and arresting upon first bite, but I soon became accustomed to and enjoyed this alternative take on a simple dish.

Dark chocolate parfait with pecan, pistachio and Bastogne.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Zoldering is a must-visit for any self-respecting oenophile. The wines are listed in a medium-sized leather-bound book, thick but not a doorstop you can barely lift without pulling a muscle. Many of the wines are sourced directly from producers, a majority of regions covered comprehensively with a satisfying selection from South Africa’s finest growers. Leafing through its pages, you notice that mark-ups are very reasonable, a relief for wine lovers whose pockets are frequently gouged to bolster profit margins. Furthermore, you will notice a healthy number of mature vintages. Clarijs told me that they purposefully hold back some top wines for up to ten years before they feature on the list, a practice that a dwindling number of restaurants can now operate due to spiraling costs. Tour d’Argent in Paris is one notable exception. Clarijs also secures sizeable parcels of mature vintages, for example, the 1999 La Petite Église, yours for a reasonable €90.

I arrived after a two-hour delay due to a storm, and after a bumpy landing at Schiphol airport, I was whisked directly to an organized lunch for about 50 persons. It was a La Paulée style affair, a set menu with guests sharing bottles from their collection intermixed with wines from Zoldering’s list. Please note that to keep this Vinous Table a certain length, some tasting notes have been reassigned to other articles, such as the imperial of 1986 Gruaud Larose and 2021 Yquem. The latter defied convention and served as a pre-prandial welcome. Pouring Sauternes at the beginning and not the end of a meal is a practice that I thoroughly recommend, setting up the palate for what follows. (You’ll find my review in my write-up of Bordeaux 2021s.)

The 1993 Château de Fieuzal Blanc is fully mature and musty on the nose, lacking fruit and freshness. Likewise, I find the palate slightly oxidized, as expected after 31 years. All wines have a shelf life. This was past its own. The 1999 La Petit Eglise, the second wine of l’Église-Clinet, is a gem. Having undertaken a vertical many years ago in Germany, I am aware of how this wine can mature gracefully in a bottle. The 1999 sports winsome redcurrant and wild strawberry fruit on a simple, effective, fresh bouquet. The palate had a slightly creamy texture, the acidity countering the vivid red berry fruit intermixed with blueberries. Perhaps the most surprising aspect is how youthful this Pomerol tasted – well worth seeking out. I was not taken by the 2000 Rollan de By, a rather anachronistic northern Médoc that felt smudged and slightly over-ripe on the nose, with impressive weight and concentration but missing the finesse and precision of more recent vintages, perhaps aged in too much wood at the time?

Lots of books to sign. Big bottles of claret.

The 1982 Montrose is an epochal wine for this writer as it opened my mind to the joy of fermented grape juice in the first furlongs of my career. Though I have drunk it countless times thereafter, never from an imperial and no doubt that underlines why this is one of the best examples. Old school on the nose that is armed with scents of forest floor, freshly-rolled tobacco and pencil shavings, it is not earth-shatteringly complex, yet has more grace compared to regular bottles. Likewise, the palate is well balanced and fresh, delicate considering château and vintage, fine-boned with darker fruit laced with cedar towards the finish. Delicious, though it’s a Montrose that delivers in larger formats these days and would pale against the 1989 or a non-Brettanomyces affected 1990.

I wrote a few tasting notes for bottles generously shared by invitees.

The 1934 Cos d’Estournel is a vintage that I have not encountered before. “Sorry, the wine had died,” its owner told me, to which I instantly corrected him, espousing it has a paradigm of ‘lovely old claret’. Showing slight bricking on the rim, the nose is obviously fully mature but unequivocally not past its best, with scents of red cherries, incense and molasses, more delineated and fresher than you would expect, a touch of chlorine emerging with time. The palate has a pastille-like allure, not complex per se, yet balanced and elegant, with a splash of soy on its tertiary finish. It’s the kind of Saint-Estèphe that you want to salute. The 1970 Clinet mirrored a bottle that owner Ronan Laborde opened a couple of years ago. Leafy and light on the nose, yet fresh with that algae-like tincture developing. The palate is fully mature with slightly faded fruit, probably too dry for those seeking “bags of fruit”, though I warmed to its refinement and ferrous finish. Drink bottles in the near future. The 1998 Château Margaux showed better than my previous bottle five or six years ago. Dark berry fruit mixed with pressed iris flower on the nose, a dab of potpourri and exotic flirtations with fig, this opens wonderfully in the glass. The palate is now mature with a crisp line of acidity, vibrant though not the most complex First Growth you will find. Haut-Brion is far superior in this vintage. It attenuates slightly towards its finish, though it is still an appealing Château Margaux without the frills. The 1988 Yquem is similar to the bottle I tasted two years earlier, one of my favorite vintages from that decade. Orange pith, quince, wax resin, and mandarin blossom on the nose, yet there is more control and focus than in other warmer vintages. The palate is underpinned by a wonderful frisson of acidity that cuts a swathe through the viscous fruit with Clementine and touches of crème brûlée on the finish. It’s firing on all cylinders, and I envisage it remaining there for some time.

The following night, a small group of friends gathered and proffered bottles from their private collections, ergo, don’t barge through their doors demanding 1947 VCC. We began in the only way possible…with some champagne. The magnum of 2008 Brut Millésime Grand Cru from Egly-Ouriet was spectacular. It is just a “killer” bouquet with scents of dried honey, lemon sherbet, white truffles and linseed oil, exquisitely defined and intense. The palate has fabulous weight and is balanced, quite “deep” to the extent that blind, I would almost say it was a Blanc de Noir. There is a nonchalance about this champagne that holds the drinker spellbound, delivering stunning precision on its multi-dimensional finish. Frankly, even for someone who has admitted being ambivalent to champagne, it’s one of the most sublime that I have encountered for a very long time. I get the fuss.

We drank two whites. The 2015 Bourgogne Aligoté Sous Chatelet from Domaine d’Auvenay is off the bloomin’ charts. On the first sip, half-laughing with incredulity, I commented: “How does Lalou do it?” There is just no Aligoté that comes close. This sports the same reduction that I found on the 2011 a few months earlier, stuck match notes, crushed limestone at first, then an hour later, that heavenly freshly-baked popcorn scent with otherworldly definition. The palate has gobsmacking intensity, razor-sharp acidity, a laser-like focus and subtle notes of brioche and white peach. For sure, the secondary market price is completely insane, but you cannot deny that this is sui generis. From notionally the “lowest” rung on the Burgundy ladder (please note speech commas before sending off any complaints), we leapt notionally the highest (ditto). The 2008 Montrachet Grand Cru from Domaine Ramonet was perhaps one of the most elegant vintages that I have encountered. Clear in hue, it offers an understated lemon thyme and melted candle wax nose that discretely opened over 45 minutes, crushed stone developing with each swirl, plus a hint of white mushroom. The palate has exquisite balance, the paradoxical blend of that Grand Crus intensity yet delivered in a package, perhaps because of the challenging growing season, that doesn’t create a fuss. Gorgeous lemon verbena, lime and nectarine notes on the finish that fans out with not so much audacity but graciousness. Utterly sublime.

The first red is served blind. Anyone would start flicking through their cerebral Rolodex of Burgundy growers…Rousseau? Roumier? Mugner? None of those, not even the right continent.

The 2014 Pinot Noir from Thomas is just brilliant. You can put me on record: winemaker John Thomas oversees the finest Pinot outside the Côte d’Or. Redcurrant and cranberry unfold on the nose with fantastic delineation and vibrancy. It just exudes tension and purity. The palate is framed by almost brittle tannins, a precise silver bead of acidity that means this Pinot has a surfeit of freshness and verve, yet there is ample depth of pure red fruit and a youthful finish that exerts subtle grip. It is simply brilliant. Many years ago, I promised the elusive winemaker not to assign scores or review his wines. So, apologies, but since my late colleague Josh Raynolds reviewed this wine eight years ago, I hope Thomas doesn’t mind me adding another couple of points.

Two Italian wines. The 2006 Barolo Riserva Pira Black Label from Roagna confirmed Antonio’s review already on the database. It’s just divine. To reiterate, this is the 2021 release of around 2,400 bottles that spent five years in cask and ten in concrete. Lush and dazzlingly pure on the nose, it gifts wild strawberries, maraschino cherries, subtle hints of fennel and Moroccan spices that you just want to dive into. The palate is supremely well-balanced with just a very faint medicinal note. A perfect line of acidity with even a suggestion of pain d’épice on the finish, this Barolo from the top drawer, the kind you just fall in love with. The 2000 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Italian release) from Emidio Pepe has a curiously Médoc-like bouquet at first, quite powerful with darker fruit than the Roagna, touches of cedar and Provençal herbs. It was a little standoffish at first. The palate is nicely structured, again, a bit austere at first, yet it gains an almost reluctant sensuality towards the finish. You could drink this now, though I would be intrigued to revisit it after two or three more years.

Last but not least, a Bordeaux that I once remarked I would never drink. Well, this was my second bottle in six months. The 1947 Vieux Château Certan is the apotheosis of Pomerol, this particular example from perfect provenance; hence, it might be the finest I have encountered. Still mesmerizingly youthful in hue, the nose gives away its antiquity and paradoxically conveys a sense of vigor that is uncommon in this vintage. Dark berry fruit, balsam, black truffle and just a hint of oxtail on the nose are ineffable in delineation. The palate is perfectly balanced, a distillation of everything great from the Left and Right Banks due to its blend of Cabernet and Merlot. Gentle in grip on the finish while exuding a sense of symmetry, this is a wonder to behold. Perfection is clear when you meet it. This bottle is precisely that.

It was time to walk back to my hotel across the moonlit canals. It had taken five years since opening for me to dine at Zoldering, and it lived up to expectations. Zoldering is really everything you could want in a restaurant unless you crave a luxurious setting or boundary-busting cooking. It’s not that kind of place. This is where you come to meet friends, chill out, drink great wines and eat delicious, well-executed food that you will want to eat again. Like Chez Bruce, La Lune or Brat, it’s a restaurant that I can imagine wanting to return to repeatedly if I lived in Amsterdam or Holland. The good thing is that you won’t have to re-mortgage the house like so many places these days. My return will not be soon enough.

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