Sunday, 28 June 2015

Charming Beyond Words at Restaurant LaStage

Geldersekade 29, 1011 EJ 
Amsterdam, Netherlands
+31 20 737 0811

Tastiness Factor: 9.5/10

Atmosphere: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved? YES- Restaurant LaStage's constantly evolving tasting menu is built around local and seasonal ingredients. On our visit in late spring, we were treated to radishes, mushrooms, spring peas, strawberries and even a taste of asparagus which we were told was late this year due to the unseasonably cold temperatures.  What a treat!

Don't you love when you stumble on an unexpected diamond in the rough?

I sure do, and this was just the case with Restaurant LaStage.

Restaurant LaStage was a later addition to our Edinburgh-Amsterdam restaurant list, somewhat of an afterthought when I was looking for somewhere a little more low-key and casual on our travel day between cities.  On paper, this place seemed to fit the bill- small, casual and right on the edge of the Red Light District which I thought would be cool to walk through on our first night in Amsterdam.  And hey, it was a 1 Michelin Star so the food had to be decent too.  Little did I know that Restaurant LaStage would end up serving some of my favourite food of the whole trip.

You may walk right by the inconspicuous entrance to this little gem if you are not looking for it.  Although it is near the Red Light District, it is off on a quiet side street shielded from all the hustle and bustle.  The front of the restaurant reminded me of Paris, with its smart black awning and flowering plants near the door, which is quite appropriate considering Chef Rogier Van Dam's classic French training. When I entered the doorway and pushed aside the curtain that shields the downstairs diners from the cool night breeze,  I had even stronger flashbacks of Paris. The tiny interior, seating about 25 guests, is divided into two levels. Its cream walls are adorned with some charming artwork, including a wall-long picture of a vintage butter knife upstairs adjacent to our table. Hung between the upper and lower level is an eclectic light fixture and the back wall is covered by a tall book shelf that contains wine bottles, wine glasses and, of course, books.  The small kitchen, that I got a peak at on a trip to the bathroom, is a floor below the main level.  The quaint space, with its very simple and loveable decor, made for a very pleasant and intimate experience.

Restaurant LaStage has an exclusively all-female waitstaff who are all extremely gracious and warm hostesses.  The service is very professional (the ladies wear white gloves when replacing table settings so as not to smudge the silverware) but at the same time, it exudes friendliness and approachability.  I asked different servers a variety of questions throughout the meal (origin of ingredients, Amsterdam highlights, recommendations for other travel, etc.) that were all genuinely answered with a smile.  I felt right at home from the second I walked in.

In addition, I feel it is necessary to separately acknowledge the phenomenal sommelier.  She  suggested a beautiful bottle of Spanish wine (a unique white wine made from red grapes) that paired well with all of our courses and was relatively inexpensive. I also overheard her serving wine pairings for other tables, giving detailed descriptions of each wine and chatting at length about her choices with the wine connoisseurs in the room.

LaStage gives diners the choice of a 3-6 course dinner.  The menu is conveniently divided into 6 sections with a choice of two dishes/section (starters, soups, entrements, mains, cheeses and desserts) so making your own multi course menu is simple.  Alternatively, guests can choose the "flight through our menu" where the chef chooses his favourite dishes and surprises you.  This was a great option for us as first-timers as we really got to see what the chef was all about, and they were more than happy to tweak the menu slightly to accommodate my pescatarian request.  We ended up receiving about 10 courses, including the "snacks" to start.  

Of all those courses, there were no dishes that I didn't enjoy, with one or two dishes that were good and the rest that were fabulous/outstanding. The pescatarian menu they created for me was very well thought out, and I appreciated how they served me completely different dishes just substituting fish for the meat on the exact same plate like I have experienced at other restaurants.   While the food is certainly french-influenced, it is certainly not traditional french cuisine, which likely reflects Chef Van Dam's Dutch roots which find their way into his cuisine.  I felt that the menu was a perfect mix of simplicity, showing off all the phenomenal fresh ingredients, and innovation with a few "out of the box" surprises (pickle caviar, quail-sweetbread roulade, kafir-leek rolls) thrown in for added excitement.  Previous reviews have commented on the meal being too long, and yes, the time between courses did vary between 10 to 25 minutes, but who cares?  The lovely evening flew by and frankly I could have sat there forever! Plan to spend the whole evening- sit back and soak it all in!

Here is a glimpse into our outstanding evening.  Without a menu, I cannot do the dishes justice by giving them descriptions from memory, so I will let the food pics speak for themselves:)

Overall verdict?
Without a doubt, the food was absolutely incredible, and I am not sure how they stay so humble about it (our server said they were "surprised to have received a Michelin Star).  For those who have been to other Michelin star restaurants, this one offers something a bit different, with its unique take on producing a perfect meal, with grace and simplicity, in a relaxed atmosphere where you can really put your feet up/let your hair down and enjoy.  Charming beyond words!

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