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Beulingstraat 7, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland 1017
+3120 626 1912
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This is Planet Earth
Northampton, United Kingdom
August 15, 2011
Best of IgoUgo
Holland is a land where bread and cheese, most likely eaten with a knife and fork, represents both breakfast and lunch it can be difficult to get excited about food. The service is traditionally rude and arrogant too – so unlike France or Italy, I ...
Holland is a land where bread and cheese, most likely eaten with a knife and fork, represents both breakfast and lunch it can be difficult to get excited about food. The service is traditionally rude and arrogant too – so unlike France or Italy, I seldom think when faced with a business trip to the Netherlands "Hoorah, I’m going to be sure of getting some really great food". My previous trip to Amsterdam had resulted in an evening in a horrible Indonesian restaurant where three of us sat wondering how we’d ever agreed to go and eat a cuisine that none of us actually like. Since on that occasion we’d been abandoned by the boss who’d booked the restaurant, I think she’d got the message that she needed to do better this time and booked a restaurant called Pianeta Terra which I’m willing to bet my bread and cheese means Planet Earth.
The restaurant is on a side street that links Herrengracht, the innermost of the city’s three concentric canals and Singel, the canal which forms one of the extensions of the Amstel river where it splits in the city centre. The street is called Beulingstraat and it’s very short. We drove into the city from the company HQ and I was surprised that we had no problems at all to find canal-side parking places. I was less surprised when my colleague Laura told me that the cheaper evening parking rate was still €5 per hour. If you want to arrive by public transport, the nearest tram stops are at Koningsplein or Munt.
Pianete Terra occupies a traditional tall brick building typical of the centre of Amsterdam. We entered down some stairs to find the bar and a small reception area and were then taken up a staircase to the front of the building to our table by the window. When we arrived only one other table was taken and throughout the evening, only two more tables were used. I did wonder if this was a sign that the food would be poor but apparently Amsterdan dwellers are cutting back on eating out, especially on Tuesday evenings.
Our table was next to the window and blessed with lots of natural light. On the windowsill were alternating glass bottles with alliums and something that looked a bit like cow parsley but might well have been a hydrangea variant. Between the bottled deep blue glass nightlight holders had been placed but on this occasion, we ate before it got dark and they weren’t needed. On the table the linen napkins had been rolled up and placed at 45 degrees with the cutlery aligned with the napkins on either side. Most of us sat down and immediately turned them back to be perpendicular to the edge of the table. So it looked intriguing but seemed to make us all a bit uncomfortable.
The waiter was a tall good looking Dutch guy with a weirdly South African accent who was fluent in far too many languages. When my colleague Joep was hamming up his Italian pronunciation, the waiter started speaking to him in fluent Italian which soon shut him up although I think he was genuinely just being friendly rather than trying to put him in his place (and believe me, that wouldn’t be unusual in some Dutch restaurants). He brought us a basket with two types of bread – a ciabatta with salt crystals on the crust and a darker bread. These were served with olive oil and sea salt. We ordered drinks and he brought water, both bottled and a jug of tap water, whilst we chose our food.
The menu offers three, four or five courses with prices from €37.50 for three to €49.50 for five with a tantalisingly named ‘Surprise menu’ for 5 euros more. Since the menu contained only five courses – antipasti, primi, secondi, dolci and formaggi – I did wonder what the surprise might have been. About half the group went for just 2 courses and of the three of us who went for three, one person had antipasti, primi and then skipped straight to pudding which they obligingly brought her whilst the rest of us ate our secondi so that she could leave earlier and relieve her baby sitter.
Each of the first three courses came with three choices – of which one was always fish and another vegetarian so I had plenty to choose from. In addition to these there were two daily specials, from memory one for the antipasti and one for the primi. The menu changes frequently but on the day we went the antipasti (i.e. ‘pre-pasta) options were a veal carpaccio, marlin tartar and a burrata cheese. The Primi (small pasta/risotto) options were an artichoke tortelli, gnocchi with mussels and a truffle risotto. The special was a lobster tagliatelle. Mains were duck, red bass or eggplant. Two desserts were offered – a lemon tiramisu and a chocolate soufflé and finally three cheses were available.
We placed our orders and the waiter brought us a small amuse bouche which I rejected because it was meat. He returned within a very short time with a vegetarian alternative – a delicate half tomato topped with tiny little black olives. By this time we’d polished off two baskets of their delicious bread and were wondering if we might have ordered too much food. Fortunately the food was served very slowly which was perfect for us as a group but if I’d been there alone or with just one other person I would have been tapping my fingers on the table about the time it took.
It soon became apparent that the slow service was due to everything being prepared from scratch with care taken to present it beautifully. My first course was the marlin tartar served with green tomatoes and anchovy sauce. The presentation was very clever with the chunks of raw fish presented between slices of tomato with the sauce drizzled over. It was a small dish – certainly not more than a few mouthfuls even with me cutting everything into small pieces to make it last as long as possible. Another colleague had ordered the burrata cheese which seemed to be an enormous portion and came served with a weird stripe of red ‘stuff’ on top which the waiter explained was a gel of fiaschetto tomatoes. This was served with herb caviar – beads of green goop about the size of salmon caviar but tasting of precisely nothing at all.
For Primi I ordered the truffle risotto even though I’d really wanted the lobster tagliatelle but had thought three fish courses might be just too much. The risotto was extraordinarily disappointing, especially considering the excellence of everything else that I ate. It was served with grated summer truffle, butter, parmesan and sage but was bland in the extreme. I eyed the lobster tagliatelle on the plate of the diner next to me and wished I’d stuck to my instincts. During the antipasti and primi any of the group who hadn’t ordered a dish were presented with a tiny little portion of something to stop them feeling left out.
My main was red bass fillet with courgettes and pachino tomatoes and my only complaint would be that it was too big a piece of fish. I struggled to get through two thirds of it despite it being delicious and clearly very fresh (check for the fine blood vessels on the fish – they never show up well if the fish has been frozen) my piece was just too big and I couldn’t finish it. I think also that the very slow service meant my stomach had got bored and shut down before we got to the main course. The vegetables were perfect and I finished them without any trouble.
One colleague had the chocolate soufflé whilst we ate our main dishes and pronounced it to be perfect and then left. By the time we’d finished three courses and a couple of bottles of wine, the urge for puddings or cheese had gone along with two and a half very pleasant hours of our evening.
For the quality of food served (excluding the unpleasant risotto) I was really impressed and felt that the charge of just over £30 per head was very reasonable indeed. All of the bread and pasta is prepared fresh each day and all the ingredients which can be are organic and where possible sustainable. I am amazed that such a great restaurant with such delicious food was almost empty on a July evening.