October 2019, Amsterdam
Nestled on the Grand Singel Canal, in a grand, historic former bank building also occupied by the elegant W Hotel, resides The Duchess. Visiting Amsterdam for a special occasion - you may want a different taste of this cosmopolitan city from the coffee shops and cafes that line the streets of the main squares - and this Gem is the jewel of the Netherlands dining scene.
Occupying a grand main dining chamber, embellished with wrought-iron, circular lantern chandeliers, this venue is imposing in it's unashamed desire to impress. Upon walking in, the crimson red carpets lain on the main staircase to the dining chamber, and the magnificent selection of artwork, both pre-19th Century and Modern, lend a Viennese elegance to the whole affair.
As our raucous crew of ten settled around the beautiful slab of dark marble that was our table, we had no clue what was awaiting us. Sure, the setting was gothic and glamourous, and the open kitchen a high tech lab run with military-precision, but I've learned never to judge a book by it's cover. Even when the cover looks as fabulous as The Duchess.
At first glance, the menu was impressive, and painstakingly curated: with a noble selection of seafood, rare vegetables, seasonal ingredients and classic meats. The concept revolves around plates, not complete meals, some small enough for a taster, others more hearty, all designed to be shared. With a little sage advice from the well-versed staff, we set off and ordered a selection. I wish I could go back to the moment before the dishes arrived: unprepared for the thrill of what was to come. In they came, in twos and threes, each as dazzling as the last. Platters of show-stopping Fruits de la Mer; delicately coated strands of linguine; succulently roasted poultry and expertly grilled and seasoned wild legumes and funghi. On trying to find any criticism or fault with any of the fare: i'm struggling. I wish I could remember each dish individually - one of the only faults with an array of shared dishes is the fear than one gets lost in the other. But highlights here for starters were: Oysters, Sea Bass Carpaccio, Salade Nicoise, Cacio e Pepe, Royal Beef Tartare and the Black Kale Salad. Mains were also divine: the Dover Sole, Short Rib Pasta, Grilled Asparagus and Lamb Cutlets all superb.
And let's not get started on the cocktails. The mixologists at The Duchess hold reverence to the past: the heydays of the Belle Epoque and a decadent cocktail era, while remaining fearlessly creativity in their hybrid menu. I could drink the Apple and Pear all night long: a soft fruit update on the julep, served in the traditional iced metal glass, while friends enjoyed the Pistachio Sour and Cardamom Sidecar, both infused with aromas to tickle the senses.
It was one of those meals where we had to prize ourselves off the chairs and into a taxi - we didn't want it to end. I'm trying my best to not be sycophantic, but this is easily in my top 10 dining experiences of all time, with every detail so meticulously taken care of that the entire event seemed effortless. Across all marks, The Duchess ensures Amsterdam's prime spot at the top of the European dining scene.