Ever since the infamous 1980s ad campaign for the Victoria and Albert Museum – “An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached…” – museums have been wary about trumpeting the ancillary gustatory delights they offer. Mostly this is just as well. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, however, has put the cream on the cake of its triumphant 10-year restoration programme by installing a quirkily outstanding restaurant.
The Rijks restaurant is located on the ground floor of the Philips Wing, which was added onto the main neogothic towered and turreted Rijksmuseum between the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th centuries. Above it there are now 13 galleries, displaying photography and other changing exhibitions. The design team has created a stylish, airy restaurant, with the cooks in full view behind a white marble bar. In keeping with Holland’s democratic spirit, the space is open plan, although there is a small private dining room you can hire for special occasions. At the same time, the mixture of carefully chosen materials throughout the interior – bronze, oak, marble, blue steel and suede – combined with designer furniture and beautiful lamps reassures that this is no work canteen, but a carefully judged environment.
It is the menu, however, that is most startling. Presided over by the young Dutch star of slow-food authenticity, Joris Bijdendijk, who trained at St John in London before being given control of Amsterdam’s famous Restaurant Bridges in The Grand Hotel, the menu is a kaleidoscope of intriguing flavours and ingredients. The emphasis is on fresh ingredients, many drawn from the history of Dutch cuisine – turnips, fish of many varieties, celery, curd cheese, almonds, seaweed, wild spinach – but then combined in original ways.
Rather than a traditional menu, diners – or perhaps grazers – are invited to select a range of dishes for sharing, in a Dutch version of tapas, although these are grouped helpfully into starters, “dishes” and then cheese and dessert sections. Flavours are juxtaposed rather than combined, in a purist way. I loved a combination of hazelnuts, delicately dressed and finely chopped celery, roast turnips and curd cheese (€15), and also smoked eel with cumin and cabbage (€14). A main course of various eccentric traditional vegetables, including roasted beetroot, was a little underwhelming, so I’d recommend the perfectly rendered rib-eye steak (€14). My pudding was an elegantly tiered combination of avocat liqueur, rice pudding and apricot compote, flavoured with lemongrass (€11), which was enough to induce an almost dreamlike state of focused attention on my tongue. The prices are remarkable given the culinary imagination at work.
What better way to restore physical and mental wholeness after all that vigorous exercise to mind and eye inside the beautiful museum?