The Netherlands is not exactly renown for its culinary prowess. This prospect filled me with dread. I am also not exactly renowned for being capable of consuming mediocre food with much enthusiasm. This didn’t bode well for my imminent trip to Amsterdam. I did as much research as possible, with only two days in the fabulous city, there was no time (or weight) to be lost. I asked around my chef friends for recommendations and they came back with zero. Now I was really worried. However, my friend recommended De Kas. Half greenhouse, half restaurant, it sounded right up my alley. Only it wasn’t in an alley, it was in the midst of a pretty park, sitting quietly under a sky made glorious by the abundant sunshine.
As we stepped out of the biting October wind and into the calm interior of De Kas, we were greeted by staff that made you feel safe, we were in good hands. I just knew it. Everything had been considered. There was a quiet confidence, a certainty about the place which made it all seem rather effortless. The space itself was impressive and not just for its vastness. It would be easy for a glass and steel structure with a high ceiling to emit a chilly air, but the inclusion of large fruit trees and soft furnishings made it comfortable and then some. For me, I have no issue paying for quality food and I am heartened by restaurants which display generosity. After we were seated by the helpful staff, it took only a heartbeat for them to return to the table, laden with offerings. They didn’t have to bring three small bread buns for one person and they didn’t have to bring olives and marinated zucchini and they didn’t have to bring luscious basil oil to accompany the bread and they didn’t have to top up said supplies of olives and oil when my dinner companion had inhaled them all. They didn’t have to do any of this but they did. And this simple fact made me smile. They also didn’t have to top up our wines when we had drunk our matching wines before the accompanying food had appeared but they had clearly spotted a mile off that we were unapologetic lushes. For all of this we were grateful.
De Kas is all about the produce and the produce definitely stole the show. Amongst the three starters to share, there was a pumpkin soup which tasted so much of itself, it was positively resonating with pumpkin. This was accented by the inclusion of sweet, meaty little shrimp and various vegetal matter. There was a carrot salad which spoke to me, I’m serious, we had a word; it was quite special. The carrot had been roasted and paired with feta, celery and caraway seeds. Each facet of the dish hummed with enthusiasm, glad to be out of the greenhouse and on the plate of an eager diner. Carrot which had been roasted to the pinnacle of its possibilities, it was sweet and rich and sultry…add in some creamy feta and the genius of a few caraway seeds and you have yourselves a winner ladies and gentleman. There was a dressing which tasted like perfect caramel, when I enquired as to its origins, I was told that it was carrot juice which had been reduced to a ridiculous extent and been buddied up with some ginger etc. Gosh darn it, it was good stuff.
We had turbot for our main course, lovely nuggets of the stuff. On the side, there was red cabbage which I think had been roasted, it tasted good enough that it became a topic in its own right. Love a good roasted brassica! If food is making me talk, it is due to two reasons, one – it is so good that it deserves praise, two – it makes me so angry that is deserves denigration. I am not exactly lacking in the verbosity department but still… For me, when a food becomes more than the sum of its parts, you have succeeded as a cook/a chef/a human. You know sometimes you taste a food which tastes more like itself than you could have imagined, it tastes concentrated, exaggerated, potent. There were many points in the meal which echoed this notion.
After scoffing down various gems from the greenhouse and beyond, there was no way I was going to pass dessert by. And so I found myself ordering an apple creme caramel malarkey with a cheeky glass of Pedro Ximenez. Atop its quivering form was an apple crisp that was a delight in itself, I would gladly have eaten a bowl of those for dessert. De Kas illuminates and gives flight to the possibility locked within fantastic produce. If you start with something screaming with freshness, quality and integrity then you are more than half way there. Beauty is born, it is innate, it cannot be faked. All we can hope as chefs and home cooks alike, is that we embellish that beauty. De Kas does this wholeheartedly.