Founder and Head Grower Gert-Jan Hageman had the idea for De Kas:
“A kitchen surrounded by fertile soil where vegetables and herbs thrive … Where daylight shines in from all sides and where the chefs are free to express their creativity daily using the best the season has to offer. It seems an obvious concept, but I spent twenty years surrounded by white tiles under fluorescent lighting before I came up with it.”
Situated in Frankendael Park, between the Rembrandt Tower and the nineteenth century facades of Watergraafsmeer, De Kas is an oasis of calm for the fifty-thousand guests who dine there each year; either in the breathtaking dining room designed by Piet Boon, or – if weather permits – outside in the herb garden.
My love has arranged something really special for today. All he has told me is that we are having lunch in a greenhouse surrounded by gardens where the produce grows, How wonderfully magical! It’s a long walk so we set off early, taking our time, taking in the city. Well Amsterdam sort of feels like a big town to me, it is certainly not a heaving metropolis. I really enjoy looking at all the canal houses as we walk. I love those with big long windows and shutters. There is a particular dark brick colour here that is fantastic, it’s not black and it’s not brown, it’s really yummy and seems to work with the variety of colours that frame the windows, reds, whites, greys.
We come across an interesting old building with tall fences and what looks like pretty gardens, it seems very quiet like nothing is really going on their. On the front there are old letters carved ARTIS, this still gives me no clue to what the building is.
As we get to the other side and more lovely garden, a flutter of orange catches our attention. Oh my goodness, there is a pond filled with very pretty orange flamingos. We watch mesmerised for while as they strut their stuff, long legs delicately tip toe through the water, huge expanse of wings are displayed in a most elegant ballet. What seems like courting as long necks entwine and pretty black heads come together to form a perfect heart. It is breathtaking. Just a little further along there is finally some signage…ohhhh it’s the zoo! What an understated fabulous thing. I bet it is beautiful in there. We will just have to come back one day.
We carry on for quite a lot longer before we spot the eight metre high glass house off to our right along a little canal. Ah I think that is it! We go along the road a little further till we see a sign and a little bridge that confirms that this is indeed it – Restaurant De Kas. I am boiling hot from the walk and desperately need a minute or two to recover from the walk and catch my breath before entering. “Let’s just look at the gardens for a minute or two”. The glasshouse is surrounded by pretty gardens, we go in the first little gate. Almost immediately we find the entrance to the restaurant and before I know it I’m inside being escorted to a table, sweaty flustered and imagining that I look like a melting mess. Not quite the elegant entrance I was hoping to have made. Oh well at least it’s cool in here and I can get to sit.
This is just such a fantastic idea, in the glasshouse surrounded by the growing produce and the menu consists of the daily inspiration of the chef preparing whatever was picked that morning. It is a set menu so we are very happy – the chef will be doing all the thinking for us we can just sit back and relax and enjoy the best and freshest produce.
A little glass of something with bubbles is in order after our several hours of walking. As we sip I am taking in all the glorious detail of the space we are in. It is a glass house, so we are surrounded by light and nature. Green of trees, lawns hedges and crops. The ceiling blue with wisps of soft marshmallow cloud.
The furnishings are stunning, blonde timber tables draped with a strip of white linen and low backed simple but very comfortable chairs make for a very elegant room. There are fascinating lights dangling from the ceiling. I would love to see this space at night!
Our first dish is barbecued courgette with tomatoes, olives, shallots and smoked potato foam. The plate is simple, simple ingredients that have had minimal interference. The produce is such perfection, each bite is a celebration of that ingredient. Lightly touched with barbecued smokiness the courgette sings. Incredibly sweet and deeply flavoured tomato with the saltiness of olives. All the light vibrant flavours grounded by the lightly earthy smoked potato foam.
It is very special sitting in this space. It is so dreamy having the light changing with the movement of the clouds and being surrounded by leafy green trees separated only by the glass.
And I just love the large potted tree inside with a magnificently knarled trunk that twists up toward the apex of the glass house. Through the windows we can see beds of things growing, some in other rooms of the greenhouse and some outside.
Our next plate arrives and it is delicious! Slow cooked pig’s cheeks with a celeriac ragout, savoy cabbage, truffle and lovage oil. The meat is absolutely incredible, gelatinous rich and glossy in its own juices. Pork and cabbage is such a classic combination of flavours and the celeriac is the most perfect backdrop for that distinctive brassica flavour to shine. The truffle and lovage oil brings a wonderful combination of earthiness and freshness. Each element of this dish is distinctively proud and fresh and the combination of those flavours makes for a dish that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Now corn, another all time favourite vegetable of mine. But I have never had it quite like this. Cooked in vanilla butter with green beans and aubergine caviar with red onion. Oh…my…goodness! So very simple and yet the flavour explosion is out of this world. Vanilla butter!!!! On Corn !!! mmmmm sooo good!
Our starter dishes are finished and we are moving to the main affair. Plaice fried on the bone with white cabbage with apple and horseradish, herb pearl barley and a spring onion sauce. Perfectly cooked fish, just little caramelisation. The accompaniments are probably not would immediately come to mind as a choice with fish, but work so beautifully. Delightfully fresh ingredients sing making this dish a much lighter thing than you might imagine from reading the menu.
Our meal is completed with a fascinatingly complex dessert. Chocolate pecan pie with caramelised beetroot, raspberries and basil yogurt ice cream. There is a deep richness from the pecan pie and the earthy sweetness of the caramelised beetroot. This is the elegantly balanced with zingy raspberries and amazingly fresh herbaceous ice cream.
It has been a wonderful afternoon, the experience of sitting in this green house under the beautiful blue and white dreamy sky.
I have loved the whole idea of working with whatever is picked today. The freshness, the seasons driving the menu and the idea that not one day will be the same.
The menu has been so fresh and exciting, simply and beautifully presented. There is no trickery, no dry ice tricks, no visual trickery. Just very fresh, very good produce, treated with respect, each plate allowing each ingredient to shine.
After a final short stroll through the garden, over the bridge, we get a cab home. Back in our fabulous canal house we relax and ponder the perfection of our afternoon. It feels like the most perfect day capturing the essence of the Netherlands.