A real French bouchon, a miracle of simplicity and taste

Photo Niels Blekemolen

This is the time of less meat and more vegetables. Because of health, the globe and let’s not forget the animal itself. And yes, we also move with the times and check as standard what is on the menu for vegetarians and flexitarians. If possible, one of us eats vegetarian, which by the way is best if it is not explicitly stated. Good chefs nowadays pull out all the stops to make vegetables the centerpiece… baking, stewing, smoking, fermenting, everything that makes vegetables tastier.

But if we do eat meat, we like good meat that is well prepared. And where better to do that than in a bouchon, a French restaurant where you eat traditionally – rather meat-oriented food. Those of Lyon are the best known and not without reason: the ‘mères Lyonnaises’, the poor housewives, made a virtue of necessity and used everything from the animal. That’s good for the planet, because against waste.

For more than twenty years, Hanneke Schouten has been running Bouchon du Center on her own, located a stone’s throw from De Nederlandsche Bank. The business is only open four days a week, because Hanneke does everything herself, cooking and serving. But beware: the kitchen closes at eight o’clock in the evening, otherwise it is not possible for her.

It’s best to go there for lunch and we were so eager that we hung out on the couch for the rest of the day. Because damn, what have we eaten, a lot and heavy and terribly tasty!

First a simple plate of tasty charcuterie (10,-) with some saucisson sec, rosette and saucisse de Morteau (grand Jésu, a sausage that is served around Christmas), supplemented with homemade pâté with trompette de la mort (9,-). “Made last night, so not really solid enough yet,” says Hanneke, who is greeted in French by habitués, but who is indeed a native of Amsterdam and sounds like one. The lettuce that comes with it is sour, a good contrast to the oiliness of the sausage. There is also a basket of crusty baguettes on the table, nice!

This is followed by vol-au-vent (16,-), a pasty in other words, with rabbit and snail: the rabbit is nicely simmered, the snail has a bit of saltiness, the sauce is full and creamy. The other has a quenelle de brochette, an elongated ball with pike, fresh spinach and a sauce of crayfish (17,-). You can hardly order pike, a freshwater fish, and it has bones, but they are finely mashed here, so you don’t notice it. Together with the crayfish sauce, which is savory, a miracle of simplicity and taste.

Because our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, we order a small onion soup (5,-) with some cubes of smoked bacon and yes, of course there is toasted bread au gratin with cheese floating in it… delicious. Meanwhile, there is lightly cooled Château Cambon from the pioneer of the vin nature Marcel Lapierre in the glass (7,-), gamay with enough buriness for this meaty meal.

The vegetable component is, how shall we say, modest and as we are used to in French businesses: some lettuce with parsley comes on the table and that’s it.

The final knockout comes with the desserts: blanc manger (7,-) and goat’s cheese (9,-, half). The blanc manger, a traditional French dessert with at least cream and gelatin, here looks like panna cotta, there is some almond shavings over it and maraschino through it, but the vanilla has sunk to the bottom during preparation and is therefore at the top. The Saint-Marcellin is perfect: a bit of running goat’s cheese, room temperature, spice but not over the top.

Hanneke’s case deserves a different title than the English one golden oldie, une petite vieille doree? Anyway, kudos for running this bouchon on her own for almost a quarter of a century and putting excellent food on the table.

Reviewer and journalist Petra Possel tests a restaurant in and around Amsterdam every week.
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