De Kas- Amsterdam, Netherlands

Once in a while you have a meal so unique, so incredible and so special that it makes a lasting impression on your palate and makes you rethink what good food is.   When food tastes wonderful, and flavors are effortlessly delicious, we recalibrate our standards by which we measure culinary greatness.  On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I visited Restaurant De Kas in the hopes of having such a life changing experience.  Arguably the most famous restaurant in Amsterdam, there was not a soul in the city who did not know of De Kas, and for 10 years this restaurant has been a benchmark of haute Dutch cuisine. Locals were impressed that I was going there for dinner, and tourists were envious of my reservation at this reclaimed and beautifully reconstructed greenhouse that used to belong to Amsterdam’s Municipal Nursery.  The 8 meter high glass greenhouse, which dates back to 1926, was rescued by Michelin starred chef Gert Jan Hageman in 2001 and converted into a restaurant with an adjacent nursery and gardens.

Located inside the Frankendael Park, the greenhouse stands out as a majestic building with a tall chimney as its landmark.  No doubt the views through the tall glass windows are stunning during the day, but on a recent autumn evening as I approached De Kas through the light mist, the warm orange glow of the restaurant against a striking backdrop of indigo blue took my breath away.

De Kas’ appeal is haute cuisine using locally grown and harvested vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, which are tended to by Gert Jan Hageman in the greenhouse and in several gardens on and close to the restaurant premises.  Additional produce comes from local farmers, and meat and seafood are locally sourced as well.  The greenhouse is the first room that one sees past the front entrance, before entering into the awe-inspiring dining room with floor to ceiling glass and beautifully lit trees interspersed between tables.  While the room is spacious, every seat has a clear view of the semi-open kitchen.

Both lunch and dinner are prix-fixe menus, lunch with 4 courses for 37.50 Euros, and dinner with 5 courses for 49.50 Euros.  A small 4-person chef’s table inside the kitchen offers a 10 course meal for 125 Euros and an up-close and personal encounter in the heart of the action.  With such a compelling story, a rich history, a stellar reputation and an intriguing cooking statement, I was sure that I was in for a unique experience that was going to change my perception of food.  Little did I know that I was in for a uniquely disappointing experience.

It started with a glass of champagne, chilled, bubbly and golden yellow.  What a clever idea to float basil flowers in champagne- nobody has ever done that, I thought, but the first gulp sent a caustic bitterness that stung the surface of my tongue.  It didn’t seem right, and the champagne stopped tasting good, but I passed it off as my lack of ability to appreciate the combination.

Starters of plump green olives and bitter radishes marinated in herbs and mustard seeds were good, but the basil oil for dipping their bread had the same unpleasant bitterness of the flowers in the champagne.  The basil oil that I make at home never tastes this acrid, I silently thought to myself, but I am not a professional chef and surely I must be wrong.

Pan seared quail, cold and underseasoned, was served with thick fennel shavings, practically raw brussels sprouts, edible flowers, parsley and pine nuts.  The curry flavor on the quail disagreed with the bitterness of the flowers, and I didn’t quite understand whether the raw roughage was intended for texture or flavor, as it did little to prove more than its function for color.  It was around this time that I noticed my dining partner sharing the same confused facial expressions, but we both smiled in silence for fear of admitting that it was our palates in question, and not the food.

Tender red beets and gorgeous yellow carrots were generously coated with a sweet vanilla sauce, a seemingly logical combination of sweet on sweet, but tossed with cold clams and cockles, it took a hairpin curve in the wrong direction.  Crispy carrot chips, random leaves of spinach and bitter edible flowers were thrown into the mix, with the vanilla cream sauce the only seasoning on the plate to feebly attempt to bring everything together.  A subtle squint of disapproval shot across the table, initiating a silent conversation between the two of us- is it, perhaps, the food?

A deep fried chunk of celeriac root adorned with yellow edible flowers unabashedly sat on a raucous carpet of coarsely chopped gherkins mixed with mustard seeds, soggy apple salad and whole almonds.  Breaded roots with chopped pickles at a fine dining restaurant- this concept finally broke our restrained silence, and like an avalanche, our concerns, complaints and disdain came pouring out in an uncensored confessional.  It is De Kas, it’s not our palates.  It was the first time in my life that I ever struggled with a palate identity crisis, and the weight of vacillating self-doubt nearly crushed my confidence.

Risotto stuffed in a roasted miniature pumpkin resembled nothing of a risotto, but rather soggy Asian rice overcooked with water, the underseasoned pumpkin, zucchini, endive and chanterelles contributing little flavor to the bland concoction.  Veal stew lacked the gusto, depth and heartiness of braised meat, and I found myself paralyzed with disappointment and confusion at what tasted like fancy cafeteria food, at best.

Even the farm greens in the salad De Kas, dressed with an uninspiring vinaigrette dressing, were lackluster and irredeemable.

Lemon panna cotta topped with pomegranate seeds, melon and an aggressive basil ice cream finally convinced us that it wasn’t just a bad night at De Kas- it was their style of cuisine.

Despite my heightened expectations and hopes for an exceptional experience at De Kas, I found the dinner to be generally bland, and the flavor combinations to be both odd and off.  Unable to force ourselves to eat more than 2 bites of each dish, our server and the manager approached us at the end of our meal, asking what was wrong.  While my dining partner could not help but be blunt, stating that the meal was awful, I tried to follow with compliments on the beauty of the dining room and the attentiveness of our staff before admitting that the food was not palatable.  This was met with disapproval of our opinions and criticism of our palates, as they tried to explain how the restaurant philosophy was to use as little seasoning as possible to highlight the natural inherent flavors of the vegetables.  Most restaurants in America are used to oversalting and overdressing vegetables, which is why you don’t like our food, they argued, as I held back my comments in order to gracefully end the dispute, all the while flipping through gustatory flashbacks of sweet succulent vegetables from the Santa Monica Farmers Market and the delicate beauty of minimally seasoned Kyoto turnips.  I had come full circle by the end of the dinner, regaining complete confidence in my palate.

‘Once in a while you have a meal so unique, so incredible and so special that it makes a lasting impression on your palate and makes you rethink what good food is…’  This experience at De Kas did just that, only in a way that I never expected.

Restaurant De Kas

Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3
1097 DE Amsterdam, Netherlands
020 4624562

Random trivia: Did you know that the largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds?

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13 thoughts on “De Kas- Amsterdam, Netherlands

  1. Tomo,

    I have found Amsterdam in the major city with the least appealing cuisine. It is one of the few world cities not to have a Michelin three-star restaurant (I believe there are two two-stars). When I first visited Amsterdam in 1959 (!) as a wee child, I had a wonderful meal at Five Flies (Restaurant D’Vijff Vlieghen), but when I returned nearly fifty years later the food was dreadful and the service no better. Perhaps it was so in 1959, but for this pre-tween, it was magical. Amsterdam sweet shops are quite good. But when I dine it will be at an Indonesian or Surinamese restaurant. Thee Dutch didn’t learn enough from their colonies. Oud Sluis is world-class, but it is a stone’s throw from the Belgian border. Still, if Copenhagen can become the epicenter of world cuisine, there is hope for Holland.

    • I absolutely agree. Most everything that I ate in a restaurant (other than Surinamese) was appalling. If only they could learn from their neighbor Denmark, who just recently won the Bocuse D’Or!!

    • It was so baffling to me how much their perception of flavors were different from mine. I couldn’t believe that we were talking about the same food…

  2. I just found your site (from Ulterior Epicure’s blog), and I am now eager to read all of your posts. Your review of De Kas is brilliant. Your experience mimics mine. Two years ago, with great anticipation, my husband and I reserved a table for dinner at De Kas. What a disappointing evening! The food (and atmosphere) was reminiscent of unfortunate country club dining. I cannot understand how so many applaud this venue. Well done.

    • Thank you for your comment Nancy. What an honor to be linked from UE’s blog! I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who had a mixed experience at De Kas. It’s a shame, given the gorgeous and exquisite restaurant space. They could do so much more with it.

  3. After reading your review I went to De Kas with my partner. A review will follow on my website but I wanted to write here first.

    I was worried about going with all the anticipation dashed by your review. I should not have wavered. Your review was obviously a personal opinion. I’d like to know what fancy cafeteria food you’re eating as obviously you have much higher standards than I do or a more refined palette. Or the food wasn’t up to standard the night you went…..

    Because the menu is constantly changing with the seasons, we had something very different that did not displease. We left full, elated and a little tipsy. The staff were friendly and the flavour combinations did not disappoint.

    My first point is about the Champagne -

    The flower in the Champers did nothing to effect it’s flavour and seemed to be in the wine as a decoration rather than as a flavour giver.

    Remember that a dining experience can differ from person to person and season to season. It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy it and that they’re response displeased you.

    However Restaurant De Kas remains within a fantastic building and has a wonderful ethos, bringing the freshest food to the table. I for one applaud that and I’m glad our experience of the place was very different. I would go back and maybe one day I’ll take you with me.

    • Thank you for your comment. I am so happy to hear that you had a wonderful time at De Kas. I wish my experience there was like yours. Their restaurant is incredibly beautiful, and really one of a kind. It’s nice to hear that others are having a fantastic experience there! Thank you for the feedback!

  4. I made a lunch reservation for de kas for my upcoming trip to Amsterdam, but after reading your review I’m a little bit worried…however I think I will still give it a try just for the unique venue and philosophy. I hope the experience will be more positive than yours! Thanks for sharing.

    • Although I didn’t have a good experience at De Kas, I know many others have. Right now it’s spring and there will be many delicious herbs and vegetables in season- I hope you have a delicious experience!

  5. Given others’ satisfactory reviews, would you consider giving another try at De Kas or any other restaurants which failed your expectations?
    Thanks for your review, I am going to De Kas next week, ‘hopefully, they won’t disappoint.

    • I would absolutely love to return to Amsterdam and give De Kas another try. Although I didn’t have a good experience there, I know that many others have and that it is one of the most famous & cherished restaurants in the city. I hope you have a wonderful experience there- it’s a beautiful location!

  6. Pingback: » Chef’s table at De Kas, Amsterdam L2F1W1

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