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Wining & Dining - De Engel

by Gerard Norg in Travel and weekendtrips , 09 november 2004

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Recently a colleague of mine asked me how it’s possible that I’m always awarding big A’s in this column. He has frequently other experiences in culinary Amsterdam. One of the main reasons I gave him, is my optimistic vision which is above average. Every half empty glass is eventually also half full! Of course I’m making use of my well informed sources. In addition I have improved my taste buds strongly during the last twenty years. And last but not least, once a month I grant my readers a culinary tip not only to read but also to visit. But believe me, if we ever eat somewhere having negative experiences, I will not hesitate to dip my crown pen into vinegar.

The grey nineteenth century labour neighbourhood De Pijp slowly has changed into a sparkling district of Amsterdam. In the year 2004 there are living more than a hundred different nationalities. The heart of it forms the biggest and most known street market of Holland: the 880 metres long Albert Cuyp. Next year the Cuyp celebrates her one hundred year anniversary.

Number 182 of this artery houses the café restaurant De Engel for two years now. In the former Dutch Reformed church (The Buiten Amstel Kerk) you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner. The religious silence, the fire-and-brimstone sermons and sweet sounds of an organ, have made place for loud hums of the multi-cultural trendy people from Amsterdam’s own Quartier Latin. During the day you can have a break from the overwhelming offerings of the market.

We booked a table at the balustrade on the ambulatory for the evening. While we were climbing the long stairs I was humming Cantilena from Sonata number 11 of Joseph Rheinberger, as my first father-in-law used to play it at the church organ. Sometimes I catch myself having desires for the old days, but in these surroundings I hunger almost automatically to the clear scheme of things of the past. It’s a fab and fabulous start of the evening.
The first thing we do while we are being seated is enjoy the interior. While it’s getting darker, huge chandeliers are spreading a comfortable atmosphere. All materials used - tables, chairs, lamps and even the balustrade - seem to come from all over the world (Belgium, New York, Paris and Egypt). They already proved their usefulness at other places.

The furniture seems to say “we’ve been situated here for a hundred years already.” At the start they even recruited sixty-five-year-old waiters. Nowadays the average age of the servants is far beneath thirty years.
The menu shows a classical kitchen with a personal touch. We start with a home marinated salmon with dill, mustard, sea salt and citron vinaigrette (E 7.50) and carpaccio of swordfish with tomato vinaigrette and herb-salad (E 7.50). Both taste excellent. No flourishing just pure and good. For a change we’re drinking a dry white wine of the house. Per litre it costs E 16.50. Not a wrong choice considering taste and price, refreshing and fruity with a pleasant aftertaste. The other wines are from the well-known wine regions and vary in price between E 17.00 and E 40.00.

My table companion chooses a tournedos of the grill with a béarnaise sauce, a southerly salad and fries (E 18.00). You might say: “I’m able to make this myself at home,” but if you’re able to make it this way, than you’re a cook with a capital C. For myself I order the baked cod ‘beure blanc’ with Dutch shrimps, spinach and mashed potatoes (E 16.50). Here it’s the same story: if you’re able to make such a simple fish into such a tasty dish, I consider you/it to be more than a genius.

The desserts are remarkable because of their originality, e.g. the "heren" (gentlemen) garniture (coffee, brandy and a cigar) and a "dames" (ladies) garniture (coffee, amaretto and bon-bon). After this publication will they also put a "nichten" (Queer) garniture on the menu? Although the "lopend chocolade taartje" (walking chocolate tart) is on the menu already. The cheese plaid from the Albert Cuyp market must be delicious for sure, I guess. My Ice coupe with red fruits and raspberry sauce (E 6.00) is a dignified goodbye to this wet summer.

On Sunday de Engel organises a brunch buffet including live music (classical) for E 15.00.
When we get our bill there are some Wilhelmina peppermints on the dish. This surely should be in this area - formerly Dutch Reformed - King Peppermint. The Wilhelmina version used to be Church food in Calvinistic surrounding. Who would have ever thought that I would be explaining the difference between Calvinistic and Dutch Reformed in Gay News?

Walking to the tram stop we see two pretty torsos reconstructing an apartment at an empty, bright lightened place. My good friend refers to the homo-erotic affair of Sam and Joop in "Pijpelijntjes" the debut novel of Jacob Israël de Haan (1881-1924). Yes, the same one from the poem on the Homomonument. The first edition was published in 1904 and dedicated to A. Aletrino. Because the last one was not impressed at all by this publication, he bought the whole lot of them and destroyed them all. In the second edition the names were changed into Cor and Felix and the dedication was no longer included. Four years later De Haan discussed the same theme even more open, more exquisite and crueller in "Pathologieën." So, for those who are ignoring De Engel, there still is something to read about a melancholically evening in De Pijp! (But you'll have to learn Dutch, since the book isn't translated into English.)

De Engel
Albert Cuypstraat 182
Telephone: (020) 6750544
Daily open from 11.00 am except Mondays



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