With the launch of Eurostar’s direct London-Amsterdam service, the Dutch city is easier to get to than ever. Look beyond the coffee shops and red-light district and you will find a thriving cultural capital.
Planning a recent trip to the Netherlands, I asked a friend (who runs the blog Amsterfam), to recommend a restaurant. Mrs Amsterfam replied, without hesitation, ‘Taiko at the Conservatorium!’
Part of The Set Hotel group, with London’s Hotel Café Royal and Hotel Lutetia in Paris, the Conservatorium offers laid-back luxury. Nestled between Museumplein (the Museum quarter) and Amsterdam’s luxury shopping street P.C. Hooftstraat, the hotel is in a prime location.
A former 19th-century bank and 21st-century music school, the 5-star Conservatorium hotel is steeped in history.
Taiko, the hotel’s modern Asian restaurant, takes its name from an ancient Japanese drum. We passed one on the way to our table, where the Sweelinck Conservatory of Music’s drumming room once stood.
Chef Schilo Van Coevorden, and his team at Taiko, source local and seasonal ingredients to create high-end Japanese fare. Sushi, sashimi, black cod and wagyu beef are popular choices from the menu but we chose to try the red king crab – Taiko's ingredient of the year for 2018.
We ordered the Progressive Omakase menu (€115) and a drinks pairing ‘beverage experience’ (€65). Omakase is a Japanese tradition of letting the chef choose your order, a tasting menu that meant we were in it for the long haul.
An amuse bouche began our food journey of 13 curated dishes showcasing the best that Taiko has to offer. A finely chopped nashi pear and granny smith apple salad with Thai basil eased us in to the feast.
Smooth and plump Zeeuwse platte (flat Zeeland) oysters with Japanese plum and a zesty ponzu sauce slid down our throats, while luxurious langoustine came with kumquat on a bed of kombo seaweed. These one-mouthful meals were small explosions of taste and textures, expertly matched with a Daiginjō sake.
Taiko’s trio of red king crab dishes took the crown. Green king crab curry, served with rice and mango, managed to be spicy and cool simultaneously. Moist king crab salad on crunchy miso toast and crab gyoza dumplings with tamarind and a smoky XO sauce were expertly paired with sweet and floral Muscat white from Schoffit, Alsace.
Superb black cod, cooked in miso and served with anchovies and Brussel sprouts, and accompanied by a zest, Australian chardonnay preceded opulent, melt-in-the-mouth wagyu beef. Surpassing high expectations, the richness of the wagyu went well with a glass of Laibach reserve pinotage organic wine.
Desserts were superfluous but our Japanese-fusion dining experience ended on a sweet note. A special mention must go to the world-class service. Taiko’s interior design is sleek – Italian interiors architect Piero Lissoni designed the hotel – as is the entire operation. All in all, a destination worth banging the drum for.