It’s 10th January 2017 – an otherwise insignificant date were it not for the fact that it marks 10 days since I last ate any meat or fish. Yes, I may have caught myself fantasizing about the texture of the pink middle of a burger… and the colour of a smoke ring on a perfectly BBQ-ed rack of ribs… but other than that I reckon I’ve been doing pretty well with this Vegetarian January malarkey.
At the start of all this, I wrote about my reasons for doing it; and at the end I expect I’ll write another post about what I’ve learned along the way. But for now, I have a list of at least six vegetarian restaurants to get to, eat at and review within the next three weeks. So here goes vege venue #1: Meatless District!
First impressions: I was pleasantly surprised by the interior. While the very limited number of other vegetarian restaurants in Amsterdam that I’ve been to have all had a slightly chaotic, bohemian, even spiritual vibe to them,
Meatless District is clean, modern, and evidently catering to Amsterdam’s hipsters, not its hippies. It even serves up a decent Gin & Tonic.
But a hipster interior will only take you so far. What of the food? I started with the “Flower”, which was a little heavier and less delicate than the name might suggest. Battered, deep-fried cauliflower came served with what the Americans would probably describe as a three-layer dip: cauliflower cream, pea purée and a harissa-spiced tomato sauce were layered up and scattered with black sesame seeds. It wasn’t a small dish to begin with, and it was made heavier by the addition of naan bread. Unnecessary, in my view, but then again my hunger levels have rocketed since I stopped eating meat, so I expect many vegetarians would be glad of the extra carbs.
My friend had a take on fresh spring rolls: instead of the usual Vietnamese-style ingredients, they were stuffed with wintry ingredients like red cabbage, dates and warm spices. Again, sauces abounded: there were purées of avocado and carrot, almond cream, and odd little circular toasts whose purpose wasn’t entirely clear. It wasn’t that anything tasted bad in and of itself – it just tasted confused on a plate together.
The mains got even bigger: my “Bellito” comprised two puff pastry parcels stuffed with kale and something that was supposed to resemble minced meat (I assume) but instead tasted like some type of fungus. Still, it’s not the restaurant’s fault that I hate mushrooms. Meanwhile, the sauces continued in the same vein as before: in lake-like abundance. The bottom layer was baba ganoush, although in this case the aubergine skin had been burnt for rather longer that would’ve been desirable, leaving an unfortunate tobacco flavour behind. On top, a creamy, mildly lemony sauce was distractingly hard to put my finger on. And at the side of the plate, the almond cream made a reappearance. The remaining shades of red and orange sauces rather blurred into one for me.
Meanwhile, my friend’s coconut curry did what it said on the tin – and not a lot more. Coconut cream was the dominant flavour, to the exclusion of all else. Where were the kaffir lime leaves, the spices, the fresh lime juice? (And I don’t just mean the wedge perched on top!) Even the vegetables were undercooked – we’re not just talking about bite but that raw, grassy flavour – which is fairly inexcusable in a simple vegetable curry.
I failed to take a photo of dessert, which is probably just as well given the sad proportions of the orange cheesecake. Think 70% base to 30% topping. Something tells me the lack of dairy products may have been the problem here. Which might be ok if you’ve been vegan for so long you can’t remember what cheesecake with actual cream cheese and butter and eggs tastes like – but it wasn’t ok for me.
Meatless District’s main issue seems to be the same one that crops up on MasterChef in every episode: by putting too many things on the plate, they’re pretty much cancelling out the flavours of each individual element. They’d do better to ditch half the sauces, and really ramp up the flavour of what’s left. In short, the problem with Meatless District isn’t the lack of meat; it’s the over-compensation of everything else.