Yesterday, my best food-friend, Andrea, took me to her favourite lunch spot. Gartine is tucked away down one of the ‘steegs’ that line the horror that is the Kalverstraat on a Saturday lunchtime. When it comes to shopping, Andrea is an expert; I, however, am a perpetual novice. Easily frustrated and ready to go home after half an hour of not finding what I’m looking for, mid-shopping lunch needs to be calm and recuperative. Despite its frenetic, cramped location, Gartine is just that: gentle, easy on the hungover, retail-frazzled brain. Think French baroque meets English tea room circa 1930. Actually, scrub the bit about baroque, I haven’t got a clue what that looks like; but in my mind, it looks like Gartine.
An ornate metal chandelier hangs majestically above the narrow room, made marginally bigger by the addition of a tiny mezzanine level at one end. Down below, the tables are set with pretty blue and white china and teapots – in preparation for afternoon tea, I presume. The presentation is quintessentially English in the sense that Sunday roasts and The Antiques Road Show are English: no one younger than your parents actually does them and yet they’re the kind of things you miss when you live abroad. A sense of propriety and good manners prevails, which compels you to consider lowering your voice when recounting your alcoholic excesses of the night before. It’s like going to Granny’s house for tea but without the obligation to ask after her recent success at bingo.
The lunch menu is fairly French, offering various bread-based dishes such as croque monsieur, French saucisson and cheeses, with the odd Dutch ingredient thrown in for good measure. Ossenworst featured, I seem to remember, a sausage underrated by foreigners in my opinion. In no condition to make any kind of decision, I took Andrea’s lead and uncharacteristically ordered the same as her: the croque monsieur. It was made with a satisfyingly dense bread and mature cheese that somewhat overpowered the taste of the ham, and came with a beautifully dressed green salad that tasted of tarragon. In a good way. Also on the plate was a small serving of what would once have been called a ketchup, before it became synonymous with the red paste produced by Heinz.