Tag Archives: Restaurant Week

You’ve Neva Had it So Good

Cafe Restaurant Neva reminds me of a Hanna Barbera hero, such as Hong Kong Phooey. By day, it is a mild-mannered cafe that serves the Hermitage museum in Amsterdam,  but by night it is transformed into a modern European fine dining restaurant, fighting hunger and exciting the palates of the well-heeled.

Well, actually, having never eaten there before, I may be understating the lunch fare. It is done by the same company, so the sandwiches could be every bit as magical as the evening dinner.

This was our penultimate venue for restaurant week, and it was a real treat. And after this restaurant week, I have revised my view of Dutch service. Without exception, every place we went to was friendly, helpful and pleasant. No sharp words or blunt answers.Thank you for making me confront my prejudices, waiters of restaurant week, I apologise and I salute you all.

I also have to admit to being a bit too intimidated to use a flash to take the photos, which is the reason for the substandard photos for this post, but the food was so good I didn’t want to avoid writing this up for the sake of the photography. It is hardly as though I am David Bailey everywhere else on this site in any case. If any of you have any tips on overcoming shyness in using flash in the low lighting of a restaurant, please let me know.

Anyway, back to Neva. The food here was both clever and delicious. It had the right amount of a nod to modern cuisine, with some surprising touches, without being too fussy. Although they did like a good foam. I think every dish had some of one variety or another.

Baby Leeks With Trout Eggs and a Buttermilk Dressing

Baby Leeks With Trout Eggs and a Buttermilk Dressing

The Big Guy, being Swedish, loves fish eggs, from Beluga caviar right through to Kalle’s Kaviar. As soon as I saw this on the menu, I knew that there was no way that he would have anything else. He loved it, and wolfed it down really quickly. I may have mentioned that he is not a man of superlatives, but he certainly seemed very happy with it. It was matched with an excellent Czech  Riesling. If you have never tried Czech wines, this is an excellent place to start, it is a light and fresh Riesling, but with all the required fruit.

Mackerel Ceviche with Cucumber Textures

Mackerel Ceviche with Cucumber Textures

This plate was as pretty as a picture, but it wasn’t a small dish. The cucumber textures were foam, sorbet, pickled, a mayonnaise with horseradish, meringue, and tiny cucumber microgreens. The foam worked really well in this context, delivering an intensity of flavour that plain cucumber doesn’t. The microgreens were lovely. I have been getting into microgreens a lot of late, as they are an easy way to do the 52 week salad challenge, especially in the winter months when it is hard to stop legginess. To my knowledge, none of the saladchatters has had a go at growing this one yet, but I have recommended it.

The meringue was savoury, and was salty, which was surprising. I hadn’t thought of making savoury meringues before, but I will play around with this, because I often have leftover egg whites, due to my custard addiction.

The only criticism I have about the dish is that mackerel was really more sashimi than ceviche, it was definitely not marinated in citrus juice. That said, it was very skilfully filleted and presented, so that you only got the most delicate flesh and no blood line. If it were any fresher, I may have had to slap it.

Oxtail Ragout with Celeriac

Oxtail Ragout with Celeriac

This is what the Big Guy had for his main. The celariac was in the gnocchi, the foam and as a pickle. It was a little light on the ragout of oxtail, which served as a background flavour, rather than the star of the dish. Despite this, it was fresh and lovely, with a juiciness being added by the pickle. The Big Guy says he could definitely eat it again.

Grey Mullet with Fennel in Bouillabaise Jus

Grey Mullet with Fennel in Bouillabaisse Jus

More foam on this one, this time it was fennel. I was much more interested in the fennel cream, which was really good; intensely aniseed, but with the lovely fresh greenness of herb fennel. It also cut through the bouillabaisse sauce really well. I loved this dish, it was really well cooked and well-balanced. I love fennel though, and this would definitely be a problem if you didn’t like it.

We both had the caramelised white chocolate cheesecake with chocolate rocks and blood orange sorbet for dessert, but we were far too eager to tuck in to take pictures, which is almost a shame because the presentation was a feast for the eyes. That paled into insignificance when we tasted it. Goodness me was this good. I would not normally choose white chocolate on a menu, but this was more like toffee, or the fudge you get when you boil a tin of condensed milk. The chocolate rocks were dark and crumbly, as I like them. The sorbet sounded odd in the mix, but was a revelation. It wasn’t sharp, but neither was it too sweet, and cut through the rich cheesecake.  For me, this was the highlight of the meal. Utterly delicious.

We rounded off the meal with a coffee and a herbal tea. With this, we also received a complimentary tin of petit fours and biscuits, all of which were very well made. It is touches like this that, for me, demonstrate the care that goes into making a meal out a real experience. And that is what an evening meal at Neva really is, from the extra touches, the friendly staff to the excellent food. Not to mention the beautiful surrounding of the Hermitage museum.

Outside of Restaurant week, they offer a three course theatre menu for €29, and a 4-6 course tasting menu for €42-59.

I think that the theatre menu is a bargain, and would definitely recommend a visit if you are going to the Carré or the Music Theatre. And I think that the tasting menu would be great for a special occasion too.

Cafe Restaurant Neva

Amstel 51

1018 DR Amsterdam

T: +31 (0)20 5307483

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This Tum’s For Hire: Last Night We Were Dining in the Dark

Ctaste dining room

View From the Best Table in the House

Apologies for the terrible punnage in the title of today’s post, but since my friend booked us a table for four at Ctaste for restaurant week, I have been unable to get Bruce Springsteen’s earworm out of my head.

Ctaste is one of several restaurants globally in which patrons dine in the dark. In some of these restaurants, the waiters are equipped with night goggles, but the one in Amsterdam employs visually impaired waiting staff. I found the concept really interesting, and was excited to go along, because I thought it would be a good test of my palate.

You start off in a lit conservatory, where you have the concept explained to you, and you get to choose from a meat, fish, meat and fish or vegetarian menu, and whether you would like wine or beer matching. Three of us chose the vegetarian option, and the Big Guy had the meat. Most of the party also had the wine matching, but one of us chose the beer option. The staff were also careful to check for any allergies that diners may have.

From here, we were ushered through several curtains into the very dark main dining room. You hold onto the shoulders of your waiter and fellow diners in a crocodile formation. It is surprisingly disorientating.

Once seated, the waiters check which of the party are having which options for food and wine, so that they can get a handle on the seating. When you think about it , it is pretty obvious that it should be the person who requires the meat or the beer option who says this to the waiter, but actually we all instinctively chimed in and started pointing. I am sure this isn’t helpful, but the waiters are very patient, and allow you to work this out for yourself.

Once that had been sorted, an appetiser quickly appeared. It was obviously a smoked mousse of some kind, but none of us could pinpoint exactly what it was. Our best guesses were either Jerusalem artichoke or aubergine. We would not be allowed to learn exactly what it was until the end of the meal, when we would be back in the lit area. This is so that other diners do not hear what they are about to have, and ruin the concept for them.

Starters came with a nice, really fruity white wine. Unfortunately, I didn’t check what they were at the end of the meal, but my best guess on it was that it was a Riesling of some kind. I didn’t try the beer, but it seemed to be a blonde beer, according to my friend.

The starters themselves were pickled cucumber rolls, stuffed with goats cheese, apple & celery; and the meat one was a beef and beetroot carpaccio. Both were served with a rocket and pak choy salad, with honey and a herb vinaigrette. We thought it was rosemary.

The main was accompanied by an ordinary red, possibly a Cabernet Sauvignon. Beer was seemingly a witbier of some kind.

The Big Guy identified his main as beef. Us veggies found a portabello mushroom stuffed with blue cheese. Again, both courses had a mushroom risotto, haricots verts and roasted parsnips, carrots, onions and pumpkin. As we were finding that it was necessary to use at least one hand, so that you can feel the whereabouts of the food on the plate, it was a good thing that the food was warm, but not too hot. Interestingly, the meat and the vegetable courses came on different shaped plates each time, but I guess that is an adaptation for the waiters rather than the diners.

Then followed a pre dessert. It was an extraordinarily rich chocolate mousse, with flecks of real chocolate on the top. At the bottom there was a chiffonade. At first, the flavour doesn’t come through, but you can feel the texture. I was wondering whether this was desiccated coconut when suddenly a herbal flavour flooded my mouth. I decided that this was mint.

Dessert caused the biggest split in opinion. We all found pineapple and a lemon cheesecake. One of us found butterscotch, I definitely got banana (which I cannot stand), and there was a general disagreement over the ice cream. I thought rum & raisin, and there were also mutterings of strawberry.The wine was a muscat, and the beer was said to be a honeyed variety.

The fact that you are in the dark, and have to rely on your taste more than your sight is really a conversation piece. It is also interesting how the room seems to get larger when there are more people in the room, but somehow seems to shrink when guests leave. It’s a pretty bizarre phenomenon.

The waiting staff here were also great, very friendly, and keen to stay and have a chat. We had a little bit of a cultural exchange, as our waitress wanted to hear us say nine hundred and ninety nine in Dutch (it has a lot of g sounds in it, so is often hard to pronounce correctly for foreigners). In return, she did a pretty good rendition of seven hundred and seventy seven in Swedish, with several similarly hard to pronounce ‘whuo’ sounds. That is two for two on the friendly and helpful staff stakes. Either I have been dining at the wrong establishments all this time, or I am about to come down with a crash in the remaining restaurant week bookings. We shall see.

We rounded the meal off with a liqueur coffee and the remainder of our four glasses of wine, which we were allowed to choose from the previous three; before being escorted gingerly back out to the lit area to learn what we had actually eaten that night.

We got most of it correct. The appetiser was actually smoked carrot. The dressing was balsamic vinaigrette with the starter. The Big Guy failed to identify that his main also came with smoked duck breast and a port sauce. The cheese with the mushroom was actually a camembert, and not a blue cheese as we had suspected. The mushroom in the risotto was chanterelle, and was given as a chanterelle and parmesan risotto. I think this is slightly pedantic, since parmesan is a key ingredient in any risotto anyway, but nevertheless, it was an ingredient which we did not specifically name. The herb in the pre dessert was actually basil. I think I tasted mint because it is the herb that one normally associates with chocolate, so it shows how much tradition and familiarity can influence what you think about food. I find this really fascinating.

The dessert was actually lemon cheesecake, with pineapple pieces, a banana fudge, and a blueberry pie ice cream, which was the most surprising. They had used dried blueberries, which I had thought were raisins, but their flavour was masked by the sweet crumble of the pie crust. I don’t think I would have got that it was blueberry pie if I had nothing else to identify for the whole meal, so there you go.

As it was restaurant week, the 3 course dinner was €27.50, but is normally €39.50. The wine matching was €12.50, which is pretty good value for 4 glasses of wine, although two of the three kinds were pretty standard wines. The beer matching was €8.50.

Overall, it was a fascinating experience, and the food was good. The waiters were excellent – attentive, friendly and helpful, which is to be lauded in any case, but they certainly felt more welcoming than many waiting staff in this city. I can definitely recommend giving this a go to challenge yourself, test your perceptions and to have a good meal.

ctaste
Amsteldijk 55
1074 HX Amsterdam
Tel: +31-(0)6 22335366

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Fed at Restaurant As

Searching for Utopia, Apollolaan, Amsterdam

Seek, or Stumble Upon, and Ye Shall Find!

This week is restaurant week in the Netherlands. This twice yearly event is a great opportunity to find and try out new restaurants, as well as revisit some classics, without denting your wallet too much.

On Tuesday, I ventured south for some new discoveries. Firstly, I happened across this huge golden turtle being ridden by a man in an Elvis suit (the Vegas years). I only discovered it because I’ve managed to wrench my arm, and I was on the tram. Had I been using my usual form of transport (bike) I would actually have come a different way. A bit of a google later, and I have discovered that this is “Searching for Utopia”, by Jan Fabre, and apparently the man in the Elvis suit is the artist himself. It was a part of the last biennial artzuid sculpture trail. Apparently, the locals love it so much, that they are having a bit of a whip round so that the can purchase it. I really quite like this idea, and I hope they get to keep the sculpture. Sadly, this is quite far off the beaten track for many tourists, but the locals clearly enjoy it.

The second discovery was As, on the border of the Beatrix Park. Set in a circular room, and set up like a wheel, this is a restaurant that trades on its sustainable principles. I went along with a group of friends to take advantage of the restaurant week deal. It also meant that I could eat meat in this restaurant.

I may have mentioned before that I am not a vegetarian, but I do not really eat a lot of meat. There are many reasons for this, which include climate change, waste and welfare concerns, not to mention cost. When I do eat meat (in which I include fish – nothing irritates me more than asking for a veggie option and being offered a tuna sandwich, it brings out the worst in me, and I become really scathing) it has to be sustainable. I often describe myself as a fussitarian, because I hold the principles of local, seasonal, and sustainable food dear. This is not to say that I am difficult to feed, far from it. If I am a guest, I will eat whatever is put in front of me, but when I have a choice, I like to choose wild game, freshwater fish (not farmed), or organic meat. This is because welfare and environmental concerns are important to me. If I can not get this, I will simply eat vegetarian. I mostly eat veggie food at home too.

The set menu at As had a meat or a veggie option, and they were very happy to accommodate one of us who couldn’t eat cheese. There were four courses to choose from, or you could have all four.The waiting staff were also very friendly and patient. I arrived late due to a snarl up with the trams, but this did not really phase the waiter, neither did the fact that we stayed chatting and left long after the other lunch time patrons. Service in Holland can often be abrupt, and pretty blunt, so it was a really pleasant change to be helped through our choices, and not to be snapped at.

We chose to have three courses, and forewent the starter of a red cabbage, beet and red onion salad. Instead we had the fish course, main and dessert. I think this was a great choice, since I am not at all keen on beetroot, and I object to the habit of putting raw onion into lunch time meals. Who wants to go breathing onion fumes on friends and colleagues for the rest of the day?

Crab Ravioli with Lemon Oil

Crab Ravioli with Lemon Oil

(c) A. Dawe 2012

Of course, I managed to forget my camera, but luckily there were no shortage of smart phones, so my friends were happy to help out with shots.

We started with ravioli of crab. This was a good dish, they used the white meat only, and made a stuffing with this and some very finely chopped carrots and fennel. The pasta was thin, and the sliced raw fennel on the top was a great accompaniment. It sat in a very well done bisque, that was not too overpowering  and oily, as some of them can be. It was very well-balanced, the only thing that I could not detect was the lemon oil, but it didn’t matter.

Duck Leg, Braised in Chimay & Mustard

Duck Leg, Braised in Chimay & Mustard

(c) A. Dawe 2012

The main course was just beautiful. It was an excellently braised organic duck leg, which was neither too dry or too fatty. The braise was Chimay beer and mustard, which was subtle, and really brought out an almost smoky quality in the duck. Served on white beans, leeks and delicately cooked cabbage, I could have eaten two of these. A truly excellent dish. And my friend took a great photo of it too, which is no easy task for brown food!

We were talking and enjoying the food so much that we didn’t get a photo of the dessert. Most of us had an Eccles cake served with a wedge of Lancashire cheese. It sounded odd, but actually worked well. The cheese was a very good Lancashire, which was sourced from the UK. A little surprising, considering the Dutch love of their own cheese, but actually the crumbly texture and the sourness was a good foil for the Eccles cake. I have not yet come across a similar Dutch cheese, so this was a good choice.

One friend had a slice of pecan pie, which looked a lot more like a treacle tart to me, as there were more rich, treacley breadcrumbs than pecan nuts. However, I am not American, and not all that familiar with this dessert, so it could be that this is a more normal incarnation of the dish than the one that I tried. In any case, she enjoyed it, and it was good that they were accommodating for her.

With a good atmosphere, even for a lunch time, and lovely waiting staff, we really enjoyed our meal at As, and the food sang for itself. I like the restaurant a lot, and will definitely be back.

As with all restaurants participating in restaurant week, the lunch was €22.50 for three courses, but I will be interested to see what sort of prices they have for à la carte.

At first, I thought s was an odd name for a restaurant, but it turns out that unlike most places you are not left thinking “as if” about any part of the experience!

Restaurant As
Prinses Irenestraat 19
1077 WT Amsterdam

T: 020 6440100

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