By Nick Nugent
The Duchess ***
Spuistraat 172, 1012 VT, Amsterdam
Tel: +31 20 811 3322
Open daily from 11:00am
I guess this might be one you have all been waiting for? The Duchess in some respects is the more spectacular sister restaurant of Mr Porter in W hotel. Again another one from the stable of the Entourage Group. I have had this on my radar for about 4 months and with the visit of my sister I had the perfect excuse to arrange to go to this one.
A bit about the building as this is what really makes it for me. It is the old KAS bank building on Spui. The outside of the building is quite ok compared to the ugly telephone exchange building which the W hotel resides. Is it the interior however which is the most spectacular. If anyone of you had chance to visit the old KAS bank then you will see that they have retained much of the character of the old building. This includes the high vaulted ceiling with the skylight, the old wooden clock, the marble tellers desks and the old vault door which is right behind the kitchen. It is really pleasant place to be.
OK it looks good, but can the food live up to the supermodel good looks. The short answer is no. As with their sister restaurant Mr Porter they have gone for the sharing scheme. In this case it worked better than Mr Porter as the menu is much more varied for mains. The company I was with was more willing to try new things so that helped. The waiter recommended for our group of 4 choosing up to 6 starters and we chose these five in the end:
Foie Gras Doughnut
If you don’t have any issues with the ethics of Foie Gras, then this was quite amazing. It was basically a choux bun filled with what seemed like liquidised Foie Gras. Booooom! Flavour explosion.
I did not taste this but was assured it was very good.
This was tasty and fresh. Good to have something this refreshing to go with the richer starters.
Sea bass carpaccio
Thinly sliced fish with a dressing. Very nicely sliced dressing was good what more can you say?
Thinly sliced Octopus in Lemon Oil
I have never been a fan of octopus. I just don’t think it’s easy to cook well and consequently most chefs get it wrong. This seems to have been cooked for a decent amount of time and so the wafer thin slices tasted very octopus-y but could be got through in a couple of bites. Other members of the group thought it was pretty good.
Crispy Whitebait with Aioli
This classic was done pretty well and most of our table enjoyed the first few handfuls. After a while the batter became a bit chewy understandably.
One general comment was that everything we got was quite salty. Not enough to complain about but on the edge.
I wanted to mention a few things about our fellow diners. I went for an early sitting (18:45) since it was seemingly so full all the time, but my booking coincided with the hottest day of the year and no one wanted to be inside. There was a couple at the bar and couple of gents in the lounge area when we arrived. It was empty. I think it could probably cope with around 120 covers seated with another 20-40 people around the bar and maybe up to 50 in the lounge. After about 1 hour which was just as our starters were finishing the place started to fill up. To my right were two couples in their late 50s very smartly dressed with the guys wearing the typical Dutch preppy style, but this time Miami Viced to the nines. You know the linen jackets and loafers with no socks sort of thing. Their partners were more conservatively dressed apart from the obvious display of bling. We also around this time had an eastern European couple plonked next to us. I cannot really tell you how the guy was dressed as his girlfriend, sat opposite me was dressed in typical high class hooker dress with boobs akimbo. It was extremely distracting and even the 3 ladies I was dining with found it off putting. There were quite a few flashes of nipple let me tell you.
Our surly eastern European couple next to us got offered a special mains of red snapper which we did not get offered. The next time our waiter came passed I complained we did not get offered that and we might actually have quite liked in place of the salt baked Sea Bass. The salt baked Sea bass was already underway and we would have chosen to stick rather than twist anyway, but . I get slightly ahead of myself.
Mains we choose the following:
Salt Baked Sea Bass
There was an excellent performance with this, as the platter showing the salt crust was brought out with who knows what was underneath? Then rather than as most restaurants do pull up a table, break the crust and serve it. It was whipped away and the fillets turned up about 5 mins later with some lemon wedges and the cauliflower side. Considering everything had been pretty salty up to this point it was a bit of surprise the salt baked fish actually needed some seasoning. .
Whole Roasted Spring Chicken
I know spring chicken is not big, this was really tiny however. The bird has been served in 4 seemingly equal pieces. If you got a bit of breast then you where ok, but the thigh pieces were really difficult to remove anything meaningful to eat. It was not as tender as I would expect spring Chicken either. This was served with the roasted potatoes.
Crispy Gnocchi with hot cherry tomatoes
This was probably the best dish of the mains in terms of flavour. The gnocchi were slightly toasted on the outside and nicely soft on the inside and the tomato sauce was well balanced in terms of sweetness and acidity. Served with the mushrooms.
Whole roasted Cauliflower with black olives
Love roast cauliflower, but hate the really strong olive flavour which was imparted by the olives. Other guests who don’t have this aversion enjoyed it much more than I.
Roasted potatoes with Garlic and Sage
Terrible. When will chef’s learn that waxy potatoes are awful for roasting? They were soggy, insipid and unpleasant to eat.
10 types of Mushroom
Relatively well-cooked mushrooms, what more can I say?
Again everything was borderline too salty front for me.
The chocolate explosion turned up as this ¾ sphere of ultra-thin chocolate about the size of a kids football open at the top. The waiter proceeded to pour liquid nitrogen into it. Then with black gloves on he picked it up and smashed it on the plate. I was a little shocked. I have video which I am not sure will be published alongside but you will get the whole picture from that.
The “explosion” was unfortunately the best bit. There were nice bits and pieces but on the whole if you had given me a chocolate fondant I would have been happier. I shared this with one of my guests and My sister has the Cheesecake sandwich they reported was very good.
OK bill please!
It was just as we were about to pay our waiter informed us that he had given us the desserts for free because of not offering the special. It was pretty lost on us by this point.
It is an impressive building and if like us you get some impressive looking people sitting around you then it can be quite entertaining. The starters are pretty good and maybe we should have just had all of them instead of the disappointing mains. I think unless I have a friend who really wants to go I certainly don’t need to go back.