So here’s the weird thing. Vegetarian January, as you know, was not easy for me. Which meant that February quickly descended into a month-long meat binge. But then, in the last few weeks, something changed – at least for now. I stopped craving meat. Not only did I stop craving it, I found myself actively avoiding it. Ordering fish or the veggie option instead. “I can’t believe I’m losing you to the dark side!” cried the Honey Badger in anticipated dinner despair. Yup, something is definitely different about me.
It’s not often you’ll find me in a yoga studio, but when that yoga studio happens to have a huge sunny terrace just inside the Westerpark, that makes all the difference. We popped in for brunch (without the yoga bit) on that one warm Sunday in April, and sat outside sipping our fresh-pressed juices and eating our veggie victuals. The avocado on sourdough toast with hummus, spinach and ricotta not only looked a picture – it tasted fresh and vibrant too. The huevos rancheros came with black beans in spicy tomato sauce, avocado, and (bizarrely) ricotta and parmesan. The eggs were served with a whole-wheat tortilla that could’ve used warming up a little more, and everything was slightly under-seasoned. The flavours were there – everything just needed a little more zing.
De Culinaire Werkplaats
“Rethinking the dinner plate of the future” is how co-owners Marjolein and Eric describe their mission at De Culinaire Werkplaats. And for them, that future dinner plate doesn’t feature a lot of meat or fish. So every couple of months, they come up with a theme around which to base a plant-centric dinner for their guests (of whom, interestingly, they told me 95% are non-Dutch).
Right now (until 28th May 2017), the theme is “Dutch Flower Power”, which makes sense given the spring season and fact that the Dutch are known for their flower industry – tulips in particular, of course. So we kicked off with a floral cocktail of prosecco, forget-me-not liqueur, berry purée and an edible violet. I never liked Parma Violets as a kid growing up in England, but this drink was like a natural version of them – how they should’ve tasted back in the 80s.
The menu offers five fixed courses, the first of which was curiously sweet: it could’ve been a bath bomb with soap suds, but in fact was fragrant with rose water, pomegranates and lavender. If I’m honest, I found it more interesting than pleasurable. But that’s ok.
Next up was a “flower arrangement”, re-imagined using vegetables. The base was made from a cauliflower and bean purée, while the “flowers” comprised parsnip, fennel and white asparagus. I found the parsnip to be slightly undercooked (and therefore bitter) but the other veggies were positively flavoursome.
The “spring garden” was inspired by the famous Keukenhof flower gardens, and was a little bowl filled with a moreish celeriac bitterbal, bulbous spring onions, a small roasted tomato, and some rather dry purple potatoes. The jus, which I assume was also made from onion, set it all off with a solid, savoury note.
Inspired by the legendary black tulip, the “Queen of the Night” was our final savoury dish: a strangely luxurious risotto made of black rice, beetroot, dark tomatoes and peppers, and – I think – kidney beans. The rich flavours were enhanced by a garlicky, herbal, vegan yoghurt, plus some black carrot crisps to add texture.
Dessert came under its very own “greenhouse”, and comprised a silky cylinder of spiced pumpkin, topped with dark chocolate and served with a creamy vanilla sauce. I forget what was in the pipette on the side, but we were encouraged to inject the honeyed liquid into our pumpkin purée.
By the end of the meal, I was satisfied but not particularly full – which is probably a good thing, but I’m a glutton at dinnertime. We paid €70 each, which covered the five courses (at €45 for the menu), the cocktail and a bottle of average wine split between the two of us. Although the service is friendly and informative, you’re asked to take your own plates up to the sink area. It takes a little getting used to, but the system actually allows you to set your own dining pace, which is quite nice really. When it comes to bang for your buck, I’m not sure if you get more concept than you do food – but I appreciated the care and thought that went into everything Marjolein and Eric put onto the plate. The plate of the future, that is.
For my complete list of recommended veggie restaurants, read my Vegetarian Amsterdam Guide!