When the waiter at Greetje brought us our menus, he asked whether we’d prefer English or Dutch. Since we didn’t mind, he brought both. I opened the English first, and was bemused to read that we could eat ‘kitchen maid’s sorrow soup’ to start, and either a ‘Rolling Bitch’ or something that involved a ‘pigeon’s hangover’ for dessert. It was a bit like being in China, where translations are capable of going so awry it’s easiest to ignore the menus altogether. So I consulted the Dutch version to see if this would help. It didn’t. Apparently the old word for schorseneren (or salsify) is indeed keukenmeidverdriet, while there really is a sweet custardy dish known as ‘duivenkater’. I was intrigued.
Over a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Tourraine in the Loire valley, I ordered the stewing beef terrine, wrapped in smoked beef and served with shallot mayonnaise and a herb salad. It tasted wonderful on its own, but I thought it would taste even better with bread, so I asked for some. The rustic brown and white bread arrived immediately with butter and something that I thought at the time was beef dripping but, with hindsight, could’ve been goose fat with tiny flecks of meat left in it. Either way, I could probably have skipped the next two courses and spent the rest of the evening (if not the rest of my life) grazing on bread dipped in beef/duck/goose/something-gorgeously-salty-and-meaty dripping. My god it was good.
Next I ate roasted quail with fresh duck livers, steamed spinach and a creamy port sauce. I sucked the flesh off the quail bones and nearly melted along with the almost-raw livers that slid over my palate. My girl-date (it being Valentine’s weekend, it was tricky to go out for dinner with any boys) reported similarly excellent fare. Smoked duck breast with onion compote to start, followed by a puff-pastry pie filled with stewed beef, mash and red cabbage suffused with the wintry warmth of fragrant cloves. Totally old-fashioned comfort food. Incidentally, the restaurant is named after the owner’s mother. Greetje was clearly a very good cook.
There were about five options for desserts on the menu, but clearly we had only two choices: the Rolling Bitch or the pigeon’s hangover. We plumped for the latter, and were served a traditional bread pudding (a little like the English bread-and-butter pudding but drier) with a quenelle of whipped cream and a small glass of the pigeon’s hangover, which was like a thicker version of crème anglaise. Pleasant if rather stodgy.
Dinner came to €60 each, including a tip, which I handed over very happily. If I had one complaint, it was that the bread (and what bread!) did not come automatically, so I’m very glad I asked. Having said that, since it was both obviously already prepared and not added to our bill at the end, it may have just been omitted in error.
I’m always moaning about service, so – correspondingly – when it’s good I feel it deserves a special mention. The waiters at Greetje were smiling, attentive, friendly and generous – though not in the least obsequious. A real pleasure to talk to. Something my dad always insisted on when he ran restaurants was that – whatever the time – every table should be laid and re-laid as though ready for more customers; not a glass should be cleared, and definitely not a chair stacked on a table, until the last person had left. By midnight, we realised we were the last people in Greetje, though I noticed that every other table was freshly laid and no one hurried us to leave, although I have no doubt they were tired and wanted to go home. It may be one small step for the restaurant business, but it’s one giant leap for service in Amsterdam.