Forget the coffeeshops and clogs, Amsterdam’s the perfect destination for a foodie fine dining break – from apple cake to art-inspired veganism, Georgina Wilson-Powell wanders the canals for inspiration…
Amsterdam might be known for many things but the quaint, canal-laced Dutch capital isn’t always the first place that comes to mind for a luxury weekend away. But the compact city has plenty of high end and haute cuisine experiences for foodies, all only a fifty minute flight from London.
First things first, every luxury weekend away starts with a decent hotel. While narrow Dutch gabled hotels are two a penny in the older sections of the city, the Conservatorium (owned by the same people as Cafe Royal) has turned the old Conservatoire (which was formerly the Rijkspostspaarbank), into a wonderfully modern-19th century mix, where original Art Nouveau tiles line the hallways but an enormous glass roof encases the former courtyard to create what is now ‘the living room of Amsterdam’. Upstairs thick-carpeted suites and rooms overlook Museum Square and the Vondelpark while high end shopping streets line the other side.
While the Conservatorium can arrange private or after hours tours of the nearby Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum, foodies will love a private tour of De Jordan, one of the city’s oldest areas with Eating Amsterdam. Stroll with a local guide along the medieval cobbled streets taking in the various cuisines that makes up Dutch food. From herring and Holland’s own take on fish and chips (which I’m not ashamed to admit were better than any I’ve had in the UK) to a traditional pub that’s been serving up baked apple cake for nearly 500 years. Bill Clinton loved its cinnamon, chunky filling so much he ordered two massive cakes to take home and ordered another 14 to the White House. Order it with whipped cream and work it off on a bike ride later.
The tour also takes in much of Amsterdam’s history, from the reason you’ll see XXX everywhere (and it’s not why you think), through riots, plagues and colonial empires. Having owned much of Indonesia for centuries, Indonesian food seeps through the Dutch psyche and the halfway stop for chicken satay loaded with thick, sweet and sour peanut sauce shouldn’t be rushed (and finger licked is more than acceptable). Varieties of traditional sausage come loaded with spices from the Far East at a fifth generation butchers and of course you can’t tour Amsterdam without indulging with the sticky caramel Stroopwaffel.
DECADENT DINING AND DRINKING
While Amsterdam isn’t short of restaurants, fine dining isn’t always easy to find. Taiko at the Conservatorium flies the flag for Nobu-style refined Japanese dishes such as delicately seared tuna sashimi, Gzoya with Wagyu beef, Jerusalem artichoke and sesame and silky black cod served in a banana leaf. The high ceilinged restaurant sits in the old archive room of the bank, the black laquered, floor to ceiling shelves are taken up with an enormous sake collection – the restaurant has a couple of sake sommeliers, who are happy to walk you through a tasting or two.
But it’s not just the dining that’s taken a decadent turn in Amsterdam, swanky cocktail bars have been popping up and Tales & Spirits is one of most popular. Heave aside the heavy drapes and indulge in this Dutch speakeasy’s heady concoctions (don’t forget you’ll need to book). Inspiration has been taken from everywhere, from the Roald Dahl-style Gobblefunk to the Body & Soul, that embodies the Asian flavours like yuzu and lemongrass.
EMBRACE THE PLANTS
Once famed for its pot-smoke filled ‘coffeeshops’, Amterdammers are more likely to be found now in one of the many vegan cafes or cold-pressed raw juice bars that pepper each district. The Cold Pressed Juicery chain do fabulous feel-good smoothies to pep you up as you’re walking or cycling around. In the pretty 9 Streets area, you’ll find places serving up oat milk lattes amongst the high end vintage, and up and coming designer stores.
While you’re never going to be hungry in Amsterdam, you might never find this next place without a head’s up. Not even many locals know of De Culinare Werkplatz, a cute culinary school slash vegan restaurant, that themes its five or seven course tasting menus around Dutch trends like the Old Masters.
Marjolein Wintjes and Eric Meursing believe that taking dairy and meat of our plates is an opportunity to create fine dining food that challenges our notion of vegetables being boring. The charmingly open plan kitchen is surrounded by a few tables, diners are in charge of their own drinks (totting them up on a bit of paper) and clearing their own plates which signals being ready for the next course.
When we visited in the winter the theme was Typically Dutch, which translated into dishes such as Orange, a textured medley of orange vegetables like pumpkin and sweet potato and Cold & Wet, a reference to a traditional skirt around licensing laws by people setting up bars on the ice when it freezes over. Shards of chocolate, almond, orange and ginger were layered up on the underside of a dinner plate. Marjolein spends her evening explaining each dish to each table and talking about how to inspire people to eat more plants by winning them over plate by plate. This neighbourhood-style spot is a treasure trove of food as art that’s a fascinating adventure into Dutch culture.
The Conservatorium is €385 per night, excluding breakfast for a superior single guestroom. For more information, visit www.conservatoriumhotel.com. To book an Eating Amsterdam tour, visit www.eatingamsterdamtours.com.