This year, Restaurant Basaal enters its 16th year of trading on Bierkade just east of the city centre and Chinatown. Owned and managed by husband-wife team Bas and Loes Oonk, it firmly established as one of the city’s go-to restaurants.
First financed through crowd funding via friends and family – long before crowd funding became a thing – the business has grown both in culinary stature and also space, currently occupying twice the footprint of the original restaurant.
Its a perfectly formed restaurant of around 40 covers, alongside a relaxed canal-side terrace that basks in sunshine throughout the summer. The interiors are cleanly designed; modern but very ‘gezellig’ as the Dutch would say. There’s certainly no pretension to be found here.
Food-wise, the best description is the all-encompassing – and oft-misused – ‘Modern European’ however there are distinct nods towards the French kitchen. The menu changes seemingly daily although some dishes remain a constant, such as Bas’ signature dish of chicken livers which can best be described as sublime.
“My menus are market-inspired,” says Bas. “I visit our local suppliers and De Haagse Markt most days to see what’s available and interesting. There is some really good produce to be had at the market if you know where to look, and when.”
“We’re always on the look out for the best seasonal produce whether asparagus or shellfish, so you’ll find them return to our menus annually but we usually find a new twist to keep things interesting. And we keenly support craft producers in the region. Dutch craft beers are a particular passion of mine, and we work with Lydia at De Vierhuizen on our own matured cheeses flavoured with ingredients we’ve foraged such as wild fennel from a recent trip to France, and wild garlic from the Scheveningen dunes.”
“We’ve recently started to include goat reared at Bokken Bunker in Schalkwijk on our menu. Goat is one of the most widely eaten meats in the world, as the animal is so practical to keep. It fell out of favour in the Netherlands but is definitely making a comeback. Our guests love it.”
The restaurant has Bib Gourmand status, having been listed in the Michelin guide now for three years. Bibs are handed out by Michelin Guide inspectors to their favourite venues that offer both quality produce and value for money.
“We’re very proud of our Bib,” says Bas. “We offer a daily choice of dishes on our Bib menu so ensure our guests can enjoy a three course meal for under €37”.
A burning issue in both the hospitality industry and homes is food waste. I wonder what Bas’ perspective is on managing that to minimise what ends up in the bin.
“We minimise waste wherever possible. It makes sense both financially and in terms of respecting the produce. Peelings and bones can all be used to make the base of stocks and sauces. In fact that’s often where the most flavour can be found. For a restaurant of our size, we actually throw very little away.”
Of course, no meal is complete without wine, and this is one area in which Basaal really excel. Bas and Loes are true oenophiles but don’t read into that even the slightest bit of wine snobbery.
“We do regular tastings with our key wine suppliers”, says Loes. “They also know the types of wines that we like for the restaurant so are always interested in their suggestions.”
The wine list is comprehensive, and certainly very competitively priced for the quality. I speak from personal experience when I say the the house white – Le Tariquet Côtes de Gascogne – is eminently quaffable and a steal at €4 a glass.
“We often look for the unusual and inspiring,” continues Loes. “For example, we were one of the first restaurant in the Netherlands to offer English sparkling wine, and we have two traditional method wines from the Ridgeview estate in the South Downs of England on our list”.
Speaking of English wine, it was through this connection that I first met Bas and Loes when we hosted an International Chef Exchange with them and chef Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees in Brighton. Since then Bas has gone on to participate in numerous other exchanges in the UK and recently in Sweden that included a live food show demonstration at the Passion for Mat food festival in Gothenburg.
Later this year, Bas will be heading to Sweden again for a dinner near Lake Vänern and will also be participating in an event in Gibraltar with chef Victoria Garcia-Bishop who cooked at Basaal in The Hague Food Festival in July.
“I really enjoy the exchanges,” says Bas. “Working alongside other chefs in their kitchens is really inspiring and their is so much to learn from one another with technique and produce. We’ve become good friends with colleagues all over Europe”.
Restaurant Basaal is open Tuesday-Saturday and can be found at Dunne Bierkade 3, 2512 BC, Den Haag • 070 427 6888 • www.restaurantbasaal.nl
Photos: ©Julia Claxton