As I was preparing for a recent trip to Amsterdam, I did my usual pre-trip rounds of asking for restaurant recommendations from friends and mining relevant articles and blogs for ideas. Surprisingly, the pickings came back very slim.
Aside from one consistent exception, there didn’t seem to be any sort of food revolution going on in the city. Emails from well-traveled friends were returned with phrases like “awful service” and “generic food.” I made reservations, but prepared myself for a few days of lackluster dining.
After eating my way through Amsterdam, I found these characterizations to be mostly untrue.
As a long-time afternoon tea devotee, I was intrigued by the concept. This isn’t your average happy hour. High Wine is classy and delicious, with eats created by an award-winning chef rather than chicken wings and nachos. “We didn’t feel like high tea was a priority for our guests,” a staff member explained. “Our guests are less formal, but still extremely food-focused.”
Whereas afternoon tea doesn’t match the food to the tea, High Wine does. Snuggled up next to the fireplace in The Dylan’s cozy lounge, I sipped a creamy chardonnay and summery, light pinot noir, paired with smoked albacore tuna with asparagus and poached egg, and codfish in a roasted garlic sauce with lentils.
The hotel typically presents a selection of four different wines is paired with four amuse-bouche-style bites at 4:00 p.m. Executive Chef Dennis Kuipers serves up seasonal French flavors with a lighter, modern touch. The concept of High Wine has since spread, but it was born here in this enduring space.
The hotel sits on the site of the Netherlands’ first theater, built in 1613. In line with Amsterdam’s liberal ethos, women were allowed to perform throughout the 1700s until the curtains caught fire and the theater burned. It then became a Catholic alms house and, later, a bakery.
Today, the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Vinkeles, fills the space, and has retained the original 18th-century bricks and the ovens from the long-shuttered bakery.
While the building’s history stands in stark contrast to the restaurant’s contemporary persona, I found it fascinating that the wood floors remain from 1773, and that the lounge is where orphans played. Much of the furniture was handmade in Italy and the guest rooms are dark gray, black, and white with rich jewel-toned accents, antique mirrors and custom drinks cabinets with mother-of-pearl finishes.
Besides Vinkeles, the one restaurant everyone told me I had to visit was De Kas, which has shown Amsterdam the importance of starting with proper produce. It’s outside the city center, but an easy tram ride or 15-Euro cab ride.
Upon arrival, guests must cross a wooden bridge over a marsh, providing a hint of the enchanting evening to come.
De Kas is set in a circa 1926 greenhouse, which allows the room to fill with natural light at lunch and provides guests with a sense of dining under the stars in the evenings.
As you check your coat, you can admire rows of salad greens, vegetables, and herbs growing in the greenhouse, some of which will end up on your plate. The scent of just-picked lemon verbena is particularly intoxicating. As Chef Bas Wiegel, a young, charming, passionate food enthusiast tells me: “Respect starts in the ground and ends on the plate.”
There are smaller areas off the main dining room including a chef’s table in the kitchen, a business table, and cocktail space, lending the restaurant a communal air. This idea that there is a place for everyone extends to the staff, who eat dinner together every night in the restaurant. To be sure, De Kas is one of the don’t-you-dare-miss restaurants in Amsterdam.
Michelin-starred or not, Amsterdam’s restaurant scene is improving and moving beyond its cafe culture of bread and cheese. On a beautiful day, though, this is precisely the Amsterdam I want: an outdoor table, simple sandwich, and coffee at Cafe ‘t Smalle gazing at the canals and life going by.