My trust in guidebook restaurant selections was severely dented after my Centra experience, so I went in search of a personal recommendation. I’m sure my fellow delegates at the conference would’ve rather talked about web usability and other dry nonsense, but I had a purpose. So thank you to my Dutch journalist friend who kindly pointed me towards Van Harte.
Situated on one of the streets that radiate out from the old centre across the Grachtengordel, Van Harte is an informal, youthful bar/restaurant with a retro feel. The tables are stylishly simple and well spaced; the interior nods towards a 70s/modernist look.
I arrived to find the place was fully booked. My forlorn expression instilled pity in the young waiter who, after brief consultation, found me a seat on the end of an otherwise occupied table. I was welcome. Here the solo diner was not seen as an embarrassment to be tucked away, but as a culinary adventurer to be applauded and accommodated. That’s how I chose to interpret the staff’s kindness anyway.
The menu was simple: five starters, five mains, and five desserts. The food is best described as contemporary European; heavy French influences are evident, with Filet Mignon and Chanterelle mushrooms available. Veal is very common across Northern Europe and appeared as both a starter and a main course. I chose it as a starter with potato salad, which, the menu kindly informed me, was a typically Dutch dish. My view of typically Dutch dishes is based on what Oma and Opa served up when I was a mere slip of a second generation immigrant: meatballs, mashed potatoes, and deliciously fatty gravy being the staples, with liver and other assorted offal occasionally thrown in when we weren’t looking. It was time I was brought up to date.
After my foolish mixing of grape and grain on the previous night, I decided to stick with beer. Van Harte has a good selection and I opted for Natte, a cloudy dark beer brewed in Amsterdam that I would best describe as sweet and chewy.
The veal and potato salad arrived with an artistic flourish and a smile from my new lifelong waiter friend. The pretentious food critic in me would label it texturally fascinating; his more down-to-earth sidekick would opt for pleasant. The real delight was the main course that followed–pork ribs arched grandly over a sauce of clams and chorizo. I rounded things off with a poached pear and another chapter of my paperback (an important addition for the solo diner if you want to avoid staring at people in a stalker-like fashion). While I lingered over my beer and reading, I never sensed any impatience from the staff; they knew a connoisseur when they saw one-or had they noticed the notepad?
A fine meal in a cool restaurant–this is what dining on expenses should be like.