Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197,1012 EX Amsterdam, Netherlands
+31 20 555 3560 www.bridgesrestaurant.nl
Menu du Chef 5 courses €105; 6 courses €115; 7 courses €125
A la carte
Starters €30 - €45 | Mains €34 - €110
Desserts €17 - €22
Cooking - Amuse Bouche 8/10; Rest 4/10 - Average 6/10
Flavour - Amuse Bouche 5/5; Rest 3/5 - Average 4/5
Many of you, I'm sure, will have sampled the delights of the great city of Amsterdam, just a hop, skip and jump away. If you haven't, try to remedy that soon: if, like me, you've allowed quarter of a century to pass since your last visit, go and remind yourself how truly lovely it is.
But I counsel you to get your hands on a good map to guide you through the spider's web of streets which encircle the old city centre. It will take you a little while to get your head round the fact that those running alongside canals have the same names on both sides. When you stop to consult said map remember not to do so in the middle of a cycle path. You will find bikes coming at you from every which direction. The saving grace is that, unlike Edinburgh bikers, they're not all homicidal maniacs. Wonderful to relate, they even stop for you at pedestrian crossings, if only I could work out which these are.
And one final orienteering tip. Do not make the foolish schoolboy error of confusing the Oudezijds Voorburgwal with the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, which I did when seeking tonight's dinner. Sometimes I appal myself. Bridges (wonder how they thought up the name?) is in a building with a history. It forms part of the ground floor of the hotel Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam. I don't think I realised this when I booked. Dating from the fifteenth century, it was once a monastery. After the Reformation it had a variety of civic uses. Until 1988 it served as the City Hall of Amsterdam, the current dining room being the canteen.
Go online to make your reservation and all manner of bewildering choices await, 5 or 6 or 7 courses. At the chef's table; underneath the chef's table. (I may have made that last bit up.) Fortunately you can go a la carte in the dining room. More of that later.
We are looked after all evening by the debonair Richard, smooth and smiling throughout. Briefly and unpretentiously he talks us through the options. The dishes on the a la carte are almost identical to those on the chef's menu. The 7 course option would have been €125. The 5 course option, minus caviar and cod, would have been €105; however, on the a la carte, these two dishes respectively were €45 and €44. I'm confused. A la carte portions are larger, said Richard. My glamorous companion wasn't in tasting menu mode (and who can blame her?), so a la carte it was.
As always with such places, your gob has to be suitably amused before the main event. It wouldn't be the first time that the amuse-bouche has turned out to be the best bit of the evening. If I'm being picky - and these sorts of prices bring that out in me - the bread (a whole small loaf) was maybe just out of the oven, as opposed to having been allowed to cool than warmed up. It came with about half a pound of miso butter. With a cheffy twist, the prawn crackers were two tone, and wonderful. A bowl of a Thai style broth was a masterpiece. I don't know where it got its creaminess from - no obvious coconut flavour - but it combined classic Thai flavours with a smoothness and an indefinable subtlety. Anything made with basil is usually cooking in primary colours. It's not a herb which misses you. Yet the dip to accompany the bread was a gently toned down but rarified concoction. I have no idea how they did this.
Never mind purring, after such a start we were rubbing our hands in expectation of one of THE GREAT DINNERS. Alas and alack. Remember my comments above about amuse-bouches? Oh my prophetic soul. In the modern way, dishes are listed simply as a mix of ingredients. L's starter was trout | pumpkin | dill | buttermilk | mustard. Well the sauce of buttermilk and dill was lovely, but it couldn't entirely mask the ordinariness of the trout and the dullness of the pumpkin. My choice, langoustine | duck liver | celeriac | Granny Smith | dashi, sounded more promising, though for the one and only time that evening, Richard let me down. Icelandic, he said, when I enquired about the provenance of the langustine. On the left of the plate, a small mound of (very tasty) mush, covered with the tiniest round scales of apple. Principally prawn, I think, with maybe a little celeriac. I have no idea where the duck liver disappeared to. On the right hand side, two langoustines, lightly blow torched. As he poured over the warm dashi, Richard could probably see by my face that not all was well. After their arduous trip from Iceland the poor little blighters had been criminally overcooked, leaving a hint of their once stunning flavour, and the texture of damp blotting paper. Such a nice idea: such an incompetent execution.
I didn't actively complain, but when Richard asked my opinion I was honest. He took it off the bill which was hardly fair as I'd scoffed it. We made it up to him later with an outrageous tip. I'd like to say that things improved, but I'm not sure that they did. A combination of cod, mussels, leek and potato is a classic. The accompaniment had to be changed for the lady with the allergy. A silky cream sauce would have raised this dish no end. Somewhat bizarrely the kitchen sent out what we would both have sworn to be a jug of Bovril. That at least had some flavour.
The main components of my main were veal, sweetbreads and cauliflower. A substantial chunk of fillet, nicely cooked, was on a bed of crunchy garlicky cauliflower. It wasn't that warm, which didn't concern me, as it was well rested. That's fine, but so were the sweetbreads. These should be served piping hot and crispy, straight out of the pan. Allowed to "rest", ie get cold, they become soggy. The gravy with this had at least seen some real beef stock.
Is that the thing about dining rooms in grand hotels? Hire a big name (Raoul Meuwese) to have above the door to bring the punters in. Never mind quality control; and shave a few quid off the overheads by buying less than the best. Well, Chief Accountant of Sofitel, when you're charging these sorts of prices, that's just not good enough. Perhaps I might have felt less short changed had I gone in full greedy pig mode and eaten 7 dishes. The reason we walked out into a chilly Amsterdam night feeling cheerful was entirely down to the exemplary service. I wish I could award more than 5/5 but the editor won't let me.
Bridges? Pah! But we'll always have Amsterdam and we'll always have Richard.
His name wasn’t Richard
Yes it was, pronounced Ree-shar.