You know you’ll always be an Amsterdammer when you’re sitting on the train back from Schiphol and you start to see the familiar sights of the Westerpark, the Haarlemmerplein, the Singel, and your soul rises a little higher in your chest and starts to sing. I love to travel, but I also love to come home.
The restaurant I went to last Tuesday evening could not have been anywhere else in the world. Small, cosy and gezellig, overlooking a canal which is in turn overlooked by dozens of un-curtained windows, my bike parked expectantly outside. Proeverij 274 takes its number from its Prinsengracht location, and is Dutchness incarnate. The amuse was a bitterbal filled with (somewhat dry) smoked mackerel, while the starter involved a brioche ‘wentelteefje’, which I have no idea how to translate. Slightly sweet and reminiscent of bread and butter pudding, it was the supporting actress to the star of the show: smoked scallops. In themselves both tasted good, but the addition of ‘almond risotto’ (a too-sweet, soggy cake of crushed almonds that didn’t contain any rice) and penny-sized blobs of pesto sauce didn’t do the dish any favours.
The main course on the chef’s menu featured a lot of ingredients that I love – pork, parsnip, lemon, aubergine, broccoli – but failed to deliver as a combination of flavours. The shoulder of pork was succulent, with a comforting layer of piggy fat, but nothing it was served with quite made sense. While the lemon should have cut through the richness, it had been mixed with parsnip purée to form the kind of doughy, mousse-y mixture you’d expect to top a cheesecake. The appelstroop crisp was equally sweet and not at all crispy. And the aniseed and coffee sauce also fell into the trap of being too rich and too sweet. I had no problem with the roasted aubergine or the steamed broccoli, but that’s probably because they didn’t feature any added sugar. The whole dish lacked something acidic to elevate the flavours.
Dessert was the kind of heavy, traditional pudding you can imagine someone’s grandmother making in 1952. The cake element had a toffee taste, and hid a layer of jammy plums underneath. The sauce it came with looked like butterscotch but turned out to be a slightly sour, thinner alternative. I couldn’t make up my mind about either.
Elements of the food were very good quality, but the whole was significantly less than the sum of the parts. The service was impeccable (assuming you’re in the mood to linger over dinner), and the wine pairings well considered and from very good bottles. Dinner came to around €60 including a tip.
It may not have been the best meal I’ve had in Amsterdam, but the location, the atmosphere and the company of a good friend all came together to represent one thing: home.