Old Dutch, forever young
“Food prepared at the table is back in fashion”
Traditional Rotterdam restaurant, Old Dutch, is one of only a handful offering genuine Dutch fare. Some dishes are still even prepared at the table. Old Dutch is all about good, old-fashioned, cosy comfort.
Words: Ellen Scholtens
As soon as the darker winter days set in, Rotterdammers set out for Old Dutch, a restaurant as comforting as a warm bath. Especially at this time of year when the dark brown interior with its old beams, stained-glass windows and bronze statues is decked out with thousands of shiny baubles and other Christmas decorations. The minute you walk through the revolving door and pass the cloakroom to be greeted by a veteran waiter sporting a suit and bow tie, you feel as though you have been transported back to another time.
Old Dutch, resembling an old farmhouse on the outside and a large hunting lodge on the inside, began its life in 1932 as a bodega. It soon became a favourite eatery for Rotterdam’s well-to-do. Burned down during the bombardment of the city in 1940, the white “farmhouse” was quickly rebuilt. In the 1960s it was a popular haunt for harbour barons, entrepreneurs and captains of industry.
It’s still a popular dining place for business people, but owner Aad van der Stel says the restaurant has been revitalised and more diners from the technical and IT sectors have starting coming in: “Our guest base has broadened, happily. In the past, Old Dutch tended to be a male-dominated dining establishment, so we are really happy to see more women coming in as well these days for business lunches and dinner.”
What exactly is the attraction of this monumental building? Van der Stel laughs: “The bar is an irresistible attraction, but people also come in for the classics. As early as June, they are already asking when the pheasant and sauerkraut will be back on the menu. It’s one of our top drawcards, as is our hare saddle and leg dish with red cabbage, purée and truffle.”
The owner has a great deal of experience working in the Rotterdam hospitality industry. “We are one of only a few Dutch restaurants that still prepares meals at the table,” he says. “A three-star restaurant from Zeeland brings its staff here every year to watch how à la minute lobster soup, steak tartare and stroganoff are made and how sole is filleted. There is a resurgence of interest in this sort of dining experience. We’ve shifted from being an old fogies establishment to one that is hip.”
What has brought about this change? “People nowadays opt for quality, and that includes an appreciation for the way we still prepare meals at the table. Guests like to see how a dish is made. It also has to do with slowing down. Nowadays it’s all go, go, go, but there’s a counter-movement to our modern, fast-paced lifestyle as well,” Van der Stel says. He adds that people dining three or four times a week for work might also want to eat something different now and then. “Instead of turbot, sirloin or sole, diners might just want a satay or a croquette. We serve these simple dishes as well, on white plates, with white table linen and silver cutlery.”
Speaking of croquettes, Old Dutch’s croquette is so famous in Rotterdam that it has been given number of affectionate nicknames. The snack, a veal ragout that is crumbed and deep-fried, is called “De Duikboot” (submarine) by some, for example. Van der Stel’s favourite name for the XL croquette is “De Trapleuning” (bannister rail). “Our croquette has taken on a life of its own,” he says. “People who have immigrated to America and are back for a visit come in and ask if we still have it on the menu!”
According to Van der Stel, the most traditional dish on Old Dutch’s heavy leather-covered menu is stamppot (hotchpot) made with raw endive and served with a meatball and pulled pork: “Tourists think that shrimp, eel and fried sole are typically Dutch, but stamppot is the ultimate traditional Dutch food. As is pea soup with rye bread and bacon, or a brown bread sandwich with thinly sliced smoked sausage and mustard. Real Dutch comfort food.”
Open Mon to Fri for lunch and dinner