Really own vegetarian dishes at De Kloostergang

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After Leiden and Hooghalen, this week in the category ‘verbs that are also a place name’: Zenderen. That is located in Twente and there is restaurant De Kloostergang. That is well regarded. Chef Freddy Cusell cooks there “classically at a high level with seasonal Twente products”, says the restaurant’s website.

That sounds like the umpteenth provincial chic restaurant in a monumental farm where you eat undeniably good, but often not so exciting. Where reasonably talented chefs try to give it ‘a nice twist’, but always seem to be caught in the straitjacket of old-fashioned gastronomy. Too often that turns out to be a wet wind with a mandatory crisp (at least, for that price).

At first sight, De Kloostergang fits in well: old farm, wooden beams, terracotta tiled floor, chandelier, candlesticks and a few expensive bottles of cognac. On the other hand, there is a rather eclectic playlist that shoots from silky soft pop to the top 40 of yesteryear, interspersed with what my old guitar teacher would call ‘lotto ball jazz’.

On the map

But De Kloostergang is different. Much nicer than that. Just as much as with his classical training and the seasonal products from Twente, Cusell plays with his Spanish and Peruvian backgrounds. That makes things a bit exciting.

The first two appetizers are great: vegetable chips with piccalilli and a sushi roll filled with quinoa salad made with pickle and aji amarillo mayo (a Peruvian pepper). The ceviche (the national dish of Peru, consisting of raw fish cooked in lime juice) of salmon and scallop is crystal clear with a pleasant, gently smoldering pepper. The sparing use of a little mint, in addition to the culantro (also called Mexican coriander), makes it a tantalizing whole. The first course without peppers is the Iberico cheek, with Iberico ham, a gravy of cumin and summer truffle. I don’t think anyone has ever fallen for a pig’s cheek. In this case, the ham and truffle do an extremely elegant fruity/nutty dance, with the cumin gravy as an exciting yet serving musical accompaniment.

Not all hallways stand out like that. Such as the marbré of pork cheek and foie gras (straitjacket alert!). And dessert: gâteaux chaud (hot chocolate cake) with coconut cream (chic French for ‘thick cream’) and vanilla ice cream. Yawn.

Vegetarians are taken seriously. Throughout the menu, vegetarians get their own dishes, not an extract from the meat variety. That is only the case with the paella. And admittedly, it still lacks the oiliness of the lardo. The pea cream with spinach, quail egg and summer truffle is tasty, but also a bit like the Michelin version of a vegetable smoothie. The yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) makes it interesting again. The roasted avocado, with salsa criollo (tomato/coriander/red onion/aji amarillo) rettich and rice crackers are allowed in the regular menu.

The wines are interesting, they tell something. Only the red wine with the main course seems a bit out of place: little finesse compared to the rest. It all falls into place when the main course arrives. Roe in its own gravy, with sweetbreads and liver. Nicely baked. Different weight class. There are some gastro-musts in it (goose liver, Madeira port sauce). But at least it pops.

Final verdict

The Kloostergang remains a place where you are not likely to burst out laughing and irrevocably run into men with ties. But the atmosphere is casual. Because of that crazy playlist. And by the lack of white linen. And due to the lack of service: all dishes are served by the chefs. I don’t know if that’s a conscious choice, but it works. It goes smoothly, silently. You are being watched, but not unnecessarily harassed. Cusell himself is as much a host as he is chef. And it goes well for both of them.

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