Old Friends in New Places
I have always travelled for work and whilst it can be a real drag, the upside is that I have friends scattered around the world and I often get to see them. I worked with my lovely friend Ineke until about 7 years ago and we still stay in regular contact. When I had to be in Holland for a training course that started on a Monday morning, too early for me to fly in, I gave her a call and asked if I could spend Sunday afternoon together with her and her partner Marit and their friend Theke. They asked what I’d like to do and, thinking of a friend who’s always telling me how lovely it is, I asked if we could go to Leiden, about 20 or 30 miles from Schiphol airport. It wasn’t an ideal time to go sightseeing because the weather was really cold and snow had been lying on the ground for over a week. In Holland really cold weather means just one thing – skating. Canals the length and breadth of the Netherlands were frozen and young and old had hunted through the garage or the loft and dusted off their skates.
The cold weather was a good excuse to eat and drink. We started off with hot chocolates in a bar to warm us up before taking a walk around the town centre. At the absurdly early hour of 4.45 pm, my friends decided that we would have dinner and picked a place they’d never been – De Dames Proeverij. I was surprised that Marit didn’t have a plan. She’s the kind of person who plans everything with the utmost precision. Fortunately even without a plan she has a nose for a good restaurant and a great instinct. I don’t know what lay behind the choice of this place and I didn’t even see her checking out the menu but she hit the jackpot.
De Dames stands on the canal-side in the heart of the old town of Leiden. It’s situated in an old historic building and it’s ever so pretty. The interior is characterised by lots of stripped wood painted in pale dainty colours. The wooden tables are laid with sparkly napkin rings and pretty pale lavender coloured glass candle holders. The napkins are thick, heavy fabric and everything looks fresh and bright. If the waitress had said “Go away, you’re too early, come back later” I would not have been surprised but she made no comment at all about the crazy timing and just brought us the menus and asked for a drinks order. We started with some hot drinks to warm us up whilst we looked at the dinner menu.
The Perfect Choice for Those who Hate to Choose
There are individual dishes on offer but it’s pretty clear that the speciality of De Dames is their ‘Proeverij’ which nobody translated, but I would describe as ‘testers’ or I’ve seen restaurant in this country call them ‘tasting boards’. De Dames offer three main course proeverij choices – one with meat, one with fish and one with vegetarian dishes. Or for the truly indecisive they’ll even make you a mixed meat-fish-veggie option if you prefer. Each option costs €18.50.
Of the four of us two are fishitarians and two are strict vegetarians. If the others had all said they wanted vegetarian, then I’d have happily gone along with their choice but when Theke said she fancied the fish, we ordered two fish and two vegetarian meals.