Look out of the window of room 40 at The Dylan Amsterdam and you know exactly where you are – the luxury hotel is on the south-west bank of Keizersgracht, one of the city’s main central waterways, fanning around the Old Town in concentric arcs. Looking at these terraced houses, dating back several centuries and each one unique, the gal is reminded of the blue and white Delft china houses, each a couple of inches high, that KLM used to give away to premium passengers. It must have been, actually, one of the worst-ever marketing promotions for Bols, the drinks company that filled all the little houses, as few of the recipients ever drank the stuff.
Aha, Dutch drinks. The lovely Dylan’s bar is called Barbou, for Jean Baptiste Barbou, one of the church elders during the long period, 1772-1998, when this space was a Roman Catholic social centre. Today it is an enjoy-life centre (every afternoon, 3-6 pm, you can enjoy High Wine, four dishes paired with different wines). The barman shows me the must-try Dutch gin, Sylvius, called after scientist Franciscus Sylvius who researched the circulation of blood – he would have approved of my highly-flavoured gin and tonic, with an (English) Ledger’s tonic – Mr L discovered Bolivian cinchona seeds, full of quinine.
Oh what a Dutch delight this, staying at The Dylan (room 40 has just been redone, in shades of soft moss and grey, by Utrecht architectural maestro, Remy Meijers). Before we start dinner, in Vinkeles – once the church’s bakery – maître d’ Casper Westerveld leans down to propose Bernadus 2011 Pinot Noir, the Carmel Valley wine owned by one-time Porsche racing driver Ben Pon. Chef Dennis Kuipers, who has one Michelin star, sends out an amuse, one bite of a gin-filled ball in a gilded Dutch oyster shell.
The meal continues. I have chosen hop shoots with black truffle and chervil, and a poached egg. I go on to wild seabass, which I have eaten so many times before but here it is served with radish, and baby squid, and white grapes, and sobrasada Iberico – and cannabis seeds. Oh my goodness, am I going to get on the no-entry list when I next go to the great US of A? Honestly, I must admit I cannot report what the cannabis seeds tasted like. I must have swallowed them whole, and I doubt whether border guards will be able to detect any evidence.
Dennis Kuipers, like his colleague Casper Westerveld, worked long ago with the great Robert Kranenborg at La Rive, and then he went on to Alain Senderens. Here at The Dylan he produces masterpieces, including his eight-course tasting menus and weddings for up to 100 in the hotel’s lovely tree-lined inner courtyard, all this from an extremely compact kitchen a few steps below the restaurant. He invites us down, to see his two-person chef’s table. Sit here, enjoying a four-course surprise menu, while you watch the brigade preparing hop shoots, and whatever (next visit, I should love to dine down there).
Next visit to this luxury hotel, too, I will allocate more time for breakfast, which is also served here in the brick-lined Vinkeles. Gorgeous open tulips on plain wood tables remind me where I am, though admittedly the yoghurt is the divine NaturPur, from Belgium, and jams and nectar drinks are from Frenchman Alain Milliat. But oh, the Dutch bread… I carve a slice of a still-warm strong-flour loaf that is so filled with nuts I shall turn into a nutcase if I eat any more, but I cannot resist. It is easy to understand that a noticeable number of foreign lawyers who have to work in this legal-concentrated area of Amsterdam choose to live here, at The Dylan, every week, and then commute to their families at weekends (as concierge Michael, who looks more like a fashionable stage producer in his all-black gear, said, please come back home, soon).