The Best ‘Dam Thing: The Dylan Hotel, Amsterdam
Bob Dylan goes on about tasting like a woman. The Dylan tastes like ‘Mmmm’ according to Neil Davey.
Before I’d got to The Dylan, I was already something of a fan. A year or so ago, their chef had cooked a spectacular dinner in London to mark the launch of their private dining room. While I can usually be bribed with some Michelin-starred cooking – hey, we’re all whores, we’re just negotiating on price – it wasn’t just the food that had me eager to test The Dylan’s facilities “on site” in Amsterdam: no, the thing that had my curiosity piqued was the concept of their rather brilliant new private dining room.
As you can imagine, a densely packed city like Amsterdam doesn’t really lend itself to massive renovations and building extensions. This is particularly true of the Dylan, which is located in a renovated historical building on the central Keizersgracht canal. So what do you do when you want private dining but the geography is against you? You think laterally and embrace the problem – which is how the Dylan’s Michelin-starred restaurant Vinkeles came to launch (pun entirely intended) Vinkeles on the Water, a renovated 19th century wooden salon boat that explores Amsterdam’s waterways as you sample head chef Dennis Kuipers’ remarkable cooking.
Of course, the best laid plans gang aft agley. In this instance, it was a remarkable “four seasons in one weekend” that saw everything from sunshine to rain, via snow and ice. So much ice, in fact, that the canals were frozen solid, meaning Vinkeles on the Water was: a) completely misnamed; and b) out of action.
Happily, it was easily solved as you’d expect from this famously laid back city. We would dine instead at the original non-floaty Vinkeles and, should weather permit, take the boat out the following day around the outer, less solid, more watery canals. Which is how it all worked out. The overnight switch from snow and ice to rain worked in our favour in terms of thawing out the canals but also meant that we got to see The Dylan with a very pretty seasonal dusting of white, a perfect look for this historic old building.
The aim of the Dylan, according to General Manager René Bornmann, “is to stay the best boutique hotel of The Netherlands.” While I can’t claim to have ticked off many other properties that might be on the list, I’d suggest that René has got his wish: The Dylan is a charming mix of five-star facilities and all the cosiness that “boutique” suggests. The renovation (in 1998) of this former theatre has been sensitively handled too. There are nods to the site’s history – probably wise when it includes events such as Antonio Vivaldi conducting the theatre’s orchestra in 1737 – but the interior mixes this old school, classical feel with a hint of the contemporary (and some downright modern funkiness), and the rebuild has made the most of the manicured courtyard that forms the site’s heart.
Of course, the presence of Vinkeles doesn’t hurt either. The other dining option, Brasserie OCCO, is also more than decent – there’s the no doubt expected club sandwich and burger but also noodle soup with Peking Duck, a fine, lightly curry flavoured sautéed fillet of halibut and even Oscietra caviar – but it’s Vinkeles that gets the plaudits, and understandably so. Kuipers demonstrates great understanding of ingredients, marries international influences in unexpected combinations and also shows off great technical ability. The stand out dish – I’ve had it twice, I need to have it again – is Pommes Tsarine, an unlikely sounding combination of crème fraiche, potato and Oscietra caviar that is oh so much greater than the sum of its parts. Kuipers earned his first Michelin star in 2009 and one suspects a second can’t be far behind.
As for the boat, the renovation is, somewhat inevitably, beautiful – after all they’ve a certain standard to maintain – and the cruise, such as it is, is clearly the way to see much of this beautiful city. I can’t comment on the food and feel I’ve let you all down on that score. If it’s any consolation I’m slapping my wrist and calling myself “bad contributor, bad journalist”. Guess I’d better go back then. Mr Kuipers? I’m ready for that third Pommes Tsarine…
Stay at the Dylan in a double room from €325 (£269) per room per night excluding 5% city tax and breakfast. Breakfast costs €28 per person. www.dylanamsterdam.com.