Stuart Forster dines at the Brasserie Midi restaurant in Groningen, the Netherlands.
Brasserie Midi, in the Dutch city of Groningen, serves cuisine influenced by the Mediterranean flavours of southern France and local produce. Pol de Bruin opened the restaurant in November 2014 and aims to keep prices affordable.
“We think the restaurant business has priced itself out of the market,” says Pol, while pouring a gin and tonic aperitif to welcome me and my girlfriend into his busy establishment.
“We keep the price low because we cut out the middle man. We go direct to the producer,” explains the 30-year-old restaurateur, who has formed close working relationships with farmers and fishermen from Groningen’s hinterland. Ten farms, for example, are now working together as part of a cooperative to deliver dairy products to the Brasserie Midi and other restaurants in Groningen.
The feast of St Martin
There’s an upbeat vibe in Brasserie Midi, which I happen to be visiting on the evening of 11 November, the Feast of St Martin. St Martin of Tours is the patron saint of the region and lends his name to the Martinikerk, the church whose 97-metre tall tower doubles as Groningen’s best-known and tallest landmark.
On my way to the restaurant, I’ve passed dozens of children carrying decorated lanterns suspended from sticks. Shopkeepers have paper bags packed with treats ready for distribution to the kids, who are accompanied by parents. The local tradition is still very popular.
Modern décor and relaxed dining
We’ve been shown to a high table bearing a miniature cactus towards the back of the Brasserie Midi. That suits me just fine. It provides an opportunity to look through the long dining room, which has 40 covers, and observe the busy waiting staff hurrying between the open kitchen and wooden tables.
There’s a pleasant buzz about the restaurant. People are obviously at ease, enjoying a Saturday evening out. This is by no means a formal dining establishment though the emphasis is on quality food.
Bottles of wine are laid on dowelling protruding from the wall behind us. Opposite our table blocks of wood have been arranged to create a feature emphasising the texture of the grain.
After taking a sip of the underground gin that we’ve been served I nip out the back to wash my hands. As much as anything, it’s an excuse to take a quick peek at the team of chefs working in the open kitchen.
A seasonal amuse-bouche
Pol returns and asks if there’s anything we don’t eat. We shake our heads. He explains that about 60 per cent of Brasserie Midi’s produce is organic.
He returns with a spicy, cinnamon-infused amuse-bouche — pumpkin soup with a dollop of soured cream.
The wine pairs well with our starter, red snapper, caught in the Wadden Sea, served with celeriac. Pol explains he sources his fish from Goede Vissers — who fish using ethical methods, avoiding trawling. The tenderness of the fish is enhanced by the buttery, orange-infused sauce in which it’s served.
He reveals how his working practices have changed markedly over the past three years. When he opened Brasserie Midi he took a far more top-down approach. Today’s more circular way of doing things means that he can take the occasional break.
He’s clearly proud of the knowledge transfer that’s taken place to his young team, ensuring customer-facing expertise in his restaurant every day of the week.
Mushrooms from the forest
The damp autumn conditions are ideal for growing mushrooms. A selection of those harvested from the nearby forest feature in the ravioli we’re served on a black plate.
The flour used to make the pasta has been ground in a local windmill. Melted butter moistens the surface of the ravioli. The intensity of flavour increases as I chew — mushrooming in every sense.
Mushrooms also feature as part of our beautifully presented main course — tender slices of roast pheasant served with cabbage and slow-cooked salted carrots. The Dutch might be known for having cultivated orange carrots to celebrate their leadership but these are purple. Seasonal pumpkin provides a dash of orange on a red plate that emphasises the bold colours of the dish.
A trio of desserts
Sometimes I’m tempted to order a single dessert with two spoons. This time though, the two of us tucked into three different desserts. The Brasserie Midi’s grand dessert is a way of sampling a selection of dishes.
Under normal circumstances, I’d have been happy to stay with the crème brulee topped with cinnamon-laced apple and walnut ice cream. But chocolate cake with nut crumble and poached warranted an exception. At this point, my partner set down her spoon in surrender and sipped on a glass of jenever from Groningen’s Hoog Houdt distillery.
The final plate featured Knol’s koek, a speciality of Groningen, jenever-soaked raisins and white chocolate mousse along with a parfait of spectaculaas — a type of spiced cookie that always reminds me of the approach of Christmas.
As this feast came to an end I thanked Pol and his chef for jobs well done and headed for a digestive stroll around Groningen.
Brasserie Midi (tel. +31 (0) 50 533 2158) is at Folkingestraat 42 in central Groningen, roughly midway between the Groningen Museum and the Vismarkt marketplace, where market stalls trade on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. See the restaurant’s website to view menus, opening times and to book a table.
The city of Groningen is the capital of a Dutch province with the same name. The Groningen Tourism website is a useful source of information about things to do and see in the city and surrounding region.
Groningen is one of 12 provinces in the Netherlands.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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