On the table: Gezellig
Author: Sophie Thorpe
Perhaps I’m disillusioned with dining out, spoilt by London’s endlessly evolving scene. But too many restaurants are desperately seeking to do something different, trying to find a USP that will help them survive in such a cut-throat industry. But in this never-ending search for the “new”, it’s all too easy to forget what can make food great. Simple, delicious, food. Effortless to eat, easy to order, almost impossible to recreate at home, wine-friendly feasts that are reassuring in their familiarity.
It’s just so at Gezellig, a new restaurant in Holborn that describes itself as “a wine-focused drinking den with a classic European menu”. Drinking den it most certainly was, when in a show of extraordinary generosity, Gezellig offered free corkage every day in August – and the wine trade, like parched animals to a watering hole, flooded through its doors, loaded with bottles galore. I have no shame in confessing that I was one of them.
“Classic European”, however, isn’t necessarily a phrase that fills one with joy – they’re almost dirty words, and when done badly, it’s easy to see why. Without really good cooking, and just a touch of creativity, a menu can bore and disappoint with dish after dish that seems subpar and soulless. At Gezellig, they steer clear of such potholes, gliding past with a sneer for such mediocrity, proving that classic needn’t mean dull.
In the high-ceilinged space – set within Holborn’s Town Hall – an Old World glamour meets modernity to create a homely feel. The backwall is stylishly cluttered with prints and posters – from Grace Jones to Frans Hals’ Laughing Cavalier; the walls lined with glorious empties, taunting you to add another envy-inducing bottle to the line-up. And so, of course, we did.
A bottle of 2005 Bollinger Grande Année was popped, a wine almost ridiculous in its decadence – heady and Pinot-rich, layered with rich stone-fruit and an almost caramel luxe. Alongside it we devoured a Vichyssoise – a bowl of creamy innocence, spiked with vibrant pickles, while just beneath the surface lurked a pile of trout rillettes. The highlight though was a treacly roll that almost tasted of childhood, with a malty richness and warmth that tasted like curling up next to the fire in well-worn pyjamas.
A plate of lamb, slow-cooked and served with seasonal vegetables, just a gleam of sauce adding depth, while a small mound of crushed new potatoes sat invitingly next door. It sounds demeaning to compare fine dining food to a school dinner, but this was a plate inviting you to dream of what canteen food could be. This was stew and mash dressed to the nines, cooked by chefs trained in the finest kitchens, served on the finest tableware – deceptively simple and utterly delicious. A bottle of Storm’s Vrede Pinot Noir – one that probably would have benefited from time had we been able to resist – slipped down.
A plate of cheese (charmingly offered as “a little” or “a lot” on the menu) was evidence of the attitude here – a generosity, yet dedication to quality, rarely found. A saucer of three canelés were crisp on the outside yet pillow-soft and custard-y within – a final morsel that begs to tuck you in.
Gezellig is Dutch, translating loosely as “cosy” – or as the restaurant’s website says, “an atmosphere, which allows good times to happen”. And really, it does exactly what it says on the tin. There are no small and large plates here, no guessing how much will be enough to feed you, but not leave you scraping your bank account when the bill arrives. It may not be cutting-edge. There’s no new concept. It doesn’t challenge you. But there is such comfort, and bravery, in Gezellig’s classicism. Most importantly though, this is a restaurant that won’t let you down; and in these uncertain times, that’s exactly what we need.
What we drank:
- 2005 Champagne Bollinger, La Grande Année, Brut
- 2017 Storm, Vrede Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
- 2014 Riesling Spätlese, Graacher Himmelreich, Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Germany