A vast greenhouse sitting on a platform at the centre of a rushy reservoir in Frankendael Park, De Kas is on the fringes of central Amsterdam. Ducks and moorhens pootle by, gently chuckling among themselves, and along the paths and bridges rush Amsterdam’s ubiquitous cyclists and only slightly less ubiquitous dogwalkers, occasionally getting their lines tangled like amateur fishermen.
It was overcast the day we visited, and De Kas’s atrium showed only grey sky in all directions. Inside the Piet Boon-designed space – the former Municipal Nursery – it’s perfectly climate-controlled (when the weather brightens, blinds activate to prevent diners from sweltering). The interior leans pleasingly towards the functional: solar panels are set into the atrium, and aside from painting the vast pipework matt black, little attempt has been made to disguise the workings of the greenhouse (nor its former life as an actual greenhouse). Smaller and cosier spaces, hived off the main restaurant by way of sliding doors, are available for meetings and private dinners; startlingly, we’re shown one special table which is reserved for the bodyguards of any visiting dignitaries, film-stars, or paranoids.
That big, bright, airy main space is the place to be, however, even on a gloomy day, and guests seem to have come prepared – at the table of six seated nearest us, only one chap seems not to have received the memo and turned up in a gaudy checked shirt, rather than the earthtoned fine-gauge knitwear his compatriots are, to a man, sporting. The group – all “interesting” spectacles and immaculate grooming – strikes me as either Dutch ad-men celebrating, very sub fusc, an important deal, or else an advert themselves, subject matter for a photoshoot in Monocle.
Lunches tend to be vegetarian or fish-based, and are served as a set menu which changes every Tuesday (though individual dietary restrictions or preferences are of course taken into consideration). After snacks, three well-sized vegetarian starters are followed by a single main course, and guests can build in an optional cheese course before dessert. “Fresh” is the keyword: nothing so stale as a menu hampers the cooks at De Kas, allowing all kinds of experimentation and improvisation behind the scenes to make the most of what produce happens to be good on any given day. As for the time it takes ingredients to get from farm to table, that can be counted in minutes, if not seconds: when owner Gert Jan Hageman takes us on a tour of the adjoining greenhouses, between courses, we see being tended the tiny carrots – yellow, orange and purple – we’ve just eaten as one of our starters, served with salmon, garlic croutons and a garnish of chicory heads, also sprouting in the on-site greenhouses.
As much of the fruit and vegetables as possible are grown especially for De Kas, either in these small greenhouses attached to this main space, or at near as hand as possible – as much as 90% of the items offered during the summer are “homegrown”, and with 18 different tomato varieties and six different basils to draw from, for instance, De Kas prides itself not just on including more local ingredients in its dishes than other restaurants do, but more different varieties of those ingredients. (Recalling my tour of the kitchen garden at Melbourne’s Attica, I managed not to pipe up, “Only six basils?”)
Gert sees one of his responsibilities as being the revivification of unjustly neglected or unfashionable vegetables such as celeriac, a root vegetable du jour you couldn’t have found for love or money in restaurants five years ago, and which he serves cut into tiny marinated cubes as a table snack. As is the case with most veg, this celeriac leaves standing the sad specimens one can find in the supermarket at home, whose anaemic (lack of) flavour goes some way to explaining why it’s so difficult to persuade the public to eat more greens: if they don’t taste of anything, what’s the point in eating them?
No such problems with flavour here, of course. Our dessert exploited the happy marriage between an unctuous white chocolate ice cream and crisply sharp-sweet rhubarb (the latter in roasted, crisp caramel and marshmallow formations). De Kas is a proponent of the less-is-more approach, their dishes designed to showcase just one or two vital flavours, rather than swamp the tastebuds. We reached for superlatives here: this was the most rhubarby rhubarb we’d ever tasted, the celerackiest celeriac. And a last treat: rather dispiriting though it was to see nothing but grey skies through De Kas’s glass walls and ceilings, it meant that as we came to the end of our lunch, we were able to see straight away the first glimmer of afternoon sun tinging the cloud cover gold in the distance.
De Kas, Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3, 1097 DE Amsterdam
+31 20 462 4562; restaurantdekas.nl