October 2019, Amsterdam
Celebrating a very special beau's milestone birthday, we were whisked away to the Amsterdam outpost of this much-loved Italian eatery from the fashionable boutique-chain. This modern reincarnation of the classic Italian osteria is making its mark on the Amsterdam dining scene with a new outpost housed in the sublime 1930s Bungehuis Building, anchored on the iconic Singel Canal. As you're ushered to your table, be ready to be assaulted by a feast for the eyes: lush greenery hanging from open frame ceilings, coral pinks and aquamarine velvets accenting the art deco inspired backdrop.
Though only minutes by cab from the hedonistic hubbub of Amsterdam's main plaza, you are transported a million miles away to a golden era of Italian dining. Cecconi's seems to find the perfect balance between encouraging the casual and elevating this to a theatrical dining experience. Emphasis is on relaxation, matching the comforting nature of the pasta and pizza heavy menu - yet luxe furnishings and marbled surfaces foster an incredibly dreamy atmosphere. Cinema is referenced in every corner: plush nooks just beg of you to imagine gangsters and starlettes flirting over coupés of Champagne.
For starters, a round of cocktails hit a spot that the food would unfortunately miss. As a house special, the Dolce Vita was superb - the zing and sharpness of Don Julio tequila and Casamigos Mezcal tempered with the soft fruit from apricot brandy. My friends went for the usual suspects offered from a Soho House menu - the Picante de la Casa, a spicy twist on a margarita, and a trusty tonic in instigating the giggles.
Dining fare - as you may have guessed, was disappointing. Tonarelli Cacio e Pepe, perhaps indulgent and rich at first bite, felt heavy and uninspiring only a few mouthfuls in. Equally, the seared Salmon with broccolini and Castelvetrano olives were beautifully presented on the plate and promising, with a tricolore of tempting colours - but failed to deliver to the same standard as the cocktails, interior and - alas, hype. The salmon lacked depth of flavour and was slightly dry, while paired sides offered some tastier relief. On a high - the beef carpaccio with Venetian Dressing salad was a welcome, simple addition, with refreshingly clean and light flavours.
When discussing this meal with friends, we were also sad to note that we were disappointed by the tired, overworked staff. So many less than blockbuster dinners can be saved with conscientious efforts from talented waiters, yet the tired team here only highlighted how tired the food was. Yet - if you're seeking lush, cinematic interiors projected from a Bertolucci film, and a convivial atmosphere to match, you could do worse than dine at Cecconi's.