Johannes van Dam, revered food critic for Amsterdam’s leading newspaper Parool, called it “the best quality Amsterdam has to offer” awarding it an almost unheard of nine out of 10.
The recipient is Café Roux, with a British chef cooking French food in Holland’s newest five-star hotel, the Grand.
Andrew Turner combines cockiness with a smattering of modesty and more than passing respect for his boss, Albert Roux. There’s a bit of hero worship going on here – and it’s not just so he can protect his rather plum position.
Roux, as the restaurant name so blatantly tells you, oversees it, but he does much more than that, according to Turner. He flys over frequently, sometimes for a few days, dumps his bags then “rolls up his sleeves… He loves cooking here with me.”
Owner of the Grand, CIP Hotels, was so taken with Roux’s hotel Forty Seven Park Street, adjoining Le Gavroche, that it bought it and kept the team: Albert, the chef, and wife Monique, the interior designer.
Now both are key advisers for CIP’s luxury hotel company, Demeure Hotels. The Grand was their second property in a line now totalling seven.
“I don’t do anything without first consulting with my boss. I respect Mr Roux, as the man and the chef.” (Turner is in full flow.) “I’d like to emulate anything he has done. I can only do that if first he has my respect, then I have his. I’m just a young lad who is learning from the master.”
Turner is not doing too badly himself. The restaurant is nearly full on a rainy Monday lunchtime and it’s not croque monsieur that’s being eaten (although it is on the menu). Diners are tempted with delights like millefeuille of crab and tomato with a light pesto dressing (G18,50); mousse of chicken stuffed with roquefort, served with apple and walnuts (G10,50). Average spend hovers at around G50 (£20) – that’s pretty good value, even for a posh “caff”.
In true café style, opening hours are 6am to 11pm. “We are doing 120 for lunch and 120 for dinner – with a brigade of 15, plus room service and banqueting.”
Turner has made several other changes in the year since taking over from Steven Doherty, who has returned to England to run a pub. We squeeze into his office at the back of the kitchen. What wall space there is is covered in charts, costings, pig and cow dissections, and an instruction manual the size of an encyclopaedia. “This wasn’t here before,” he says proudly.
The manual was Turner’s idea. Each recipe (okayed by Roux) is set out with costings and diagrams. Presentation, sketched by Turner’s own hand, carry instructions such as: “Gravad lax: always follow and never over-marinate; lemon segments – no pips or pith.”
“There’s no excuse for getting it wrong if it’s all on paper!” he says. “I can’t be there all the time and it gives them [he points to his brigade] the responsibility. All I have to do is the checking.”
Many recipes come from Turner himself, as well as old favourites from Le Gavroche and other Roux restaurants. “Some of the recipes are even more complex than those at Le Gavroche. They could end up on the à la carte menu if they’ve been a success on the de jours.” That is, of course, once Roux has given them the thumbs up.
Turner gets some of his ideas from fraternising with members of Euro Toques, but adds: “I do a good deal of experimentation and loads of reading besides.”
He describes a dish that has made it on to the à la carte. “I’m proud of this one. It’s a fillet of dorade (an unusual French fish) on a soufflé potato galette with a pink champignons de Paris sauce – magic.”
A brightly coloured mural flanks the hotel entrance. It’s behind protective glass, so you know it must be by someone famous. It turns out that Karel Appel, the mural’s famous creator, is actually staying at the hotel for a few weeks. The painting was reputed to be in lieu of payment for debts owed to the city council, which was based in the Grand from 1808 to the time it became a hotel in 1989.
But the flash-unfriendly Appel mural forces us to shift to the registry office upstairs for the photographer to get to work. It’s a jewel of a room, decorated by Chris Lebeau in 1926 Jugendstil style. Turner’s socks clash magnificently. “I bought them at the airport this morning, do you like them?”
Turner, his wife Linda and two children return to England frequently. “It’s difficult for my wife and kids. They haven’t really settled in yet,” says Turner.
However, he seems to have done his bit of bonding with the locals. Robert Kranenborg, The Amstel’s Michelin-starred chef, speaks highly of him. According to Turner, “When I first got here, I needed veg suppliers, so I went to Kranenborg first.”
Turner raves about another new mate, Henk Tuin, who has a restaurant near his flat south of the city. “You’ve got to go – I’ll sort it,” he promises. That evening, streets deserted because Holland is playing in the World Cup, Tuin’s restaurant, Aujourd’hui, is empty. One superb course follows another: millefeuille of marinated duckling, tomato, duck liver and spicy garlic mayonnaise; fried monkfish with lobster raviolis and olives in a shellfish sauce; flambéed cherries (steeped in Tuin’s own marinade). With friends like these, who needs England?
Turner still gets all the gossip. About a third of his kitchen staff are British. Many are from Le Gavroche, and one or two from The Canteen. “I’ve got all their à la carte menus. If they can get a Michelin star, we can certainly try. Okay, so we can’t support 15 waiters with cloches, that’s not what it’s about. I hope that Michelin will look at the work we’re doing.”
He can’t resist a little more puff: “Roux is a fantastic manager of his whole enterprise. He knows everybody’s names – even their middle names! It means a lot.” Turner’s team works hard and plays hard. “I put £120 prize money for pool competitions or a major horse race. We’ve actually got a sports and social committee in the kitchen.”
He learned management techniques at Hanbury Manor where he was executive sous chef before arriving in Amsterdam. “I had to change my attitude quickly. I was losing staff because I was too aggressive. Here, there’s no stress, no panic, just calm. There are times when you need to shout. But if I do I take the chef into my office and shut the door.”
The goat’s cheese ravioli for lunch that day (G18,50) had a nutty pungency of cheese. “I only use crottin from Jacques Vernier in Paris. It’s at its best now,” says Turner.
Turner reveals that the straight-laced Dutch have meat and two veg at the top of their menu choice. Cafe Roux’s most popular dish is just that – but with a difference. Lamb is stuffed with foie gras and served with a tarragon sauce; the two veg are tomato and aubergine provençale and potato dauphin.
He tried pig’s trotters and tête de fromage, but it didn’t go down well. “Mr Roux took two of my têtes de fromage home, he liked them so much.” Turner congratulates himself once more, then marches back to the kitchen.