Located at Elandsgracht 108 is a former blacksmith workshop turned fine dining establishment with some weird rules — Balthazar’s Keuken. It is advisable to get reservations unless you plan to have an early dinner or a very late one.
We did not call ahead to book but luckily for us, despite the crowded interior, they managed to squeeze another table for the both of us. With a request that we finish dinner before 8pm. It was still 6pm so we had plenty of time ahead of us.
Former blacksmith workshop turned into fine dining with a couple of weird rules
We were stuck in between two tables shoulder-wide. On our left was a Dutch couple, happily sipping on their pre-dinner wine. To our right, 3 gray-haired ladies, most probably German as I do not understand what they were speaking and they definitely did not speak Dutch to the waiters. We probably chose the right time to arrive as they were about to start taking orders. So here comes Rule #1.
Rule #1 : No Menu
Yes, you heard it right. There is absolutely no menu at all for the establishment. The menu is prepared beforehand and will last for a week. So take it or leave it. It is quite fun to hear the Dutch waiters trying to speak English and translate it for us. Although the ingredients are still in Dutch, at least I could make out ‘beef’ and ‘halibut’, the only choice for the main course.
The only thing that came with a menu was the wine card
“I want the beef with barley thingamajig,” I replied. The wife went for the halibut. I think the lack of a menu card is pretty cost-conscious, as the only ingredients needed for the week has already been bought earlier. No excess or leftovers. Or too many choices that the diners will take half an hour before ordering.
The only thing that came with a menu — was the wine card.
Rule #2 : 3-Course Dinner Menu
The starters and the desserts are fixed, the waiter just read it out for the sake of informing us what was being prepared. So we just nodded, erm-ed and ahh-ed. A little bit of Dutch lessons pre-vacation would have been better. We were totally in the dark as to what we have gotten ourselves into. Everyone else seemed to be in good spirits while waiting for their dinner to arrive. We just prepared ourselves in anticipation.
The group of German ladies were very animated as they were probably discussing about their Amsterdam trip. I find it a bit amusing that they chose Amsterdam, which to me, was by all means and purposes, a place for the young and rebellious. Probably they were here for the Van Gogh.
This was the appetizer for the both of us. I could only identify the bitterballen and some shrimp thingy. Surprisingly, it was very appetizing (pun intended) and we finished it all up, despite not knowing half of the ingredients involved. Imagine the conversation:
“I think this is shrimp with seaweed.”
“No. I think that is some jelly-like substance. Maybe sea cucumber.”
“What about this, vanilla ice-cream on vegetables?”
“No way, that tasted like sour cream.”
Is it part of Dutch culture to leave food unfinished?
Best part of it, not that we liked to stare at other tables, both tables next to us did not finished theirs. Or is it part of Dutch custom to leave food unfinished?
The halibut came next, although that was followed by the beef a few seconds later. The halibut was just steamed to perfection. No fishy smell according to the wife. Although it lack a bit of spice that we Chinese seemed to like, but this was all about Dutch cuisine, and we were probably getting the original recipe.
The beef was well done and tender, mixed with barley. Before this, I have never associated barley with anything else besides for drinking. Here, the chef decided that the beef tastes best with barley and indeed it does. Another surprise for us.
As we were doing our food photography, the old ladies took out their camera phones and proceed to do the same
As we were whipping out the camera and trying to take food photos at all angles, the old ladies next to us decided to do the same. Probably for the first time in their life that they thought of taking photos of the food. It was followed by laughter all around as we showed them ours and they showed us theirs. Which were basically pictures of the same thing at different angles.
The final course came at around 7pm, we were still an hour ahead of schedule. The dessert is some rounded cake dipped in hot cream. Yes, it is served hot.
“Lukewarm,” reminded the wife. “Yes, lukewarm, not piping hot.”
It was a chocolate cake or coffee cake, we couldn’t agree on an exact ingredient. And a perfect way to end the dinner. The Dutch couple next to us did not even finished their dessert, probably too traditional. The ladies on the other hand, finished everything, so did we. I am beginning to suspect that we are supposed to leave some unfinished food. Otherwise how would you explain it?
Rule #3 : €29 Fixed Price (per person)
The price came down to €29 per person, with €5 for the ‘Drink of the Day’. A total of €68 and an experience that we could not forget. Probably the closest thing to fine dining during our course of the vacation. Probably the most expensive one too. If you ordered wine, the price would be different, the fixed price is for the 3-course dinner menu only.
We were caught by surprise but we loved everything about it
If you have the time and if you are not choosy about what is for dinner, this is the place for you. It is especially so for non-Dutch speakers like us, as we do not know what to expect. With an ever-changing menu, I could not say for sure that the quality would remain the same but what we had on this night was something of an eye-opener for us. We were caught by surprise but we loved everything about it.