Less travelling means, on the whole, less food news. A recent two weeks in The Hague and Amsterdam really only produced one surprise, and one shock.
In the Hague, the good news was the Marc Smeets Restaurant, otherwise disguised as part of the Hotel Corona, which is one of the startlingly good chain now known throughout Europe as the Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe.
As the title suggests, they are well-trained pioneers who are trying to break the Michelin-grip of standard fine dining recommendations. In The Hague they did excellent dinners and fine sunny lunches (sitting outside close to the Parliament building) and were able to give good advice on food, suitable wines, weather forecasts and train times to Maastricht!
The major wine surprise was to be offered of all things a Dutch white wine, from a small producer near Maastricht — a Pinot Gris from Apostelhoeve, Louwberg. After trying it, we recommended it so enthusiastically to everyone else that before I had left The Hague their supplies had been exhausted.
Their food is “classic French with a tendency towards fusion” — and cutlery, crockery, olive oil, ‘character’ breads and sea-salt elegantly presented to match. The dinner menu with their selection of unexpected wine choices is a delight and not outrageously expensive either.
Marc Smeets Restaurant (Hotel Corona)
tel: (070) 363 79 30
In addition to consulting the free guides to all the establishments collected together as Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe, I would also recommend a fine series of small eating guides which cover Holland published (in English) as the IENS Independent Index (www.iens.nl) which really are independent and outspoken with it (“It is a matter of opinion whether the fish is always as fresh as it should be” — this when you are only metres from the sea; and “You’ll leave with a sore bottom from the hard edges on the wooden chairs”).
The disappointment was a visit to a small restaurant also in The Hague and much recommended by IENS, which turned out to be basically one small room with an open kitchen at the side. Very cosy and the food smelt good, excellent wine list — until four of the five tables suddenly lit up with cigars! Clearly there is no law against this in Holland, even when the kitchen is open to the smoke. But it did ruin what might have been a good meal if we had been able to taste it, and made me wonder when other countries will follow the lead of New York and Italy and put legislation in place to stop this anti-culinary menace.
(Incidentally, both these restaurants had background music; if only the Pipe Down campaign had continental influence)
Compensation for this disappointment was the freshest possible fish lunch at a hotel restaurant in Italy the following week: the Hotel Miramare in Castiglione della Pescaia, just north of Grosseto. The name sounded good and it turned out to be exactly overlooking the beach, with a fine old style covered terrace (smokers outside only) and the local calamari, sea bass and shell food all brought in via the small harbour that is within sight of the dining tables.
via Veneto 35
Castiglione della Pescaia
tel: 0564 933524
Other than a fine brasserie dinner at The Wolsey in Piccadilly (too well written-up to need repeating here) that was it this month. Now off to try and make what the Sunday Times last week announced as “Cheat’s Pimms” — they gave a recipe with all the ingredients and claimed it tasted just like the real thing, only much cheaper; watch this space.