With dreadful winter weather upon us Secret Foodies could not have whisked us away to springtime in Holland sooner. Northern European restaurant and beer café Essen was our secret destination.
With heavy rain pounding the windows outside, our guests were warmed up with a ‘Dutch Quick Buck’. No, we’re not being rude. It was the name of the cocktail on arrival made with Ketel One Vodka, the renowned Dutch spirit.
Not many Aussies would know what to expect from Dutch cuisine, I know I didn’t. To be honest, if you asked me to point out the Netherlands on a map of the world, I wouldn’t have a clue. Enter Geert Restbeer, the Netherlands-born head chef and owner of Essen. Moving to Sydney fifteen years ago as sous chef for the Intercontinental, he opened Essen six years ago. He has been serving up wholesome northern European food in Ultimo ever since.
Knowing he was serving ‘foodies’ for the night Geert developed an authentic Dutch menu. With a selection of traditional Dutch ingredients he didn’t Aussie-fy the experience and plated dishes exactly as they would back home.
The first course featured an iconic Dutch ingredient – picked herring. Some may be deterred by the concept of pickled fish but the combination of salty flavours of the herring with the sweetness of the homemade pickled beets was delicious. A dab of the creamy Dutch mayonnaise sauce made the dish.
The main course featured a braised veal blade slow cooked to perfection, incredibly soft and melt-in-your-mouth. To accompany the veal was a side of fried pickled cauliflower and Dutch cream potato mash blended with soft goats cheese, for a modern twist to the otherwise traditional staple.
Dessert was a unique concoction of dried yoghurt and ricotta. The delicate and creamy cheese was complemented by a sweet and tart rhubarb and strawberry compote.
Melbourne brewers East Ninth Brewing provided drinks to accompany the menu: a refreshing Fog City cloudy apple cider for the entrée and Doss Blockos pale ale for the main. I think I’ve found my new favourite cider!
The upstairs area was warm and homely, with exposed stone walls and kitsch Dutch memorabilia decorating the space. My standout dish of the night for me was the pickled herring.
But enough about what I think, lets hear what our foodies thought…
Essen Restaurant and Beer Cafe
T: 02 9211 3805
Category: Inner West