It hasn’t all been nothing but opera in the week since we opened. Far from it.
I’ve returned to a few old noshing haunts and tried a couple of new eateries too.
Hemelse Modder on the Oude Waal, not far from Nieuwmarkt, I’ve been to lots of times in the last ten years. It’s always good value with decent rather than dazzling cooking based around top quality ingredients, which is just my bag. There were five of us and we all ate from the three course €29.95 menu, which seems to be the going rate for a set menu in town. I started with some duck confit; wild duck I’m guessing as the two legs were very small but intensely flavoured. Next most of us, including me, had pigeon served with a chicory gratin and proper potato croquettes. I like chicory but some of the others found it too bitter. Pudding was a small chunk of berry crumble that was nothing much to write home about. I should have had their signature pudding “heavenly mud” (the restaurant’s name) – gobs of dark and white chocolate mousse. But all-in-all a fine meal.
At the first night do there had been no food – which isn’t very clever as we’d been on stage for three-and-a-half hours. So, well after midnight, most of us drifted over to the Blauwbrug pub across the road, had a couple more beers and few portions of bitterballen.
For the unitiated, bitterballen look like spherical, deep-fried, crunchy croquettes, just smaller than a golfball. Whilst lukewarm to the touch, and therefore easy to pick up in your fingers and dunk in the obligatory mustard, the insides are in fact made of molten lava and many’s the time the bitterballen neophyte has burned off the skin on his hard palette by popping one whole into his mouth and starting to chew. In truth the inside is a meaty-potatoey goo found only in Dutch cuisine as far as I know, which manages to be revolting yet strangely seductive. Bitterballen are so hot because the deep-fried breadcrumb crust locks in all the heat from the fat fryer, not as the name might imply because they’re spicy; though when your mouth is combusting it does cross your mind that they may as well scrap the Hadron Collider; what’s going on in your gob must be as close to the Big Bang as anyone on earth could possibly recreate.
The day after the first night, just twelve hours after we’d left the pub, a tired-looking bunch met for a late brunch of pancakes in the imaginatively named Pancakes! on Berenstraat in the canal ring. It’s a tiny place but for €10.50 you can get a so-called American breakfast that includes a good stack of smaller cakes, topped with bacon and doused in maple syrup, with a very large tumbler of freshly-squeezed orange juice and a coffee. Just the ticket after a beery late night. That’s what I chose but I felt guilty for not having a Dutch pancake which is like a thick crepe and best ordered I think with apples, raisins, lots of butter and plenty of stroop (syrup).
Sukabumi got a visit too. It used to be right by the flower market but is now nearer Dam Square, just off Singel. I think it’s cheap-and-cheerful Indonesian food is pretty good but I’m not an expert by any means and I’m willing to have my eyes opened to some top Indonesian cooking so that I have a better understanding of what to expect. I feel like I’m reviewing, say, Indian food on the basis of a few visits to our local curry house.
Caffe 500, so called as it has an old Fiat 500, sliced lengthways, in its window, was somewhere I tried to take Lucy, but my landlord and friend Michiel took me there instead. He had trouble securing a table as it’s very popular. Again it prides itself on its produce, much of which arrives daily from Italy. The mozzarella was outstanding. That came in a plate of good antipasti. There was a large birthday party in, and it’s a small place, so I think we were unlucky but our secondi took nearly three quarters of an hour to arrive. That’s just too long and I wolfed it down hungrily without fully appreciating if it was anything more than fine. It was fagotto – a thin, breaded slice of veal stuffed with two cheeses. We didn’t have any pudding – it was too late – and the bill was rather hefty for what we’d had so I can’t enthusiastically recommend Caffe 500. It was also incredibly noisy and conversation was only possible by cupping ears and yelling. Not good for a singer. Why did it have to have background music? Why does anywhere have to play music, especially if they are busy and people are trying to converse? It makes no sense to me whatsoever. Personally I love quiet restaurants and wish all muzak was totally banned, except possibly oompa music in Bavarian eateries which is just too hilarious to forego.
I’m off to Geneva for a couple of nights to see Lucy. Often dubbed The Most Boring City in Europe I’m not gasping in anticipation, nor have I bothered to do any research beforehand. But it will be nice to hang with the missus for a few hours. She’s in the thick of rehearsals so that’s all we’ll manage. I’ll be back there for a week after I’m done here so I have plenty of time to, um, unlock its hidden treasures. I’m expecting burnt cheese, cake and chocolate to feature in the diet but I don’t know if that’s fair. We will see.