Even when I was a student here way back in 2001, Le Garage was in every Amsterdam guidebook’s restaurant section.
The first thing that strikes you about Le Garage’s menu is the prices. Yes, they proudly display their “Bib Gourmand menu” for €37 for three courses (which is competitive with many of the just-below-Michelin-starred restaurants in Amsterdam) but every main course on the à la carte menu is upwards of €25. The starters average around €15 a pop, and a side of chips is €5. I dread to think what a bottle of wine might cost.
Intrigued by the description of one of the dishes (“a pizza that isn’t a pizza”), I ordered the Pizza Tuna to start: imagine raw tuna carpaccio, sushi condiments (wasabi mayo, pickled ginger, sesame seeds), all atop a sort of giant cracker. I liked it more than I thought I would, although I’m not sure if it counts as French – the menu says it’s a discovery from NYC, and it definitely tasted like a Japanese-American fusion. (Shh, don’t tell the Italians they’re calling it pizza!)
Partly because my starter was so expensive, and partly because there’s only so much raw protein I can take, my next course was a small (90-gram) portion of steak tartare. It was plenty of meat for most people and only cost €13.50 – a veritable bargain at Le Garage! For possibly the first time in my tartare years of experience, the waitress brought me the unadulterated minced steak on a platter, surrounded by five or six little bowls of the usual things you’d expect with steak tartare. She then asked me to pick which ones I wanted, before taking the platter away and mashing all the ingredients together for me and bringing it back to the table. This would seem like a good plan in theory, but in practice it had one major flaw: I think the amount of gherkins, parsley, capers and mustard they added to my little portion of meat was the same as they would’ve added to the 175-gram portion – which meant that all I tasted was mustard and pickle juice, rather than steak. Far better to let people mix their own, according to their personal tastes. Most customers ordering steak tartare don’t do it by accident – it’s a foodie’s dish that shouldn’t be messed with.
We were feeling too full (and slightly too poor) for dessert, so we got the bill and were grateful that we’d only opted for a couple of glasses of wine each and not a whole bottle. The service was friendly (almost American-ly so) but just as slow as any Amsterdam restaurant used to get away with being. And that’s really the point here: Le Garage might have been the height of French culinary sophistication back in 1995 – and people who wanted that had to pay for it. But Amsterdam’s restaurant scene has come such a long way in the last 20 years that this type of food at these prices with this speed of service simply doesn’t cut it anymore. If you’re looking for French restaurants in Amsterdam, there are far better (and better value) to be found. And much as I despise the endless turnover of new hotspots, at least they’re not just riding on former glories…