On route back to Amsterdam on a recent trip we decided to stop off in Haarlem for dinner, as a change from the Amsterdam restaurant scene. After a bit of research (I didn’t want to go just anywhere) I came across a restaurant called Vis & Ko which sounded a contender for Haarlem’s best fish restaurant. Run by a former Michelin-starred chef (he voluntarily gave up his star to set up Vis & Ko) and a fish restaurant to boot it sounded like a no brainer.
Haarlem centre is relatively compact but we still managed to completely miss Vis & Ko, walking past this Haarlem hidden gem twice. Its discreet entrance is set slightly back from the river. Despite the sun outside the restaurant was relatively full. And while the setting was elegant – wooden slats across the ceiling, a combination of whitewashed and brickwork walls and flattering yellow lighting – it wasn’t pretentious.
Our first surprise at Haarlem’s best fish restaurant was this super cute, and equally delicious, amuse-bouche. A selection of dips – cucumber with yoghurt, chilli and garlic, anchovy and paprika and two mini plant pots of smooth mackerel pate, topped with rye ‘dirt’. And we (I mean I) devoured the mushroom crisps fried with seaweed. These gave us time to try and decipher the menu. We did initially find it a little confusing but it doesn’t take much to be fair. The menu is split into two. On the left hand page the dinner menu is a choice of 3, 4, 5 or 6 courses (this includes dessert or cheese) for set prices. Alternatively, you can choose a selection of slightly smaller dishes, between 3-5 is recommended from the menu on the opposite page. We weren’t quite sure what the benefit to this would be, I guess if you wanted to try six dishes you’d be better with the smaller plate menu.
I opted for the three course fixed price menu (€32.50) at Haarlem’s best fish restaurant and Sharps went for four individual plates. First up was sea bass served on a bed of artichoke and topped with an olive crumble and an artichoke foam. I loved the combination of textures – the bite of the artichoke, its crunch mixed with soft, salty sea bass, sweet roasted tomatoes and a tomatoey and onion salsa that gave the dish some tang. Just thinking about it now is making my mouth water again. Sharps started his culinary feast with a kind of prawn caprese. Mozarella, basil, pine nuts and the same sweet tomato salsa that accompanied my seabass were served with buttery, caramelised Dublin Bay prawns.
For Sharps, this was followed by a carpaccio of beef. Medium rare slithers of beef were decorated with tiny, cooked cauliflower florets and topped with tempura oyster mushroom. I merely watched on in envy as he tucked in to it, secretly thinking perhaps I should have gone for a four-course option too. Then came his next course, the sea bass. I foolishly talked him out of getting the vegetarian ravioli giving me the opportunity to sample another of the dishes. But I reasoned we were at Haarlem’s best fish restaurant so we perhaps ought to take advantage of this. That and I had no intention of sharing mine (he did though grudgingly give me a mouthful of his one too). Fish is fresh according to seasonality and the menu changes every couple of weeks accordingly.
Finally the piece de resistance, the main course. My baked plaice, served in a sweet and sour piccalilli sauce, came with tiny mushrooms, slithers of carrot and fondant potato cubes, with a bed of creamy mash hiding underneath. Sharps had Canadian lobster with shellfish foam, grilled veg and a balsamic gravy . He said it had a rustic flavour, soft, sweet and slightly dry, a bit like a sloe gin.
Then, another surprise. A pre-dessert of an ice cream popsicle. It tasted of white chocolate, and when we bit through the crispy outer shell were treated to a sweet mango and citrus inside. As I’m not a fan of trifle, and didn’t fancy cheese after such an already generous-sized meal I graciously gave my pudding to Sharps. I hasten to add this wasn’t your average trifle. It was more of the deconstructed variety, cleverly layered and pieced together. Vodka-soaked strawberries and blackberries and cubes of sponge cake surrounded a dollop of blueberry sorbet sitting on a layer of white chocolate with a layer of jelly beneath.
We were seated opposite the bar, within site of the open kitchen where we could see the chefs working hard on their creations. The service was also first-class, staff were happy to make recommendations and answer any queries we had about the menu or specific dishes without being condescending. Our waiter also told us that Haarlem’s best fish restaurant, Vis & Ko, takes part in Amsterdam Restaurant Week, (restaurants across Amsterdam offer special menus and discounts) with a range of great-value offers.
It’s easy to fall a little bit in love with Haarlem. Just 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam this University town is full of cosy cafes, bars and restaurants that will leave you spoiled for choice. I found it equally as feel the same way about Haarlem’s best fish restaurant, Vis & Ko.