Amsterdam, and a Tale of Two Brasseries
May 10, 2018
I arrived in Amsterdam on a sunny afternoon and checked into my hotel in the lively de Pijp district, close to Museumplein. I hadn’t booked a restaurant for dinner, but had brought some old cuttings with reviews for inspiration; I settled on Dauphine, which looked as if it would be a pleasant half hour stroll, mostly alongside the Singelgracht Canal, and the River Amstel. It was early evening on a Thursday, the locals were out rowing on the river, and I began to see the appeal of living on a houseboat on the wide Amstel, with 17th century architecture as your outlook.
Cafe-Restaurant Dauphine, opposite Amstel station, is a modern brasserie which occupies a former Renault showroom; a classic Renault Dauphine car is parked outside.
Inside, it’s a light modern space with a high ceiling, a blonde wood bar, and soft lighting. No music, just the quiet buzz of conversation; clatter and chatter.
The menu is a Dutch interpretation of the French brasserie, and strong on fish and seafood. If soft shell crabs are listed, I usually succumb, and this evening was no exception: three plump little specimens as a starter, served with seaweed salad and a tangy yuzu mayonnaise, followed by half a lobster. A glass of lovely perfumed, fresh Chardonnay was perfect with both.
A young waiter, who looked like the young Leonardo di Caprio, asked me if everything was OK.
Dauphine, Prins Bernhardplein 175, 1097 BL Amsterdam 00 31 20 46 216 46
Open daily (except King’s Day!)
On Friday I walked to the Rijksmuseum to see “High Society”, an exhibition of life-size, full length portraits.
After a couple of hours of visual nourishment, I emerged at midday for a breath of air. A bit early for lunch and in need of a rest, I saw a “Hop on, Hop off” canal cruise which provided a spontaneous answer; I bought a ticket and boarded the imminently departing boat.
As the boat set off, I realised that one of the stops was Amsterdam’s Central Station. Choux restaurant, on the waterfront by the station, was on my list to visit, but I hadn’t decided whether to go for lunch or dinner. The decision made itself.
In 2015 we had come across “Foyer”, a popup restaurant in a former bank on the Prinzengracht Canal. The food was very fresh and original, and we got chatting to the chef/proprietor, Figo van Onna. He gave us a card, explaining that the popup was about to close, and that he was going to open a permanent site, but didn’t know the name yet. He scribbled the address on a card.
Having found the name “Choux” online, it was hard to miss the scarlet exterior of the new incarnation.
Once seated, I told the story to the waitress who had welcomed me, and showed her the card. She smiled and said she was sure Figo would like to see it, and brought him over.
He’s a quietly energetic young man in a gilet, with cropped hair and intense blue eyes, who had been patrolling the restaurant floor. He recognised me, “yes I remember, you came with your wife”, and took a photo of the business card I had picked up three years before. “We just started a wine importing business, things are going well…. Adam will look after you, he’s our English speaker. It’s nice to have you back, and send my regards to your wife”.
The restaurant occupies the ground floor of Spring House; upstairs is a workspace for hot desking. The open-plan kitchen enjoys natural light from the restaurant’s vegetable garden, where they grow a lot of their own produce.
As each dish arrives at the table, the staff explain the ingredients. For detail of the menu, click here. For wine pairings, click here
After I’d finished three savoury courses, Adam asked “do you want to stop there, and skip dessert?” Dessert was rhubarb, something I usually dislike, but I was enjoying the experience and decided to go for the fourth course. Afterwards he took the time to chat to me. He was excited about a trip the following week to pick wild oysters and cockles on the island of Ameland in the Wadenzee; the catch is limited to 10kg per person, so he was planning a feast.
Adam’s wife is Dutch, and after living in Australia for 11 years “it was her turn” and they settled in Amsterdam two years ago. With fewer than 850,000 residents, he finds it an easy place to live, with everything you could want in a city.
The food at Choux demands concentration, but above all it’s enjoyable, and light enough that you finish feeling satisfied but not too full. Every dish was plated with great precision, and explained with a lightness of touch. The name Choux is a joking reference to the frequent appearance of cabbage on the menu.
I was reminded me of the food at “Local” in Venice, and “Au Passage” in Paris; similarly light, fresh, earthy, intense. To read more, click on these links:
“Local” – making waves in the lagoon
Au Passage – a lucky find
A young female chef brought my pretty dessert to the table and explained it: poached rhubarb, raspberry meringue “bonbons”, white chocolate under a rhubarb mousse, wild magnolia sorbet, pistachios.
I look quite Dutch, apparently.
Choux Restaurant, de Ruyterkade 128, 1011 AC Amsterdam
Closed Sunday. Reservations by telephone only: 0031 2 02 10 30 90