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Nieuwezijds Kolk 23, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland
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Dining with Humphrey
Northampton, United Kingdom
February 7, 2013
Best of IgoUgo
My most recent visit to Amsterdam was for a meeting with thirty colleagues. We needed a place that could handle a large party, ideally located somewhere we could reach using public transport. The place we chose was Humphrey’s on Nieuwezijds Kolk, ...
My most recent visit to Amsterdam was for a meeting with thirty colleagues. We needed a place that could handle a large party, ideally located somewhere we could reach using public transport. The place we chose was Humphrey’s on Nieuwezijds Kolk, about five minutes walk from both the Central Station and Dam Square.
We found out there were two Humphrey’s in Amsterdam after our secretary booked the wrong one which is on Spuistraat. So double check that you are all going to the right place.
We were staying at a hotel in the north west of the city and took a bus to Central Station and then walked down Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal. Several of us had been before and know Humphreys as ‘the place next door to the Inntel’ so we had no problems to find it. If you want to take the scenic, dope-infused route, go down Damrak and then wind your way through the narrow alleyways until you find it.
My first visit to Humphreys had been about three or four months earlier and we had a table at the front of the restaurant. In fact most of us (the ones who hadn’t gone searching for the toilets) were under the mistaken impression that it was quite a small restaurant. That persisted right up to the end of our meal when a group of about eighty people filed past us from the ‘back room’ and headed out of the restaurant. We had failed to realise that the front of the restaurant is only the tip of the giant ice-berg of space inside the building. This time with so many more people we were at the back of the restaurant with three large tables laid out in a section of the back room in a semi-private arrangement.
When we’d visited before with a group of about eight people we had taken their three course special menu which offers a starter, main (with lots of sides) and desert for €24.95. That menu has eight starters, nine mains and another eight puddings to choose from. I don’t recall what I had on that occasion but I do remember it was pretty good. On this occasion we were keen not to fall foul of the typically slow restaurant service and had agreed to an even more restricted menu in order to keep things simple for the kitchen and to avoid being there for hours waiting to eat. Accordingly we found ourselves with just two choices for each course, with the option for strict vegetarians to have something else (no doubt cheese-based since it was Holland) and our one colleague with strange food allergies just discussed what she could eat directly with the waitress who fixed her a steak.
We arranged ourselves around the three tables. The tables are of distressed-looking wood and the restaurant’s most noticeable feature is the large crystal chandeliers which are at odds with the otherwise very casual, slightly rustic look of the place. This casual theme runs through the presentation of the food with each table receiving a couple of loaves of crusty bread, served on a wooden board and accompanied with herb butter and deep green olive oil in little bottles. Sadly the presentation was attractive rather than practical since they gave us what seemed to be steak knives to cut the bread, leading to a lot of hacking and sawing.
Our choice of starters was fish or meat, as was our choice of mains. A couple of us are fishitarians but I think there were no strict vegetarians in the group so we stuck to this limitation. The starters for the meat eaters was carpaccio (I guess of beef – I didn’t check) with rocket and capers and for the fish-preferers there was a dish described as salmon tart with potato salad and baby leaves. For main courses there was a rather unbalanced deal of either a massive mixed grill of beef, pork and chicken (yeah, go on, eat every beast that walked the earth, why don’t you) or stir-fried black tiger prawns with vegetables in teriyaki sauce.
When the starter arrived I was surprised that it wasn’t a tart at all. I’d expected at least some kind of pastry case but what we got was a small mound of pink mush with a texture like cat food. Blobbed around the fishy stuff were small pools of white sauce with tiny bits of possibly potato which must have been the so-called potato salad. There were a few salad leaves sprinkled on top. It was only after I got back to the hotel later in the evening that the penny dropped about the salmon ‘tart’ and I realised it was probably supposed to be salmon tartar – i.e. minced up bits of smoked salmon with other ingredients all mushed together. I still maintain it had the texture of cheap cat food (the so-called paté type rather than the chunks in gravy or jelly). It was pleasant enough, not too big and fairly tasty but nothing to get too excited about.
The appreciative noises coming from the meat eaters combined with their empty plates led me to conclude that the carpaccio was excellent or they were all very hungry.
Service was very good in terms of timing although I can’t say I sensed any personality from the staff – they just turned up and delivered and cleared the plates and bowls and plonked the drinks on the table. We had quite a large group of staff attending to us and there wasn’t really any continuity about who we saw. I guess people who work in places like this take one look at a big group and think "Don’t plan on spending your tips tonight" and then keep their service to a minimum acceptable standard. There’s not much point trying to schmooze a group of thirty.
Once the starter plates were cleared, the waiters and waitresses did another sweep for drinks orders and the main courses appeared at a suitable interval after. The mixed grills were enormous. I didn’t look too closely but the giant skewers with massive chunks of meat were accompanied by what looked like a pile of rosti potatoes. The prawn dish by contrast was rather unexciting and a bit mean. There were plenty of the prawns but they were sitting on a bed of slimy green stuff consisting of a large amount of pak choi and some spring onions. It was very bland to look at and rather slimy in consistency. There was supposed to be a Japanese style sauce but the dish was lacking any kind of kick.
At Humphrey’s you get a lot of side dishes. We got several bowls per table with mixed salad, chips and apple sauce. I think the apple was meant for the mixed grill eaters as I could see no possible way to combine stir-fried prawns and pak choi with stewed apple. Actually to be fair, they didn’t go with chips or salad either. I would have expected the stir-fry to have come with rice or noodles or some kind of carbohydrate as chips really didn’t make the mark. The quality of my dish was fine but it just didn’t really taste of much at all and if I’d not dipped into the chip bowl, I think I could have gone home hungry.
Puddings were a choice of tiramisu or mixed sorbets. I passed and watched the others enjoying theirs. The tiramisu looked a bit too structured and mass produced although the sorbets looked delicious.
By about half way through the meal the noise level was approaching unbearable. It was mostly our group making the noise as there were few other tables taken in the back room and we are not (honestly) a loud and gobby bunch of people but the acoustics were absolutely horrible.
I can’t tell you what the total bill came to for 30 of us as I didn’t see the bill. I would imagine we got a slightly better deal than the standard €24.95 for the 3 courses since we accepted a much smaller range of dishes, but I cannot be sure. House red and white wine was on each table and we ordered drinks as we went along.
As a venue for a large group dinner, I thought Humphrey’s did a good job of serving us in a timely manner with food that was OK. I suspect the people who had the meat probably did better than those of us who took the fish/seafood options but on the whole, everyone seemed to have had a good time. The noise levels were uncomfortable but I think you could avoid that if you went in a smaller group or just as a couple and I certainly hadn’t felt it was a problem when we were just eight diners during our previous visit.
(Please note that the photos added to this review were taken on my first visit)
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