Words and Pictures by Jesica Versichele
Scottish food in Alkmaar (Netherlands)
What is Scottish food? I myself didn’t know so I visited the highly acclaimed Hielander restaurant in my town Alkmaar (The Netherlands) to find out. It seems like Scottish food is less well known than English or Irish food, and that’s a shame because it really is its own (arguably better) cuisine.
You won’t find English fish n’ chips or Irish corned beef and cabbage at The Hielander. What you will find are unique and exciting dishes with plenty of beer and whiskey to wash it down.
Upon entering the Hielander one is struck by the floor to ceiling décor. Every inch of The Hielander is covered with tartan, stag’s horns, Scottish books and whiskey memorabilia. While these things are typically Scottish, the effect isn’t kitschy. It’s Scottish pride that’s on display here and it feels warm and cozy, like you just stepped out of the highlands and into a warm pub.
We were greeted by The Heilander’s owner Willie (or Wullie as he’s sometimes called). He’s a local celebrity in his own right. Not only is he an excellent restauranteur and whiskey festival organizer, but he’s also a lively and entertaining source of knowledge about all things Scottish. Wearing his iconic kilt, he brought some mouth-watering delicacies to our table that we had never tried before.
The first dish that came to our table was an appetizer of olives and mild chili sauce with a spoonful of three Scottish cheeses and chives. These bite-sized nibbles went perfectly with the dark Scottish beer that my boyfriend and I ordered. After that we both chose the three course “surprise” menu. This consisted of either a fish or meat main course and two other special dishes that were not listed on the regular menu.
The first course was a veal tartar with capers and onions, a scotch egg and a bit of salad served over anchovy mayonnaise. Perhaps it was the seasoning and combination with an anchovy sauce, but this dish reminded me of smoked salmon. It was tender and very salty, more fresh than meaty. The mild taste of the crispy scotch egg complimented it nicely.
The second courses were truly impressive both in their flavor and size. I chose the fish menu. What Willie brought to the table was a whole sea bass, charred in a whiskey and honey sauce over a bed of spinach and pea-pods with sides of oven-potatoes and sweet cole-slaw.
For my boyfriend, who chose the meat menu, he brought out a rib-eye steak wish sides of blood pudding, sauerkraut that had been boiled in goose fat for an entire day and a baked potato. I really enjoyed the crispy texture and sweetness of the blackened fish. The sauce was intensely sweet and tangy and it complimented the very mild, white, flaky meat of the fish.
Now about the blood pudding. I was a bit nervous to try this because blood sounds like a strange ingredient. I took a good size bite of it, chewed, swallowed and said out loud “Hey, that’s pretty good!”. It had barley mixed into it which gave it a more solid, substantial mouth-feel.
The texture was creamy and smooth. The flavor sharp but not metallic as one would expect blood would taste. Both my boyfriend and I agreed that it tasted like something familiar but we could not place our finger on exactly what. My best guess was lentils but with a meatier taste. Overall, I would totally try blood pudding again, maybe with a full Scottish breakfast.
Dessert was rich and decadent. It consisted of a pure chocolate ganache half-dome served atop a cookie with a side of preserved cherries and vanilla ice cream. It was just so good.
Though we desperately wanted to finish it, we couldn’t. It was just too rich after a very abundant meal. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Hielander. I hope that Scottish cuisine becomes more internationally known in the future because it really was warm, flavorful and deeply satisfying.