Thursday, 7 May 2015

God would drive a Citroën


It’s a sound owned by the action movies: that of cars screeching around a bend in a covered garage. Not necessarily a sound you’d associate with a night out, much less a great night at a restaurant. But this is the sound, and it was so convincingly out of a movie, that I'm finding I start my stories with.

I found out about Citroën via Rijsel and so considered the place already blessed by the cooking gods that so often seem to look beyond Amsterdam. Another blessing was the lack of PR, website and Facebook page and the rumour that this was the golden child of Hotel de Goudfazant. Fast forward to the night itself and did I mention the screeching cars?

Turns out that the restaurant is, together with Sander Louwerens, the joint venture of Niels Wouters, founder of Hotel de Goudfazant; the restaurant people thought to be an epic adventure because of its location all the way out in… Noord. Now one ‘only’ needs to venture to Stadionplein for that sense of frontier but you won’t be disappointed: this doesn’t feel like Amsterdam.

A print-out taped to a concrete pillar points the way up a winding car ramp, opening into a space with a square meterage (16,000) that swamps the 20 odd tables, set, ready for service. At one end you have the (turquoise) bar and open kitchen, the other, a view over a socialist landscape; the pinnacle of efficient housing - Amsterdam School - at the time of the 1928 Olympics for which the surrounding stadiums were built. BAUTZUID has also earmarked this as the next cool neighbourhood and, recently re-opened, might feel a little deflated to have such a neighbour towering over the fence. Especially a neighbour with a telescope trained right at it in case you’re into a bit of voyeurism between courses.

Just like Goudfazant, Citroën encourages you to get up and wander. The smoking area is waaay over by the telescope (and next to the vegetable garden) and the staff seemed to love that a kid was kicking around a football. For the adults looking for games, the restaurant has a drinks trolley and yes – they will wheel it to your table and ask what you’ll be having. You’ll sit on pastel pink chairs that match the pink tablecloths, the suggestion being that time all your white laundry came out pink because of that rouge pair of red knickers. 

After (2) aperitifs, we started with a sashimi of sea bass and tuna and a gingerly-sipped aquavit, and the white asparagus with a poached egg. Both tasted as you’d expect. Next was a risotto with a ‘pesto’ of wild garlic and pistachio (the rice was a littttle overcooked but otherwise a bright, spring dish) and the roasted lamb that arrived on a small boulder of cumin-mash potato, morels and broad beans. We drank an interesting wine from Hungary, a smuggled, small-batch liquor with an illegal alcohol percentage and a home-made mix of vodka and elderflower. There was no need for desert.

This is a great use of a warehouse even if it’s only for a year. You feel very close to the person you’re eating with despite the size of the place, and things like the pink tablecloths and the drinks trolley give you the feeling that you’ve been let in on a joke – with everyone around you obviously enjoying watching how it pans out. The obvious attention someone’s paid to detail makes you fantasise about what your own place would look like but, deep down, you know it wouldn’t have turned out like this. I mean, would you have planned a restaurant where you can drive right in, turn around, and out?

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