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Bistrot des Alpes: an Amsterdam trip down Alpine memory lane

What are the two things guaranteed to make winter at 52 degrees north more bearable? The Amsterdam Light Festival, and tartiflette. On a Saturday night in the deepest, darkest depths of mid-January, I did both.

The first was on a boat – it had sides and a roof and wine and soup. It was all very civilised. For some reason, it was the first time I’d actively sought out the Amsterdam Light Festival, as opposed to just passing by a few installations along the canals on my bike by accident. It didn’t disappoint – there were twirling, mirrored, illuminated water-carrousels in the middle of the IJ; there were running, jumping, tumble-turning figures performing illuminated gymnastics along the side of the canal; and there were huge Damien Hirst-style faces lit up like diamonds in the sky.

Amsterdam Light Festival
Like diamonds in the sky…

From the steiger at Centraal Station, we trammed it down to Bistrot des Alpes just off the Utrechtsestraat. We weren’t hugely hungry after all the hapjes on the boat, so we welcomed a short wait in the warmth of the gondola car that sits slap-bang in the centre of the restaurant. It brought back memories of my ski season as a chalet girl a long, long time ago…

Bistrot des Alpes Amsterdam
Cosying up in Bistrot des Alpes’ “Egg Lounge”

As, in fact, did the food: think raclette, tartiflette, fondue – all the Alpine favourites after a day of fresh mountain air and the kind of exercise your thighs aren’t used to. Only we had done the sum total of zero exercise that day (save a short walk into town) so we decided to order one charcuterie starter and two cheese-fest main courses between the three of us. Not very Trois Vallées, but probably for the best.

Charcuterie - Bistrot des Alpes
Alpine charcuterie

In the end, I expect we needn’t have ordered the charcuterie either, since plenty of that seemed to come with every main course anyway. But we weren’t complaining: the hams and salamis were as tasty as any you’d get at a French mountain market, although I would’ve loved a few slices of dry cured saucisson as well. The tartiflette was tasty, and reminded me a) that I want to make it more often, and b) that I probably shouldn’t. Rich with cream, cheese and lardons, it’s a pleasure that should be enjoyed in moderation.

Tartiflette - Bistrot des Alpes
Cheese-fest: tartiflette

The raclette was a slight disappointment, with the cheese coming sliced and ready to heat under a gas grill on the table. It was more like a rustic form of the Dutch Christmas-favourite gourmetten than the heat lamp slowly melting the cut side of an entire half-wheel of raclette cheese… And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a look at my cheese-porn video from Morzine a couple of winters ago.

Both dishes came with salad, which was essentially lettuce leaves in a jam jar. I’d have appreciated something a little more substantial – a nice fresh salad is nearly as much of a tonic to cheese as a glass of red wine. But neither of these (mild) complaints detracted from my enjoyment of the meal, which was made even better by the delightful service. It wouldn’t have surprised me if our waitress was Swiss rather than Dutch. She even gave us a little shot of pear liqueur as a digestif.

Dinner came to just over €75 for three of us, including a bottle of Gamay, but bear in mind that we shared a starter and only ordered two mains. Clearly we could have spent more, but we were more than full by the time we’d finished. Next time (and there will certainly be a next time before this winter is out) I’ll order the fondue, with every expectation that I’ll be transported straight back to a Swiss family holiday in 1991…

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Bistrot des Alpes (Swiss)
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