When it’s spring again…
The best restaurants are like an orchestra. When all the sections are working together harmoniously, something transcendent happens. La Rive with its two Michelin stars, in Amsterdam, is just such a place.
Take, for example, the coffee service. In most restaurants this is a chance for the staff to kick back and relax. Not here. The maitre d’ who looked like a conductor in a perfectly-fitting white tie and tails brought our bill and asked, innocently, if we would like another coffee. One nod from us and another waiter instantly appeared with a second tray of coffees, as if carrying a Stradivarius. "I had these ready for you, sir, just in case you wanted them".
The light, wood panelled dining room overlooks the Amstel River, with ducks diving in and out of the water a few feet from our table, the whole scene making a relaxed and elegant frame for a great dining experience.
But service and setting are nothing if the food is poor. The amuse bouche consisted of four different delicacies. Our favourite: the tiny ‘pizza’ served on a crisp, very thin biscuit that had been sautéed in butter, topped with sun-dried tomato, capers and herbs.
To start, Stuart had a cream of Belle de Fontenay potato soup with a guinea fowl oyster, truffle and poultry jus. Superb. Mathew’s palette of pureed vegetables with a beautifully sculpted, tiny goat cheese club sandwich with tomato and quail’s egg was equally sublime.
For the main course, we both chose brill poached on the bone and served with green asparagus, Belon oysters, dried tomato and champagne beurre blanc. The fish was cooked to perfection, flaky and moist, the flavour blending with the sauce.
The restaurant was quiet. Two or three other tables were occupied. We heard appreciative mutterings in French, Spanish, English and Dutch. The entire staff seemed unfazed by the polyglot dining room and switched languages seamlessly as they glided from table to table.
It’s tempting to think that the Dutch speak such fluent English as a special favour to us. They don’t. They’re just really good at languages. Matthew’s father, a Dutchman, spoke five languages to interpreter level. Matthew, thanks to the finest English education, can read Latin inscriptions and, in an emergency, can find a French aunt’s pen.
The flight to Amsterdam Schiphol was an exciting low-level run across the channel and the Dunkirk Beaches and northwards across Belgium and Holland at 1500 feet to keep out of controlled airspace. For light aircraft pilots, flying into a major international airport like Schiphol is a rare challenge. However, the visual approach is a hair-raising lunge across hangers at about 500 feet followed by a semi-aerobatic turn onto the runway at the very last moment. (“A perfect threshold arrival,” said the laconic tower controller as Matthew pulled it off, but he didn’t see me sweating). Just what you need to work up an appetite. It’s just as well that they don’t hit you with the £140+ landing fee until you get back from lunch.
On the flight back to reality, or Denham Aerodrome as it is also known, Stuart told us a story. After a meal at one of his favourite haunts, Dieter the headwaiter trumped his parting jest with a line fit for a monument: “Doctor, you have just had a glimpse of perfection in an imperfect world.” So it was, and is, at La Rive.
Professor Tulpplein 1
Tel: +31 20 622 60 60
Fax: +31 20 622 58 08
Breakfast: Monday to Sunday
Lunch: Weekdays only
Dinner: Monday to Saturday
Meal for two: £100
Michelin Rating: ** (at time of writing)
Amsterdam Schiphol (10m)