In the 20 days of travel that included Amsterdam, Lyon, Bordeaux, and London, Willems was by far the best and most memorable restaurant.
We called for a reservation only to be told that they were fully booked, but if we came at 9:00 or later they then could accommodate us at the bar. When we arrived, we found that it really was not a bar at all, but stools at the pass-thru table where the plates that were ready to go to the dining room were staged for the servers. We sat a few feet away from the compact cooking area where as we were to find out later, chef Nick Holter and sous chef Ruben Bos were going mile a minute cooking for the capacity crowd. It didn't take long before we found ourselves engaged in conversation with the chefs, getting a run down on what and how they were making the plates.
While the pace in the kitche was quick, once in a while the chefs still found the time to do a mid air juggling of tools to break the tension and inject a bit of fun. As we showed interest in what was being prepared, a few times a small plate of that particular ingredient would appear in front of us to do a taste. In the 2 1/2 hours there, we bought two dinners, but, managed to sample a good fraction of the menu. Other thing we could see from our vantage point by the kitchen was the very supportive way the chefs worked with the staff. So, besides first class food, they also have their act together on how to run a restaurant.
We got the story of the restaurant of which Nick is the owner and that he founded it 2 years ago at the age of 25. He had attended culinary school and worked for some big name chefs, but he said, it was not until he got out on his own that could find his groove. And that groove is a fusion of modern French with influences from the rest of the continent and just about everywhere else as well. To keep evolution going, he introduces a new main plate every week which in a couple of months resuslts in a complete menu redo. And good it all is. The combinations of flavors is always a bit unusual making for interesting plates. You know what it is, but are always asking what's that extra unexpected thing. Makes for good conversation when we try out each others plate.
After the first night, it was a no brainer to return the following night. This time when we arrived, Nick came out from the kitchen to greet us at the door and get us settled in. We put ourselves in his hands asking him to compose the dinner and wine per the chefs choice. Never looked at the menu and just sat back and enjoyed the suprise of every plate that arrived.
As the title of this review says it all -- without doubt the best meal of our trip. This is a chef on the rise, not to be missed should your travels bring you to Amsterdam.
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