Go Dutch while you can
‘When the Farage-niks finally work out that no, they won’t be going to Magaluf this summer, I predict riots’
A dish from La Rive: Symphonic buildup of flavour ©LA RIVE RESTAURANT)
It could all have been so different if only they’d phrased the ballot differently. Instead of asking whether or not voters thought the United Kingdom should remain in the EU, they could just have said, “Do you want to go on Graham’s stag night in Reykjavik?” or “How about that mini-break you’ve booked in Barcelona?” The wedding in Tuscany, the girls’ weekend in Marbs, the romantic hop to Bruges, the Christmas market in Vienna, the massive one on ’Beefa? Don’t fancy any of that? OK, vote Leave and shall we see about Eastbourne this year? No-brainer. Because no matter how much we complain about the sadism of Ryanair, no matter that we weigh down our toddlers’ Trunkis with a fortnight’s worth of Accessorize sarongs in order to avoid checking baggage, no matter that the Easyjet gates at Gatwick are basically in Cornwall, we love it. We love being able to hop on a flight for less than dinner at Pizza Express. We love the museums, the sun, the pavement cafés, the sense that we too are sophisticated international nomads. Cheap fares are so ingrained in our national consciousness that we practically see them as a right. When the Farage-niks finally work out that no, they won’t be going to Magaluf this summer, I predict riots.
Why? Well, leaving the EU, through which the regulatory framework for British aviation has been worked out throughout the last three decades (access to the US and Canada was also negotiated through the bloc) will require separation from the seven major EU agencies which presently govern the airline industry. A new set of agreements and legislation will have to be put in place to maintain the third-largest aviation industry in the world, which employs 240,000 people and is worth £22 billion to the UK economy annually. And we haven’t got one. No one knows how the 268 million passengers who passed through UK airports last year (eight times more than the figure for 1970 thanks to the ruling by — er — the European Court of Justice, which liberalised passenger traffic laws in a non-monopoly ruling) will be affected by Brexit. The 54 million people who flew from the UK to EU destinations last year (as opposed to the 26 million who flew from the EU to the UK) — no one has any idea of the impact on them. Except, I suspect, it might no longer be possible to take the family to Corfu for a week for the price of a KFC mega-bucket and a packet of fags.
I was going to do this column about how British food might look after Brexit, but I couldn’t think of a single joke. So instead I’m going to write about somewhere lovely you could try while it’s still feasible. Gastro-tourism was an impossible concept before low-cost travel became the norm; the idea that one might take a flight in order to have dinner was an absurd extravagance. Yet bucket-list destinations like Noma exist in part because people can, actually, fly to another country in order to visit a restaurant. Amsterdam doesn’t feature on so many gourmet wishlists as, say, San Sebastián or Copenhagen, but this small and delightfully civilised city possesses a serious contender in La Rive at the Hotel Amstel. It’s a big old-fashioned restaurant in a grand old-fashioned wedding-cake hotel. Not hip, not edgy, just very, very good.
Head chef Roger Rassin offers a five-course tasting menu, and two further sets at seven courses as well as à la carte in a plushy, spacious dining-room with a long terrace on the Amstel river. The view stands in for any kind of design concept, which in itself is relaxing as it suggests the kitchen have better things to worry about than the colour of the banquettes. All the art here is in the food, a truth apparent from the very first taste, a tomato beignet with the texture of one of those evil toffee apple dumplings you can still get in Chinatown, thick crackly caramel exploding into a clear, iced tomato essence in the mouth — pretty much the definition of an amuse-bouche. A first course of foie gras with a confit of rhubarb and Balinese tea was equally confident and accomplished. Luxury ingredients have become tricksy for serious restaurants, who don’t want to seem too far behind the foraged, locavore times. Goose liver, lobster or truffles can sometimes imply a lack of imagination, which can lead less surehanded kitchens into unnecessary prinking or outlandish flavour combinations, but this dish was a reminder that foie gras treated perfectly can be sublime. It was. Fashion made an appearance in the yuzu sauce which accompanied the next course of cod with star anise but again one had the sense of being guided by a master, someone who had really thought intelligently about taste and texture for their sensory qualities. The star anise note gave depth to the fish whilst the intense citrus of the yuzu enhanced rather than dominated. Octopus with strangely meaty grilled watermelon, basil and barbecue tomato was an excellent contrast to follow — rich colours and robust flavour, the smokiness of the tomato inspired against the more resistant flesh.
I was loving the symphonic build-up of this food, a sense of leitmotifs of flavour which came and went, to be anticipated and remembered as they reappeared. Our first meat serving was shortrib with artichoke, tamarind and smoked onion, the tastes playing with and expanding on those which had preceded it, yuzu to tamarind, tomato to onion, the dishes opening up more complexity as we went on. The only duff note was the second meat, venison with cauliflower, strawberry and mole poblano. The deer was velvety and perfectly bloody, the strawberry an unusual take on the meat-fruit combinations of Maghreb cuisine, but the mole didn’t quite work. This thin South American sauce of bitter chocolate and almond is extremely difficult to pull off — I’ve had terrible versions in Mexico City and a completely brilliant one in that weird Polish-Mexican place that used to be in Shepherd Market and I think it’s something to do with getting to the very tidemark of the salt without rolling over. Had everything which preceded not been so precise, though, I probably should never have noticed. Wagyu with potato, oxtail and black cardamom was a triumphant return to form, spicy and musky and a little bit dirty, picking up with élan on the undertones of the foie gras with which we had begun.
Rassin is a chef who knows exactly where he’s going, which is more than can be said for us poor Brits. Ryanair is already issuing non-liability warnings in the event that post-Brexit red tape means their planes will be unable to take off. Make a date for La Rive before next March, because you can’t eat like this in Bournemouth.