MEI | Amersfoort (NL)

No falling star in this heaven of refreshing flavour combinations. This kitchen certainly pulls it off, with a continuous array of taste works of art!

In May last year we had a fabulous dinner at Blok’s Restaurant * in Amersfoort. Well-designed dishes with original flavour combinations, cooked with authority and finesse was my overall comment. And I still remember the ceviche of sea bass we had then, topped with foam of crème fraîche with black lemon.

After running the restaurant for 17 years, co-owners Marco and Ingeborgh Blok decided it was time for a new chapter. They closed Blok’s Restaurant the end of last year and thus gave up the Michelin Star, which they held for 8 years. The star was a well deserved acknowledgement of the restaurant, but also changed the dynamics of the guests. Before, the vast majority of guests came from the neighbourhood, but that changed to a minority. Locals still came for that special occasion, but stopped coming regularly. A change that Marco and Ingeborgh hadn’t foreseen, but also didn’t like.

On January 24th the new concept was revealed. The same building, but a new name MEI and a new interior. A fresh, inviting and open design, based on some progressive Berlin restaurants.
The name MEI (May in Dutch) was chosen, as the month of May plays a big part in Marco and Ingeborgh’s life history. Also inspired by the poem “Mei” by Dutch poet Herman Gorter, which starts with the line: “A new spring and a new sound”. The synergy between nature, the kitchen and the guests is what MEI wants to deliver. Uncomplicated dishes where vegetables play the main part and only sustainable fish and meat are allowed in the kitchen.

MEI is open for dinner on Tuesday to Saturday. The menu changes with the seasons of the ingredients. No standard à la carte menu here. Instead a menu divided in Aperitif, with 3 choices like Oyster with Cucumber and Onion vinegar or Dried ham with cornichons, Menu with 4 cold dishes and 6 warm dishes (at €9-€18), and Cheese & Dessert, with 4 dishes (at €6-€12). You choose as many dishes as you like and all sharing dishes is encouraged.
If you can’t (or don’t want to) choose, you can also have the kitchen decide your menu. They will serve 4 courses (at €47 per person), with different dishes to share at every course.

We had dinner on Saturday two weeks ago and left the choice of dishes to the kitchen.

Rye/Wheat Bread | Green Herb Butter (€4.50)

From the Aperitif section of the menu we ordered the bread and butter. Good crusted baguette with lightly salted butter topped with freshly cut green herbs.

Carrot | Lentils | Walnuts | Feta | Lavas | Cumin

Roasted sweet carrots with cumin, braised lentils underneath and topped with walnut and lovage pesto. Organic sheep milk feta from Dikhoeve farm, just outside of Amsterdam. And a dressing of carrot juice reduction with apple vinegar. Clever dish with outspoken flavours. Love the way the lovage is coming through as is the hint of apple vinaigrette. Sublime!

BBQ Beef Cheek | Cauliflower | Purslane | Mustard

The second dish of the first course was a stacked salad of beef cheeks, pickled cauliflower and summer purslane. The cheeks had been barbecued first and then slow-cooked. crème of mustard and some boiled mustard seeds. Housemade mayonaise to smooth it all together. Punchy salsa verde of the purslane to finish it off. Excellent dish with clean tastes!

Mullet | Fennel | Oyster Mushroom

Again two different dishes as a second course. Fillet of mullet from the plancha, fennel crème, slow-cooked fennel and a fennel beurre blanc. Raw oyster mushrooms and dill flowers. A luscious sauce of oyster mushrooms brought the perfect balance to the dish. Marvellous!

Beetroot | Turnip Greens | Miso

A roasted beetroot in a 1000 layers. The beetroot had been thinly sliced on the Chiba mandoline, rolled up and roasted. A creamy sauce of dark miso, chives crème and turnip greens. Nice in its simplicity. Quite a generous portion for two, so it was on the edge of becoming boring at the end. Gorgeous and delectable miso sauce though!

Potato Gnocchi | Crème Fraîche | Horseradish

For the third course, three dishes were served. Gnocchi from Opperdoezer Ronde potatoes, fried in beef fat, with a soft pillowy texture. Airy crème fraîche and freshly grated horseradish. Delightful flavour combination. Needed a lot more horseradish though. Was a bit bland now. But that’s easily fixed.

Wood Pigeon | Cherry | Black Olive

Wood pigeon, grilled on the carcass, beautifully pink and succulent. Lovely deep flavoured sauce of the carcasses with cherry juice, salted cherries and dried black olive. The olive not only adding a nice saltiness, but also adding depth. Another soothing palate pleasing dish!

Oxheart Cabbage | Curry | Coriander | Fermented Yeast

Barbecued oxheart cabbage, cooked with coriander and curry, in a sauce of buckwheat and fermented yeast. The fermented yeast was very overpowering, adding more earthiness to the charred cabbage. Couldn’t taste any curry or coriander. Tried to like it, but this one isn’t doing it for me.

Aubergine | Bagna Cauda | Lime

Ingeborgh noticed we didn’t like the cabbage dish and kindly served a replacement dish to make up for it. Sous vide aubergine, grilled on the plancha, with a crème of Bagna Càuda (an Italian classic sauce of garlic and ansjovis) and lime. Lime zest give a very citrusy flavour to the earthy aubergine. Strong ansjovis taste adding salty fishiness to the aubergine puree and adding a nice complexity to the whole dish. Love it!

Elderberry Sorbet | Tarragon | Buckwheat

Foam of tarragon, elderflower sorbet, popped buckwheat and plucked tarragon leaves. The buckwheat popcorn was getting a bit chewy in the tarragon foam. But really loved the combination of the tarragon and tangy berry sorbet. Perfect dessert, also for people without a sweet tooth.

Blueberry | Coffee | Brown Butter | Dill

Jelly like blueberry jam, under a parfait of coffee. Beurre noisette crumble, coulis of dill with fresh blueberries, garnished with some fresh dill. Great new flavour combination, with dill as a very refreshing element. Excellent!

What a glorious dinner it was. Great to see a new concept working out. With the changed restaurant, changed menu approach and changed dishes all coming together. Also good to see that some things haven’t changed. Like the excellent service lead by Ingeborgh. Pleasant, informal and despite the cool contemporary Scandinavian feel of the interior, creating a homely atmosphere.

Also clearly recognisable is the hand of Head Chef Marco in the dishes. Dishes appear to be less complicated, compared to the ones served at Blok’s Restaurant. That may be the case regarding the plating, but I dare to say that the emphasis on flavours added a lot more complexity. Obviously more challenging for chef to create interesting dishes when you have less elements on the plate.

But this kitchen certainly pulls it off, with a continuous array of taste works of art. Keeping dishes simple, but surprising guest with flavours. No falling star in this heaven of refreshing flavour combinations, but new beginnings towards a sustainable future. I invite everyone in the neighbourhood (and beyond) to go and try it out. You will not be disappointed!