It was an evening of first impressions. Our flight had touched down a mere two hours earlier and we had little chance of taking in much of the city before night fell and we found ourselves downtown at the Sofitel Legend The Grand hotel. Passing through the city at speed had given us a sneak preview of myriad streets and waterways which left us with considerable appetite for exploration and, as usual, for dinner. Needless to say, the hotel’s restaurant, Bridges, was to be our first meal in Amsterdam and we were keen to find out what the city had to offer.
Upon entering the modern lobby, we were greeted by Martijn, who was kind enough to give us a tour of the hotel before we sat down to dinner. The hotel has a rich history; the very oldest parts of the building have existed since 1578, when there were two convents on the site, and since then the building has been extended, transformed and variously used as a gentlemen’s lodging, the headquarters of the Dutch Admiralty and Amsterdam’s City Hall. The Arts and Crafts style marriage hall, decorated by Chris Lebeau, has been retained, along with many period features, but Sofitel have also embraced Amsterdam’s vibrant art scene with a modern exhibition of celebrity photographs in the lobby.
Continuing with our theme of first impressions, it bodes well for a menu when the amuse-bouches are so varied and delicious. The amuse bouche, which, in its current form, first arrived on our tables during the Nouvelle Cuisine movement, sets the scene for the rest of the dinner. Since these are not chosen by diners, these tasty delights are often used by the chef to showcase the concepts behind the menu design. In the Ron Blaauw inspired menu, the Executive chef at Bridges, Joris Bijdendijk, produces French-influenced food with a creative, modern twist and Charlotte and I were intrigued as plate after plate of amuse bouche arrived to accompany our Moet et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004 bubbles.
Once we were seated in the restaurant, we began with two tiny, salty and savoury amuse bouche; a sourdough sandwich of tuna anchovy and goat cheese and a piece of crispy chicken skin with oyster cream and tarragon, unusually presented in a wooden box on top of dried beans. There followed an egg shell with the top removed, standing in a yellow sandy substance that may have been polenta. The egg shell was filled with potato foam and cream of egg yolk with a little herring caviar on top. This particular amuse bouche appeared in various different guises at almost all the meals we ate in Amsterdam and this version was excellent. There was also a smoked salmon tartar with distinct Indonesian influence (Indonesia having been a Dutch colony for many years), that contained jelly of ginger beer, peanut and sambal with a fabulous curl of cucumber.
The waiting staff, Michael and Louise, were all very funny and the multi-talented Brian – an expert in cheese and fish, as well as our sommelier – was deliberately mysterious about the upcoming dishes on the menu, which made the meal one of the most fun I have ever had. We laughed through our first glass of champagne and were feeling thoroughly amused when another round of little tasters arrived. This time, it was a selection of tiny cornettos filled with items from the restaurants raw bar. Charlotte preferred the steak tartar with pimento d’Espelette and potato crackling, while I particularly enjoyed the swordfish with ginger sweet and sour and puffed wild quinoa.
Eventually, our first proper course arrived. This was another dish with some Asian influence; roasted langoustine and tartar with trout eggs with green curry cream and marinated rammenas (black radish). The presentation of the dish was spectacular, comprising a bright green branch-shaped drizzle of the curry sauce, a black branch on top and a radish wrapped pile of roe next to the largest langoustine tail I have ever seen. The flavours were full, the textures contrasting and it was masterfully paired with a wine in the Scheurebe Manz Rheinessen that was floral and reminiscent of melon.
Our next course was cauliflower in brown butter, with truffle and egg yolk, in a sauce made with a cheese called Messenklever (a rough translation might be ‘one that sticks to the knife’). This was simply the most luxurious cauliflower cheese imaginable, taking that comfort food to a whole new level of robust, cheesy flavour and the wine, which was a Maçon-Verze, Domains Leflaive, Burgundy, had a complementary buttery aroma.
Amsterdam’s ease of access to the sea means that there is a strong emphasis on seafood in many of the top restaurants. Our main course, a meaty pan-fried turbot, was served with foie gras, carrot purée and roasted vegetables. Brian, ever mysterious, watched our puzzled expressions as we peered at the dish for a few moments in curiosity before eventually finding, through its inability to be picked up by fork, that the foie gras was in fact disguised as a carrot!
We moved on to a glass of Taylor’s 10 year old tawny port, with ‘Betty’s cheese selection’. Although I am not sure who Betty is, or was, and the selection was put together by Michael, there were certainly a wide variety of cheeses. As well as our favourite Epoisses, we enjoyed another rind-washed cheese, a Hansi au Marc de Gewurztraminer, which was a pleasing combination of sweet and sharp.
Our menu diverged on the last course, to allow us to sample two of the desserts. Charlotte, with a fruity Auslese wine from Austria, was presented with a panna cotta with crème cru, basil and lemon. This combination was light, palate cleansing and in direct contrast to my chocolate fondant. Rich yet light, this dish still left room for our signature espresso martini before we left, still laughing, with our first impressions of Amsterdam having been very good indeed.
The Grand Amsterdam Sofitel
Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197
1012 EX Amsterdam