Last Thursday, I got a surprise phone call from someone from Rik's company. He said that they were very pleased with a project that Rik had just completed, and that the client had also personally called him to congratulate him and sing Rik's praises. Incidentally, the client in question is the Ministry of Finance *ahem*.
That's just to illustrate how important this project was to the company. And so, this colleague of Rik who called me to tell me that as a 'thank you', they would like to treat both Rik and I to a nice dinner.
He said: "nice dinner", "enjoy yourselves", "nice restaurant", "surprise" and "no budget".
After hanging up, I browsed restaurant review sites to find a good restaurant that matched those requirements. I found one that seemed to fit the bill and I reserved a table for Saturday.
Forty five minutes later, I got an email from the colleague, saying again that they were very pleased and to enjoy ourselves at the dinner, and to email him the receipt from the dinner to this address. And that there is an indication of € 200 to be spent.
Oh shit. Is what I thought.
You see, I had reserved a table at Parkheuvel.
Some of you may not know Parkheuvel. It has its own Wikipedia page and two of its own Michelin stars. I wasn't quite aware of its fame when I was making the reservation, but I did have an idea of its prices. Seeing as I was told specifically, "no budget", I had just gone for the best (obviously). But was € 200 going to be enough?
Here's a little back story to the restaurant. Parkheuvel was the first restaurant in NL to be awarded a Michelin star, back in 2002. Under its original chef, it had risen to a 3-star restaurant, but when it got taken over by the current chef, it lost two of its stars (sounds so terrible, but if you think about it, how many other restaurants have even one?). It received one more star in the recent past, making it to a grand total now of two.
As the dinner was supposed to be a surprise from work, I told Rik that I would just be taking him out for a dinner because he had been so stressed the past few weeks. He was happy about it... until I told him it was at Parkheuvel. Then he started fretting and sweating and "we can't afford this" speeches. So, of course, I had to then admit the truth, so that he wouldn't dread the whole dinner. He was obviously very surprised and pleased. Then he told me the story of our ex-boss, who was there with a friend for dinner, and had racked up a bill of € 800 (of mostly wine).
So we set some ground rules before arriving at the restaurant. No alcohol.
I wore my nice clothes, Rik wore his nice clothes, and we set off.
We were greeted by quite a young and unsmiling girl who looked more like a page boy in her waiter's outfit. So first impression wasn't that awesome.
In the restaurant, it was kind of old (as in 1986, the year it was founded) French decor, but pleasant enough. It's a circular standalone building, sort of like a gazebo, so that everyone can look out onto the river Maas from their tables. When we arrived at 7.30pm, the restaurant was already pretty full with older couples, many of whom were presumably regulars (homagad, what do they work as?).
From then on, my impressions just got better. We were served by about three different waiters, all professional and courteous and wearing one glove on their serving hand.
Now for those of you who don't live in NL, it might not come as such a big shock, but the range of prices certainly made my colleagues jaws drop. At the time, the prices didn't mean anything to me except to keep below € 100 (per person). And so, it didn't register in my head that starters were ranging from € 30 - 50 and mains were ranging from € 45 - 80. To put into perspective, at an average restaurant, you can have a proper dinner with wine for € 25 - 30.
Okay, so on paper, this restaurant sounds expensive. But when you factor in the sublime service, the in-between courses that come complimentary and the fact that you don't have to worry about anything at all, not even calling a waiter or even asking where the restroom is (when you walk away from your table, there is someone who will politely indicate towards the restrooms), can you really fault them for charging so much? Training must come from somewhere. We spent three hours in the restaurant, and not once did we feel disturbed, rushed or stressed having to find service. And believe me, that is something you will tend to feel in any restaurant in NL.
What a splendid experience. One that we will always remember.
And to you Asians reading this, here's what we ordered.
Started off with an aperitif. We didn't want alcohol, so we had premium Swiss bitter lemon (which Rik said was superb) and I had apple juice with soda (which tasted normal to me, but apparently is something special).
A sort of degustation plate of: macaroon of oyster, prawn something, and two more things, and light crackers. Sorry I don't remember everything. They don't look like what they are, but they had exquisite flavours.
One more small light and complex teaser before the main appetiser (Rik, can you help me out with what we had??).
I ordered chef's signature goose liver. Course it came with some complex layers of flavour, which I'm ashamed to say I'm too bourgeois to remember. There was a piece of bread made from pinot gris, I remember.
Can't remember Rik's appetiser.
Then a vegetable-based in-between, which I wasn't very fond of because it tasted a bit more peasant than the previous in-betweens.
For the main, I ordered the chef's signature pork belly with caviar and bits of almonds and probably one or two other flavours.
Rik had wagyu beef (which was superb) and very well-cooked asparagus.
For the sides, we were served a choice of sourdough or cumin bread rolls.
Before dessert, we were served a French madeleine. Warm, sweet and perfect.
None of the desserts took my fancy but I had to order something. So I had a passionfruit tartlet, which turned out to be a passionfruit light cake which was just so-so, but with an awesome light coffee-tasting ice cream with delicious bits of I-don't-know-what on the side.
Rik had a beautiful creation of a layer of raspberries below a layer of thin hardened sugar (I think) and another layer of raspberries and another layer of something. And I think there was white chocolate in the mix somewhere.
It was a lovely experience and so relaxing. We could just focus on the food and on talking to each other. Makes you wonder why people would want to rush through their dinners and watch their phones when they can have a nice experience enjoying eating and talking to the person with them.