Amsterdam: Balthazar’s Keuken and Late Night Genever

It’s Mother’s Day in UK but for me celebrations began last night with an evening organised by my daughter Nicola. Weeks and weeks ago she booked a table at her favourite restaurant in Amsterdam – Balthazar’s Keuken – because it’s a very popular place she discovered a few years ago when a friend of hers was living here. She knew I’d love it. But first she wanted to take me to her favourite bar – Cafe Saarein.

It was, I think, a first for me going to a gay bar. And an appropriate weekend to do so as gay marriage had become legal in UK from midnight the night before. However, I couldn’t help teasing her that this wasn’t a place to find her Single Gourmet mum a nice Dutch man! It was great inside. Really good atmosphere and we sat drinking draft Dutch Jupiler beer chatting away before heading a little way along the road for our supper.

I knew as soon as I went into Balthazar’s that I’d like it as much as she promised (well, my daughter knows me well!).

We had a 9.00 pm sitting. There’s no menu. The chef cooks what they fancy from what’s available in the market and in season. The only choice is between fish or meat for mains. The waiter tells you what’s coming and takes an order for wine. We started with some prosecco – Nicola a cocktail version. Then our starter came – a platter of gorgeous things: deep fried artichoke, a mushroom hummus on rye bread, mini chorizo with caramelised onion, mussels in a marinade, and a delicious aubergine with yogurt dressing. The sourdough bread that came with it was wonderful – as were all the little starters. A fabulous beginning to our meal.

We both chose fish for mains: sea bass with white asparagus, lentils and Parmesan. It was excellent.

We’d chosen some Italian White wine to go with it – the house wine – and that was very good. Dessert was some toasted brioche with sweet cream and stewed plums. It was incredibly simple but very good.

I wanted coffee to finish. My espresso came with huge chunks of chocolate. Unfortunately it was milk chocolate which I don’t like as I find it too sweet, but the coffee was good. Coffee in Holland is invariably good.

Balthazar’s Keuken is a brilliant place. I loved the food, the setup of not choosing food but eating what the chef had wanted to cook that day. The atmosphere was great too: nicely informal and friendly but definitely professionally attentive and efficient. When in Amsterdam don’t miss out on eating at Balthazar’s – and remember to book in advance. They’re open Thurs-Sun only.

It was getting quite late when we left due to our late sitting. We wanted to go back to the bar we’d drank up the night before though. Surprisingly for a Saturday night and because it had been so busy the previous evening, it was empty. Was it closed? No were told by a voice from behind. The barman – a different one – was coming back in from the street and said they had been busy but everyone had left a little while ago. It tended to happen on sunny warm nights. We went in anyway. I ordered Genever again. Again it was full to almost overflowing. There’s no way you can pick it up without sipping first.

It’s part of the fun. We got talking to the barman. Then another guy arrived and soon we were all talking and laughing. Glasses were refilled. It was a great way to end a lovely day. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 1.00am. We had to put the clocks forward an hour too … summer time had begun.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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