They must be doing something right
If Amsterdam is a village - as locals often say -, then the former marine grounds, located in the heart of town, is the village green.
Now that the military has left, the area is slowly integrating into the urban fabric. Restaurant Scheepskameel was one of the first businesses to open its doors.
Walking across the grounds on a Friday evening last November, it still felt eerily quiet. Dark buildings, some fields and trees, just a few cars, an odd person walking a dog and in the distance the city buzz. Entering the Scheepskameel at its official address, we were surprised to see that it was fully booked. Where had all these people come from?
The host greeted us with a firm handshake and quickly led us to our table near the big open kitchen. When the menus arrived, we briefly interrupted our conversation about the design of the restaurant. The building, which had served as a school and ammunition depot, used to have small offices and classrooms on the ground floor. All the superfluous walls having been knocked out, an industrial chic space remained. My dining partner, an art academy graduate from Rotterdam with zero interest in the restaurant scene in 020 – Rotterdammers refer to the Dutch capital by its area code to avoid using its real name -, said something complimentary about the ceiling covered with small white wooden squares, manually screwed into it to improve the acoustics. I don’t know what it would have been like without, but whatever the case, they were on the edge of what was do-able: buzzy is an understatement. Nonetheless, the atmosphere was that of a place-to-be. Lively, a bit see-and-be-seen. Hip, without being the exclusive domain of 30-year-olds or younger.
Dining room at Scheepskameel
The wine menu, long and entirely German, presented us with a problem of choice. Having lived on Germany’s doorstep for two years, I thought I knew a bit about German wines, but favourites such as Molitor, Ziereisen and Rainer Sauer didn’t feature. The waiter who we asked for advice was quite amiable but firm: she couldn’t help, but instead she had the sommelier at our table in no time. After a bit of back and forth, trying to match the wine with the dishes we ordered and taking into account my desire to introduce my friend to the magic of Riesling, we settled for a Julian Haart. A good choice. It started off citrusy with fresh vegetal notes, but later on developed into a typical Riesling with a hint of biscuits.
Cod and beet root
Mackerel and Hangop
Emphasizing their philosophy of straightforward dishes created around one single ingredient, the menu is divided up into four parts: Raw, Vegetables, Fish/Meat and Cheeses. A fifth part is reserved for desserts. This, I assume, is also an invitation to order five courses. However, we decided to stick to three each. As a nod to the wines, there were several German dishes.
My starter, raw silver-skinned mackerel with cucumber and a cucumber gelée, olives, “hangop” (strained yoghurt) and a subtle hint of mint, was picture perfect. More important, the freshness of the cucumber, the yoghurt and the mint were an excellent counterpart to the fatty, rich flavors of the mackerel and the olives. My friend ordered the ceviche style cod with beet and coriander; perhaps not as striking as the mackerel, but even so a happy choice.
I then moved on to deer and “pastei” (reminiscent of a vol-au-vent) as a main course – it was that time of the year. The deer was nicely rosé and came with some smoky kohlrabi from the barbecue and a sauce grand veneur, a reduction of red wine, red currant jelly and other ingredients. The other main was a piece of pikeperch with pomegranate and a sauce of endives. We somehow had the impression that the red seeds were added rather for decoration than for flavor.
For dessert there was Linzer Torte for my friend and for me stewed pears – that delicious Dutch classic – with pumpkin ganache, biscuit crumbs and cider sorbet, a refreshing and light finale to a good meal.
The chef at Scheepskameel does what he promises on their website: he cooks light, classic dishes made from high quality ingredients, and he does it well. The service was attentive, despite a full house on a busy Friday evening. It led my Rotterdam friend to remark it was uncharacteristically good for Amsterdam. If a die-hard Rotterdammer says so, than they must be doing something right at Scheepskameel.
When we walked out into the cold November night, we noticed that at the rear of the marine grounds, there was a little bridge connecting the restaurant directly to the central railway station. That solved the mystery of the spooky quietness when we arrived.
Kattenburgerstraat 7, gebouw 24 – Amsterdam
T: +31 (0)20 337 9680
Three courses à la carte, including wine, water and coffee for two: € 107,-