Travelling for work seems at first to be a very exciting thing, but flying in and out of cities without seeing a true glimpse of them doesn’t sound at all fun to me. So, when I was invited to give a talk at Foam Museum in Amsterdam I felt it was important to try and make a bit more of it.
After dropping my bags at the stunning Conservatorium hotel and having a quick rest and refresh, I headed over to Foam to do my talking at the Photo/Video Edition. The event was great fun, and although much of it was in Dutch (and my translator got told off for talking, so I had no idea what was going on) it was really great to meet and speak to so many people afterwards, and to make plans for future visits.
In the morning, having woken to a beautiful sunrise, I headed off to a meeting, then for a quick cheese toastie and waffle stop and a think about what to do over the next couple of days.
I’m not much of a planner when it comes to these things, I’m more of a haphazard wanderer to be honest, and even the best made plans get broken when I’m around (and easily distracted by all the things).
We meandered through the streets, down to the station, zig zagging back along the canals, car spotting, bike spotting, window shopping, taking everything in.
In a narrow and unassuming street we found the door to Restaurant LT Cornelis and climbed the stairs to their cocktail bar and restaurant.
Three buildings made into one, respectfully maintaining the character and evidence of the building’s heritage. The visible wear and tear of well over 100 years still evident in the space, especially on the spiral staircase up to the private dining area.
Copper stills lined up as lampshades over the bar. High ceilings, blue grey walls, golden velvet, a ginger martini just for me – I could live here!
“It’s our mission to enable all to experience the absolute delights of the Dutch cuisine. By combining the current with the past and the purest ingredients we strive to offer our guests a legendary experience.”
We sat, overlooked by a large reproduction of the famous Dutch painting of the Meagre Company (also known by it’s original title of ‘Officers of the Company of the Amsterdam Crossbow Civic Guard under Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw’) and worked our way happily through the five course menu.
The restaurant has only been open nine months but you’d think that people had been going there for years, they seemed so happy and comfortable. The staff were lovely and cheery, they appeared to take pride in everything.
The amuse bouche was good, and the Ossenworst was pretty special (smoked beef sausage with Amsterdam pickles, kohlrabi, silver onion and rye bread sauce). The Sirloin was cooked to perfection and beautifully flavoured (Dutch beef with a beet jus, cream cheese stuffed onion, sweet shredded onion and a melty, crunchy onion crisp with confit potatoes), but the chicken and fries ‘Appelmoes’ was just awesome (soft chicken with salty gravy and chicken liver, sweet apple sauce and crispy potato). I’ve never had chicken and apple before. Apparently it’s a dutch thing, a childhood classic that everyone knows. I’ve been educated and enlightened!
The dessert, to me, was bizarre, a real insight into dutch flavours and a challenge to my tastebuds. Meringue, sea buckthorn berry, shredded dutch carrot, white chocolate mousse, crunchy caramel biscuit, with a gravy, yes gravy, of yellow carrots. Tangy, sour, sharp, kind of astringent, occasionally only ‘almost’ sweet. I can’t say that it’s something I’d choose to have again but I do think it was a taste worth trying.
If I lived in Amsterdam I’d probably make LT Cornelis my local. I’d be like the cool one out of Cheers (was there a cool one? There wasn’t a cool one) sat at the end of the bar with my personalised ginger martini tankard and a pocket full of sweet snacks. I’m sure I could blend in.
Full of food and happy, we made our way back to the hotel. Amsterdam is such a safe and busy city that it feels perfectly fine to wander the streets at night, and it’s nice to see everything in a different light (or dark, as the case most often is at nighttime).
After a good nights sleep and a good breakfast of truffle-topped Eggs Benedict, we checked out of the Conservatorium and got a car over to the Waldorf Astoria, where we stayed for our third and final night of the trip.
Having explored the superbly beautiful hotel we wandered out, making a beeline for the zoo. I don’t normally visit zoo’s, but so many people had suggested that the zoo was the last place we should think about going, it kind of became top of the list out of inquisitiveness.
We were on the way to the zoo but an exceptionally large palm pushing it’s self against a condensation-blurred window lured us in to De Hortus (that and the iamsterdam city cards burning holes in our pockets!) and we were lost for hours.
Amsterdam’s De Hortus Botanicus was founded in 1638 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. What a magnificent place. Green parakeets flew from tree to tree, as two large herons sat watching. In the butterfly house were hands of green bananas, small golden pineapples and these things that looked like deflated balloons.
Leaving De Hortus we continued on our journey across the city, grabbing frites and mayonnaise from a street stall, and as the daylight dimmed we headed to catch the Water Colors Cruise and see the Amsterdam Lights Festival from the water.
Glass roofed boats chugged up and down the canals as the flashes of many tourists cameras fired simultaneously.
The Lace by Choi + Shine Architects was by far my favourite installation. Fifteen metres long and suspended above the canal, The Lace pays homage to the traditional Dutch bonnet, and is made from over twenty miles of hand crocheted cord! Utterly stunning (and probably very weighty).
After our excursion we headed over to De Culinaire Werkplaats for dinner. From the vast and varied information I had passionately pressed upon me throughout the evening I’ve attempted to narrow the concept down to the following for you:
De Culinaire Werkplaats is an interactive experimental art gallery vegetable restaurant performance with a freestyle story-telling menu of ‘a selection of japanese world views in 5 courses’ sharing the message of sustainability, future food problems, and food scarcity.
We sat, balanced atop tall 3 legged chairs, concentrating on not falling, and were presented with a run of dishes, all of which, we were told, related to Japanese culture.
Rice and beans in a bowl with brown water poured over it as a ‘tea ceremony’.
Gold and silver clay covered purple potato with sauerkraut, chestnuts and prunes.
A smoke filled box with beans wrapped in cabbage leaves and buckwheat noodles, and a flower on top.
A paper wrapped ‘gift’ of raspberry and almond.
A Japanese garden of build your own dessert – Wasabi flavoured sesame seeds, fish shaped sour tasting jelly, trimmings of cress.
I would have liked to enjoy the food, but for me the multitude of mixed messages needed to be refined and matched with food that is full of flavour. A gold and silver clay covered potato may make a artistic statement (this one was about the beauty of ageing, I am told) but it does not demonstrate the idea of sustainability (the waste of clay, silver and gold paint), and even though it was purple and shiny (and rather regal looking) it was still a plain potato.
My favourite bit was the part where you had to take your own dishes up to the sink when you’d finished eating. I thought that was quite nice.
Food for thought? Absolutely, if you’ve got €90 burning a hole in your back pocket, several hours to spare, and a personal selection of seasonings.
Luckily I filled my chubby boots with the most delicious Eggs Benedict only hours later at the Waldorf Astoria and all was right in my world again.
Foam Photography Museum Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS
Conservatorium Van Baerlestraat 27, 1071 AN
Restaurant Lt. Cornelis Voetboogstraat 13, 1012 XK
De Hortus Botanicus Plantage Middenlaan 2a, 1018 DD
Water Colors Cruise Departs from Prins Hendrikkade 33a (opposite Central Station)
De Culinaire Werkplaats Fannius Scholtenstraat 10, 1051 EX
Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Herengracht 542 – 556, 1017 CG
iamsterdam City Card €75 for 72 hours and totally worth it if you plan to do lots – includes unlimited travel on public transport, a free canal cruise, and entry to most museums and attractions.
With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city.