When The Duchess was awarded its first Michelin star last year, chef Jeffrey Graff was nowhere to be found at the ceremony. Instead, the chef was in the kitchen with his team, preparing for that day’s service. It shows just how much the young chef is dedicated to his restaurant. And that Michelin star or not, his passion and focus is always in the kitchen.
The Duchess is part of the W Hotel in Amsterdam, located right in the middle of the city center. Its stunning interior is inspired by the Belle Epoque era. A high skylight ceiling fills the room with light, the space is adorned with large modern chandeliers and French-style tiles add to the chique ambiance of the restaurant.
The restaurant describes its cuisine as nouveau-niçoise cuisine, a culmination of flavours from Southern France and Italy. Upon looking at the menu, you’ll find that there’s a wide variety of dishes. In fact, it’s probably twice as long as an average restaurant! But it all adds to the atmosphere of being in the French Riviera and being able to order whatever you feel like having. We start with the oysters with tomato consommé and a light sea bass carpaccio with olive oil and cress – both refreshing summery starters.
We continue with the marinated beetroot salad. It’s always a delight to see restaurants highlighting vegetable dishes as well. The sweet beetroot cubes paired with dollops of salted whipped cream made for a beautiful and memorable dish.
But it was the baked king crab leg that stole the show. Straight from the oven to our table, came the smell of freshly baked goodness – of butter and heaven. A simple yet elegant king crab dish that is surely one of the best things you can eat in Amsterdam! It’s buttery, sweet, bursting with flavour – a mouthwatering dish.
Moving on to more richness, we enjoy grilled lamb with figs and broccoli and truffle gnocchi. For years, it was hard to find a restaurant serving gnocchi in Amsterdam and when they did, it was often dull and lacklustre. Nowadays chefs are featuring gnocchi more often – and we’re happy about that. The texture of the gnocchi was just perfect and the creaminess of the truffle was pure delight.
We conclude our lunch with a stunning deconstructed vanilla and cream pavlova – with a dome of meringue, summer fruits and basil. Perhaps one of the best pavlovas we’ve ever had! And a lemon meringue tart with basil ice cream and extra virgin olive oil. The mix of sweet, tangy and earthy notes of this dessert was phenomenal.
It’s hard to place The Duchess within the Michelin realm. There’s no white linen tablecloth – instead you find modern marbled tables. There’s no row of tiny amuse bouche plates – instead it’s all about the dishes on the menu. And there’s no pretentious formalities you often find in Michelin-star restaurants – instead the staff is friendly and down-to-earth. It makes you wonder about the significance of a Michelin star and what it really means. Is it about quality? About original and surprising combinations? The art of plating? Or plainly, just consistent good food you want to come back for? It’s a fact that times are changing. And food lovers now are different critics than a decade ago. My best food experience was at Momofuku Ko in New York five years ago, where there was no sight of white linen, old skool R&B was playing on the background and the team was as laidback as ever – but to this day it remains my best fine-dining experience. Could this be the start of a new Michelin era in The Netherlands? I can’t wait to find out.