A couple of times a year, in March and in September, ‘Restaurant Week’ takes place across the Netherlands. Over 1,000 restaurants throughout the country take part, all offering for one week a three-course prix fixe dinner menu for €27.50. This allows the public what is, in theory, a bargain, a very good deal indeed; for the restaurants involved are all supposed to be of a high quality, and thereby relatively expensive when going about their usual affairs. In truth, with many restaurants typically offering main courses at around €20, a €27.50 prix fixe tasting menu does not afford a great saving on, say, a starter and a main course, or a main course and dessert. Still, Restaurant Week is hugely popular, and does provide an impulse towards going out and trying new places to eat. More, there are some genuinely good deals to be had; some restaurants whose normal prices are especially high, yet retreat to the same €27.50 for the week’s duration. Those Michelin starred restaurants which take part ask a pretty reasonable €10 surcharge.
Around two hundred restaurants in Amsterdam get involved in Restaurant Week, which ran recently from Monday, 4 to Sunday, 10 March. My partner and I ate on the Sunday evening at Chang-i, a Chinese restaurant with the tagline ‘Innovative Chinese Cuisine’, for it endeavours to serve modern Chinese food drawing upon a range of European influences. Chang-i was voted the second best Chinese restaurant in the Netherlands, and the very best in Amsterdam, in 2011; and has received acclaim from a variety of Dutch newspapers and food publications.
The restaurant sits along Jan Willem Brouwersstraat, a quiet, predominantly residential street, just down from the Concertgebouw. The decor inside itself works to integrate a variety of influences and themes, with oriental lamps, busts and graphics alongside hung paintings of nudes, a marble floor, rustic wooden doors, and a palette of dark browns and black offset by copper and red highlights. I liked the dark colours, and they along with a comfortable and spacious seating plan gave the restaurant a pleasant atmosphere, an upright but fairly relaxed and secluded feel.
The tasting menu comprised three small dishes for each of the three courses. Two additional courses were proffered, for between the starters and the mains, for an additional €7.50 each. My partner and I determined to take the first of these two additional options, largely because I wanted to try its vegetable dim sum.
Several minutes after arriving, we were presented an appetiser, a sushi with rice and radish which my partner appreciated, I less so. The first course consisted of sashimi with salmon roe; gamba, a large shrimp, stir fried on a lemongrass stick; and a pork dumpling. The gamba was my favourite of the three dishes, the crunchiness and the flavour of the lemongrass through its middle really complementing the meat; and the fish and salmon roe was also very good. The pork in the dumpling was a little soft, almost gelatinous, and too rich for my taste. The course that we had chosen to insert followed, and provided, along with the vegetable dim sum, a lobster bisque, and tempura chicken with sweet and sour sauce. This was the only course which I found displeasing overall, for I didn’t like two of its three dishes. The dim sum pastry was lightly fried and tasty, but the filling was loose and hard to distinguish, involving, I think, mushrooms turned to a pulp. Rice noodles with beansprouts were served on the side of the course, and seeing no other role for them, in my hasty inexperience, summoning all the wisdom then in my possession, I took to throwing these in with the bisque, which was otherwise dull and unpleasant. The tempura chicken, on the other hand, was delicious, the tempura batter light and the chicken perfectly steamed inside.
With the main course came fried sea bass with rice and a coconut foam, chicken fillet on a bed of vegetables, and beef in a spicy orange sauce. The dishes were rich and generous, and I thoroughly enjoyed all three. Dessert was a rose cream, chocolate sorbet, and a mango mousse, none absolutely inspiring, but all nice.
I can achieve the calculations: that makes, of thirteen dishes in total including the appetiser, nine which I liked with varying degress of warmth, and four which I did not like. I drank with all this a Cabernet Sauvignon, inappropriate with Chinese food I’m sure, and in truth complementing none of the dishes I ate particularly well; but knowing this beforehand, still I felt like drinking red wine rather than something else. The service at Chang-i was excellent, informative, friendly and polite; our main waitress amusingly and unnecessarily quite dramatically apologetic when she at one point sought to remove our plates before we were quite finished with a course.
From next Monday, 25 March, until Sunday, 7 April, five restaurants in each region of the Netherlands – those five per region which received the best review scores via the Restaurant Week website – will repeat their Restaurant Week prix fixe menus, again at €27.50 for a three-course meal. Information on this and the restaurant’s involved may be obtained here: http://www.restaurantweek.nl/lang/nl/cities.