One final hop across the Channel before Christmas
As a surprise for Jordan’s Birthday, after much deliberation I decided to book us a weekend away in Amsterdam. We had talked about going and I wanted somewhere that felt festive without feeling like we were on a Christmas vacation instead of a Birthday excursion.
We flew out on Friday from Birmingham airport and stayed at Hotel Residence Le Coin, where we were given a larger room with a mezzanine sleeping area- apart from a mild concern about having too much wine and falling down the stairs the extra space was more than welcome.
Inevitably hungry we asked at the hotel for some suggestion as to where we could go for dinner, we were in search of some traditional Dutch food having had several dishes recommended to us by friends. In what turned out to be an incredibly good suggestion- we took a short walk from our city centre location to Vijffvlieghen – ‘The Five Flies’ We had unknowingly arrived at a 17th Century building that housed original etchings by Rembrandt and describes itself as ‘a culinary museum’. The restaurant is formed from 5 houses, opened up to create quirky dining spaces that have hosted the likes of Walt Disney, Orson Welles and Bruce Springsteen. Dinner was fantastic, hearty, traditional and ultimately very comforting if not a little on the large side.
Our first full day saw us take a wander around the city, checking out a series of cool, independent shops, finding our bearings and checking our the impressive architecture. Our Amsterdam visit was very much about food and exploration and not the glow of dimly lit windows or the aroma steeping through the doors of the copious amount of cafe’s bursting with red eyed tourists so it’s fair to say that we can’t comment on the most famous aspects of the Dutch destination. Of particular mention is the lunch stop we made at Toastable – where we simply had fresh toasted sandwiches, mint tea and fresh juices.
As an early evening activity, I had booked us on to a water cruise to see the sights and take in the installations that form part of the annual Light Festival. I admit that I may not have looked into this fully as I had expected it to be similar to the Lumiere festival in London but with a bit of Christmas twist. I booked onto a semi-covered boat cruise and was very pleased to discover a stack of blankets on the boat and a multilingual audio guide explaining all of the installations. The 45 minute tour took much longer than scheduled due to congestion from all of boats at the exhibit and the extended time and waiting around in the cold did make it a little tiresome towards the end. The festival itself featured works from 37 different artists commenting on the theme ‘Existential’ It featured a special contribution by Chinese artist and Activist Ai Weiwei, personal favorites of ours were ‘Eye to Eye‘ by Driton Selmani and ‘Whole Hole’ by Vendel & De Woilf which was the cause of much of the congestion as boats eagerly queued to sail through the tunnel of light.
The delay in our boat trip led to a frantic call to our next destination to advise of our impending late arrival, this was intended to be the highlight of our stay as in my research for the trip I had discovered a bit of an unexpected option for our evenings dining. There are a handful of restaurants situated in Hotel Okura but it was Yamatazo that caught my eye with its traditional Japanese design and kimono clad waitresses, more importantly it is a restaurant that has held a Michelin star for 15 years- the only kaieseki establishment in Europe to have obtained such an accolade.
Japanese food is something neither of us have much experience of so as well as being a memorable setting, I thought this would be a good mechanism for us to try out different dishes without having to make too many decisions. We chose the tasting menu and upgraded to Wagyu as an additional birthday treat. Without a mechanism for comparison, its hard for us to say how this fared against the traditional dishes but it certainly felt authentic, well prepared and delicate in flavour. Plans for drinks after dinner were dismissed as we ended up finishing dinner much later than I had originally anticipated so we ventured back home for the evening instead.
On our second day, we visited a few interesting riverside shops we had spotted on our boat trip the previous evening before deciding to do at least 1 traditional tourist thing, so we went to the Sex Museum- as we waited in the queue to go in, Jordan remarked on the miserable faces of those people making their exit which I paid little attention to. I’m not sure what I was expecting- I like history and anything a little weird but I could not help but feel underwhelmed by the experience. Apart from the obvious photo points found plastered over Trip Advisor, everything felt a little jaded and shabby. I hadn’t expected to be shocked, but I did want to be entertained but sadly it just didn’t happen. The experience was further marred by the 15 minute queue to get out of the building as people shuffled towards the ‘X-Rated’ section of the exhibit. I’m glad it was cheap to get in otherwise I would have felt even more cheated.
I’d booked lunch for us at Rijks so we headed to the Museum quarter, I’d read about its focus on Dutch produce and history and was keen to see its unusual setting. Having had a more than pleasant wander around the arts market, mulled wine in hand we picked up some interesting items for the house before making our way past the outdoor ice rink for what ended up being a relaxed, and very casual feeling lunch. Rijks has a Michelin star and the lunch menu changes each week so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The kitchen is open plan and the walls at the entrance are lined with jars of preserved fruits, pickles and other items. Lunch was 6 courses of interesting, unfussy and fresh food, despite my normal aversion to funghi I also tried the avocado wedge covered in fermented mushroom and was pleasantly surprised by my enjoyment of the earthy powder covering the soft, creamy fruit.
We finished up the day with a few drinks in Cafe Kateon which had visited on the Friday evening, the small bar had a handful of gins, craft beer and an incredible mural on the wall that I couldn’t help but sit staring at.
Our time was limited and with 2 gastronomic bookings being the focus of our stay there is much we did not get to visit. We were impressed with the culture and taken aback by the lack of stag parties but this could just have been fortunate timing on our part. Whilst it was easy to see where Amsterdam gets some of its reputation from, it was satisfying to get a small glimpse into what else the city has to offer. With plans to visit as part of a larger group later this year it was a good introduction for us and a means for us to do some of the things that are better suited to just the two of us.