Brasserie Ambassade – Joie de vivre in Amsterdam

Brasserie Ambassade is the restaurant at the Ambassade Hotel, which has been impressing diners since it opened in 2015. The restaurant prides itself on quality and service. The kitchen team creates French classics using the finest ingredients, and the courteous staff are ready to oblige day and night. ‘It’s French joie de vivre in a unique spot, with a view of Herengracht and a colourful backdrop of works by the artists of the international COBRA movement,’ says chef Tommy van de Coolwijk proudly, as we ask him about his love of French cuisine and the success of this restaurant in such an enviable location.

— So Brasserie Ambassade is oriented towards French cuisine? —

‘You can tell by the name. French Mediterranean cuisine has a long tradition of wonderful dishes and is renowned for its refinement and variety. I love the fact that I can express my passion for French cuisine through the menu. I always choose dishes you wouldn’t tend to make at home. All our food is prepared with finesse, plated beautifully, and served in just the right way. We also have a great wine list with reasonable prices, and we pay a lot of attention to food and wine combinations.’

— You can tell that the management and your team have achieved something special from the rave reviews and high ratings on TripAdvisor and TheFork. —

‘It’s because of our careful attention to service and quality, and the excellent price-quality ratio. Our guests particularly value the depth of flavour in our dishes and the variety on the menu: from a wonderful house-made bisque or salade au chèvre at lunchtime to a steak tartare or a refined confit de canard at dinner.’

— These days, sustainability is an important issue. A growing number of diners are eating less meat or none at all. How do you respond to this trend? —

‘French cuisine traditionally has many meat and fish dishes, but we see that there’s a growing demand for vegetarian dishes. So we always have more than one vegetarian starter and main dish on the menu. As far as possible, we also use seasonal ingredients, which we buy sustainably from local suppliers whenever we can.’

— In everything you say about your work as a chef, one thing stands out: your passion for the guests. Can you say something more about that? —

‘The main ambition of everybody here, both the kitchen team and the front of house, is to satisfy our guests. We want them to have a fantastic evening, to pamper them, and make them feel they haven’t wanted for anything. I go home satisfied if I see they’ve appreciated the quality of our food and it’s clear they’ve had a good time because of all the care and attention they’ve received. That’s what we’re interested in at Brasserie Ambassade, not all the latest restaurant fashions. Although, as chefs, of course we do keep up to date with that!’

Travel writer Rick Steves – “Travel is freedom”

The American travel writer Rick Steves, a regular guest at the Ambassade Hotel, is renowned in the US as an authority on travelling in Europe. In his travel guides and TV programmes he encourages American tourists to head off the beaten track and genuinely discover other cultures. Steves is also a social activist and philanthropist.

— You are very well-known from your books and blogs about travelling all over the world. Why, for American people, is Amsterdam a nice place to visit? And did this change over the years? —

Amsterdam is a kind of fairy-tale Europe for many Americans: it’s amazingly well-preserved, provides a peek at Old World affluence, and serves up lots of cultural clichés. Combine that with a well-organized tourism welcome, and friendly, English-speaking locals — and Amsterdam makes a good first stop on the Continent. As to what’s changed over the years, mostly it’s Amsterdam’s popularity, combined with the crazy TripAdvisor mindset that makes everybody want to do the same thing — which means congestion at the most popular sights.

— Your mission at Rick Steves’ Europe is not only to give travel advice but also to inspire Americans to broaden their cultural understanding and to contribute to the world by travelling. Contributing to the world we live in is something you have been working on for years with your initiatives such as ‘Bread for the World’. Do you see a positive development in the world? —

A fundamental part of my teaching is helping Americans get out and make friends with the world. Our world is filled with joy, love, and good people…very much like our own neighborhoods. But if your world view is shaped by sensational commercial news (as it is for too many Americans), you become a fearful person. When you become a fearful person, evil politicians can capitalize on that fear and manipulate you. When we travel and get to know people, we become less fearful, and stronger. When we travel, we learn that suffering far away is as real as suffering across the street. We can learn about our country by leaving it and looking at it from afar. A thoughtful traveler understands how important American leadership is in our world, and how impactful our laws can be on struggling people and nations. I support Bread for the World because they bring a compassionate world view and a Christian perspective on taking care of the poor and hungry into the halls of our government. They make a huge difference in how the USA deals with economic justice issues, both at home and abroad.

— You encourage your readers and viewers to visit not just major cities but also cozy villages away from popular tourist routes. The Dutch government is also trying to actively spread tourism to remove the pressure from Amsterdam, but is over-tourism in general not becoming a problem? —

If you only go to famous places, overcrowding is becoming a serious issue. Barcelona’s Ramblas, Amsterdam’s Damrak, and Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori are all changing in character as tourism, Airbnb, and economic forces drive away real communities. This problem is compounded by millions of people from emerging economies, such as India and China, who converge on Europe’s most famous places. Sure, 20% of the top sights in Europe are terribly congested. But 80% of Europe rarely experiences a tourist crowd — and 80% of the Netherlands, too! My tip for the traveler: Get off the beaten path…explore!

— What is in your opinion the most important value that a hotel can offer its guests? From that perspective, do you have any advice for the Ambassade Hotel for the coming years? —

For me, a hotel provides a comfortable, efficient, and friendly nest. It’s a place to call home — and a springboard from which to explore a great city. And that’s why when I sleep in Amsterdam, I choose a hotel like Ambassade.

 

Best wishes and happy travels!
– Rick Steves

 

 

 

 

 

The Writers’ Hotel – A word from the librarian

The Ambassade Hotel is renowned as the place to stay in Amsterdam for writers. All the big Dutch publishers book rooms here for their authors – much to the gratitude of the hotel, which has been able to assemble an amazing book collection thanks to all its literary guests. The library currently holds an astonishing 5000 signed books offering a cross section of the entire range of contemporary literature.

The books are housed in the Library Bar and Library Lounge, which were completed in 2015. The person with responsibility for the library is Eelco Douma, who has been working at the Ambassade Hotel for 25 years. He’s proud of the collection and well aware that it wouldn’t have been possible without the publishers.

‘It’s extraordinary how the collection has developed. Publishers traditionally had their offices on Herengracht, and they book rooms with us for their authors. The hotel always receives a signed copy of their latest work. Because the writers keep coming back, from some of them we have their entire oeuvre. Take novelists like Arnon Grunberg and György Konrád for instance, or non-fiction authors like Ian Buruma and Philipp Blom. We have work by authors from 76 countries, and our Belgian neighbours in particular are close to our hearts. Tom Lanoye and Dimitri Verhulst are regular guests, for example. Verhulst actually devoted two pages to us in his book to mark the 2015 Dutch literature week!’


The guestbooks
In the Library Bar there are also 20 guestbooks with valuable contributions and reflections by famous guests. ‘They include internationally renowned writers, among them virtually every winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature over the past 30 years, as well as politicians, philosophers, and even a balloon pilot. There are various notes in the guestbooks by authors like Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, David Sedaris, Connie Palmen, Eckhart Tolle, Mario Vargas Llosa, Umberto Eco, and Jonathan Safran Foer.’

‘The writer and former chief editor of the magazine Vrij Nederland, Rinus Ferdinandusse, used to come to the hotel sometimes to interview a guest, and one day he said, ‘Do you know who’s sitting over there in the corner of the lobby?’ It turned out to be John le Carré, whom we hadn’t recognised because he’d reserved under his real name, David Cornwell. From then on, Le Carré stayed here regularly. I still have a handwritten letter from him thanking me for the Christmas gift we send him every year and saying he has such ‘fond memories’ of the Ambassade Hotel. I’ll always cherish that letter.’

‘Just before my time, though from the stories it sounds very impressive, there was a visit from the famous writer Alberto Moravia, éminence grise of Italian literature. It was as if the Pope was visiting, he was given so much attention and respect. Things are different these days; the top Italian author today, Paolo Giordano, is very relaxed and greets me like an old friend when he stays with us.’

‘Something that made a big impression on me a year ago was a visit by Nadya Tolokonnikova of the punk band Pussy Riot, who was here because of her book ‘How to Start a Revolution’. Usually I wouldn’t take such a liberty, but when I saw her sitting in the library I went up to her and said that I think she’s extremely courageous and she should keep up her fight.’

For the love of the guest – A home away from home

The staff at the Ambassade Hotel are hospitality experts. Both in their contact with the guests and behind the scenes, they put their hearts and souls into providing the best possible service. The emphasis lies on devoting time and attention to the guests, with a personal touch, so the hotel feels like a home away from home.

It’s time the reception assistants took a turn in the limelight. Their job is crucial: they look after luggage, show guests the way, provide room service, give information, and make sure the hotel is always looking its best. In cooperation with the reception staff, they also make any reservations the guests might want, and they have the hotel bikes ready and waiting on request. But their most important task is to give the guests a warm welcome and ensure they have a carefree stay.

‘We’re the guests’ first point of contact with the hotel, and first impressions count,’ says Ewout Smit, a reception assistant who has found his ideal job. ‘A warm and respectful reception is crucial. It’s so important that guests feel welcome from the moment they arrive, and that someone devotes time and attention to them. You need to be sensitive to the type of guest, and his or her culture.’

Wim Breden, who has worked at the Ambassade Hotel for years, nods in agreement.

‘The way you treat an elderly English aristocrat is quite different from the way you treat a jovial American.’

‘The longer you do this job, the more you develop feelers for it. You constantly have to work out the right approach and sense what each guest needs. At the Ambassade Hotel, we give people all the time and attention they need, and they really appreciate it. It’s not for nothing that guests regularly return. I’ve really developed a close relationship with many of them over the years.’

Wim has a colourful anecdote by way of illustration. ‘For years a famous high society lady from New York used to stay here. She was a flamboyant type, with cashmere scarves, and impeccable style. A couple of times a year I would pick her up from Schiphol Airport, where for her there was no such thing as waiting in line. She would simply walk through and nobody would stop her or say anything. She had such charisma and strength of personality, you couldn’t say no to her. But she had a heart of gold, and we had the most amazing conversations. As a token of her appreciation she invited me to come and visit her, but a month before I was due to go, I received the news that she’d passed away… I certainly shed a tear.’

In conversation with Stine Jensen – The importance of attention

Philosopher, writer and television programme maker Stine Jensen was the guest in the January edition of the Ambassade Hotel’s literary interview series, Literaire Salon @ Ambassade Hotel. Writer and journalist Chris Keulemans talked to her about her essay ‘First Love’, which was commissioned for this year’s Spirituality Month. The essay combines an account of Jensen’s experience of first love with philosophical and spiritual reflections on love in relation to attention.

First Love

What can you remember about the first time you were in love? Hopefully, it was an all-embracing experience of complete attention. All your attention was focused on the other person, and theirs on you. But is that what really happens?

When Stine Jensen looks back at her first love Mark, she arrives at a different conclusion. Mark showered her with attention. Every day she would receive long letters, which he would deliver through her letterbox. Much as she loved this, she never wrote back. One day the letters stopped coming, and the self-doubt began. Had she done something wrong? Wasn’t she good enough anymore?

Now, in retrospect, Jensen sees that this first love wasn’t about her attention for Mark at all; it was her self-love that was being gratified. Isn’t it wonderful to feel that you’re special? And doesn’t it make you panic if the attention suddenly dries up! Significantly, it works both ways. Mark’s letters weren’t declarations of love, but accounts of what he’d been doing that day. They were actually about him.

In the light of Jensen’s first love experience, it’s not hard to make a connection with today’s social media. We constantly post messages and photos to show the world how interesting and fun we are. We hope to receive likes and comments as a confirmation that we are seen by others. And what happens when we like something online ourselves? Do the things we like really have our attention, or is it simply another way of putting ourselves in the limelight, in the hope that other people notice us? These are uncomfortable and confrontational questions.

But what is attention, actually? And what does it do?

Attention

Attention is a genuine and sincere interest in something or someone. Not seeing but looking, not hearing but listening, and not thinking but feeling. It is this form of attention that fosters love – in whatever form – and it is vital for long- term relationships. Without real attention for the other person, love soon dies.

Looking and listening

When you fall in love for the first time, you usually haven’t learnt this yet, and the attention you give and receive is principally a means for your insecure pubescent brain to seek reassurance. But over the years, most of us discover that to nourish true love, you need to pay less attention to yourself and more to the other person.

In an age when our pinging phones constantly beg for our attention, this is often where the problem lies. How much time do we spend truly looking at and listening to other people? Whether they’re our partners, our children, our friends, or even strangers. And if love thrives on real attention, isn’t it high time we went analogue now and again? Philosopher Stine Jensen thinks so. She argues that we owe it to ourselves to live more consciously and offer one another our genuine attention.

Koan Float, floating & massage centre – An oasis of serenity

In Amsterdam’s bustling canal area, Koan Float is an oasis of serenity. This floating and massage centre opened in 1997 as the first of its kind in the Netherlands, so it has years of experience with the therapeutic effects of floating weightlessly in a warm solution of Epsom salt.

What is floating?

It’s like floating in the Dead Sea, but then in your own cabin of warm water. Because there are no external stimuli – no light, sound, changes in temperature, or sensation of gravity – it’s an experience of total relaxation and calm for body and mind.

Epsom salt

The water you float in contains 550 kilogrammes of Epsom salt. This is rich in magnesium, which the body needs to be able to function properly: it’s good for the muscles, nerves, joints and bowels. The magnesium is easily absorbed through the skin, and your body takes in exactly the amount it needs.

Proven positive effects

Floating reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and boosts the production of endorphins, the feelgood hormones. It strengthens the immune system, is good for blood and oxygen circulation, lowers blood pressure, stimulates creativity, and improves learning and athletic performance. People who suffer from stress, or have sleep or concentration problems, find that floating helps them to relax and improves their focus. It also helps to relieve acute or chronic pain. People with conditions including arthritis, rheumatism and migraine experience lower levels of pain both during and after floating. These and other positive effects have been proven by a range of scientific studies.

If you’d like to know more about the health effects and/or book a floating session or a massage, see www.koanfloat.nl or visit in person at Herengracht 321 (close to the Ambassade Hotel). For guests at the Ambassade Hotel, special rates apply.

Massages at Koan Float

Koan Float has around 30 masseurs and bodyworkers, each specialising in a particular type of massage. Among them they master a wide variety of disciplines, and they offer the highest quality and careful attention to every client. A combination of floating and massage provides the ultimate relaxation experience, but if you’d like only a massage, you’re also more than welcome at Koan Float.

Frances Walker, massage therapist
The challenges of everyday life mean that people often no longer experience harmony between mind and body. We may physically be in one place, but our thoughts are elsewhere. As a result we often feel disharmony and stress. ‘I’ve been working at Koan Float since 2003 and I specialise in Deep Tissue Massage, which focuses on the deeper muscle layers and connective tissue. My approach aims at helping people to experience a calm mind and body through massage. Deep Tissue Massage is particularly useful for areas under chronic stress and tension such as the neck, shoulders and lower back. It helps to relieve pain and restore freedom of movement. You’re very welcome to make an appointment!’

See the variety of massage types available at www.koanfloat.nl

View on Herengracht in Amsterdam during springtime with boats, cars and canal houses

Sustainable Enterprise – Green Globe and closing the loop

The Ambassade Hotel always seeks to offer its guests the very highest quality, and strongly believes that quality and sustainability go hand in hand. That’s why sustainable enterprise is a spearhead of hotel policy.

Two years ago the Ambassade Hotel was awarded a Green Globe Certificate in recognition of its measures to promote sustainability. But the hotel’s ambitions don’t end there. The Ambassade Hotel is a member of the Circular Hotels Leaders Group, 12 hotels that have been asked by the City of Amsterdam to explore opportunities for circular business practices. Recommendations have been made based on calculations of the hotel’s carbon footprint, and there is still a lot to be gained in the areas of energy consumption, food, furnishings and laundry. And although waste represents only a fraction of the total footprint, the mindset is that in the future there will be no such thing as waste, and all the materials we use will be part of a closed cycle.

Closing the loop is no simple matter, but our strength lies in cooperation.

If hotels apply circular purchasing principles and treat waste as a resource, the hotel sector in Amsterdam can play a pioneering role in making the city sustainable.

Cruz y Ortiz – Internationally renowned architects

The Ambassade Hotel is made up of 14 canal houses dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, nearly all of them connected. Over the years, the internal structure had lost something of its original character, so in 2014, Cruz y Ortiz were commissioned to remodel the public areas and create more unity. The design was to incorporate a brasserie and lounge/bar, and give pride of place to the extraordinary collections of signed books and COBRA art.

For Antonio Ortiz, a loyal guest, the commission had a special significance. He knows the Ambassade Hotel’s unique character well: stylish yet homely, both classic and timeless, with impeccable service from approachable staff. ‘Remodelling historic buildings is a challenging process,’ Ortiz says. ‘What function should go where? How do you harmonise the interior with the architecture? What’s more, according to planning law, individual buildings have to remain recognisable as such from the outside. To bring this all together in a good design requires a lot of careful tuning. It makes the process an exciting journey of exploration.’

The design
To reveal the original layout of the houses, Cruz y Ortiz reduced the size of the existing openings in the dividing walls, and added a new one. The passages were aligned along a single axis to create unity and coherence among the different spaces. ‘With historic buildings, this is the desirable and respectful approach,’ Ortiz says. ‘The connections between the buildings were actually reduced, so they are more individually identifiable, but still form a whole.’

The Ambassade Hotel’s inextricable association with art and literature is evident throughout. Guests are welcomed at the entrance by a COBRA sculpture in a gold niche – a subtle but telling prelude to the rest of the rooms, where art is beautifully integrated into the interior. The extensive collection of signed books has been given the space it deserves in the fittingly named Library Bar and Library Lounge.

A close up of the Library in our Cobra Lounge

A column from Arnon Grunberg – “Magic Show”

‘“As other men long for hearth and home, or wife and child, he would always return to neon light and reception, chambermaid and porter,” is how he puts it in his serial ‛Hotelwelt [Hotel World],’ Mark Schaevers notes of the writer Joseph Roth (1894-1939) in his excellent book ‘Ostend, the summer of 1936’ (Oostende, de zomer van 1936).

Although most hotels no longer have a porter, and it is a long time since neon light has been a feature of the hotel world, I share this idiosyncrasy with Joseph Roth: I long for hotels. A good hotel combines familiarity, a certain sense of security, with the temporary, the indefinite. A hotel is a halfway house.

Since I left Amsterdam in 1995, I have regularly returned to the city – work, mother, lover etcetera, there have always been reasons, too many reasons in fact.

Via a couple of detours, among them the ‘Flowering Radish’ (Bloeiende Ramenas) on Haarlemmerdijk and the Amstel Hotel, I ended up at the Ambassade Hotel, where I found what I was looking for.
It would be too much to recount my history at the Ambassade Hotel, and it would also be indiscreet – a hotel owes its existence in part to secret and clandestine meetings, although the clandestine nature of the meeting is often only a product of one’s own imagination – but in particular I would like to mention my godson’s eighth birthday, which he celebrated there in the summer of 2012, with entertainment by the magician Falicanto.

I had given birthday parties for him at the Ambassade before – after all, the hotel was where I lived when I was in Amsterdam – and after the first of them, Wim, who more than any other member of staff is to me the personification of the Ambassade Hotel, had confided that they had found confetti all over the hotel for days afterwards. So I had gone in search of other sources of amusement – he was a little old for confetti anyway – and with some help I had found Falicanto.

The magician agreed to come, some 15 boys and girls were invited for the show, and I eagerly played the role of host and surrogate father to my godson.

The children had installed themselves in the breakfast-cum-reception room with cake and soft drinks. A proportion of the cake had swiftly been rubbed into the carpet and some of the chairs, but that’s the advantage of a hotel: people expect stains. All guests make stains, only some less than others.

The children, who by this point had been informed that the magician was coming, had the air of spectators at the Colosseum, interested to see people being mauled by wild animals, the only difference being that a few of my godson’s friends were keen to play the role of the wild animal themselves.

One boy said to me, ‘I don’t like magicians, can I go and play at the back?’

‘No,’ I said. If one of the boys went to play ‘at the back’, they would all go and play at the back, and the magician would be left to perform his tricks for a couple of stray adults, I couldn’t do that to him.

The magician arrived, a thin, shy man who said he might have to cut the performance short because his girlfriend was ill. I became even more concerned that my godson’s sweet little friends would metaphorically tear him to pieces. The opposite happened, and diffidently he won their hearts, or at least their admiration.

A hotel, I realise, is also a conjuring trick. The staff do the magic, if all goes well the guests don’t see how the tricks are done, and they go home satisfied, wanting nothing more than to come back soon, because although there is a lot at home, there generally aren’t any real magicians.

Home is to a good hotel as sliding doors are to a wide stage.

The view on the row of canal houses comprising the Ambassade hotel and Brasserie Ambassade as seen from the other side of the Herengracht canal

Amsterdam Sinfonietta – Passion for music

Anyone who has ever been to a concert by Amsterdam Sinfonietta will have been struck by the musicians’ energy and enthusiasm. They play standing up, without a conductor. This calls not only for rigorous rehearsal, but also for intense interaction on the part of the orchestra members. The approach to performing gives the orchestra its unique signature: a perfectly coordinated ensemble, bursting with passion for music.

The Netherlands’ only professional string orchestra, Amsterdam Sinfonietta, has seen its popularity grow in recent years. Artistic director and violinist Candida Thompson puts this down to changes in society: ‘Music is always connected to social circumstances. For a long time it was fashionable to impress people with big orchestras in concert halls. These days people are looking for more personal and intimate experiences, without such a distance to the audience, in the way that chamber music used to be played. We’re actually a large chamber ensemble.’

Amsterdam Sinfonietta’s repertoire incorporates a wide variety of genres, from baroque to contemporary. As well as performing mainstream repertoire, the orchestra champions lesser-known or new works and participates in crossover projects. ‘We collaborate with artists, actors and dancers, and we experiment with lighting as it’s used in theatre, but then very subtly,’ Thompson says.

When it comes to the current musical climate in the Netherlands, however, Thompson has her concerns: ‘Musical tradition is an incredibly important part of our culture and for years it’s been neglected because of cutbacks. Music education is important. It’s like football or drawing: you only get interested if you come into contact with it.’

This is why Amsterdam Sinfonietta is committed to music education, and gives 50 performances a year for children aged four to six. The orchestra also offers conservatory students the opportunity to play with the ensemble, and runs an annual Sinfonietta String Players Day for musicians aged seven to fourteen. The Ambassade Hotel sets great store by these activities, and not only sponsors the orchestra, but also provides financial support to the talented young violinist Svenja Staats.

For more than 30 years, Amsterdam Sinfonietta has been the only professional string orchestra in the Netherlands, and it ranks among the best in the world. The ensemble is made up of 23 string players with a variety of nationalities, all of whom play at soloist level. Amsterdam Sinfonietta works with celebrated musicians such as Barbara Hannigan, Sol Gabetta, Janine Jansen, Isabelle Faust, Jasper de Waal, Martin Fröst, Alexander Melnikov, Christianne Stotijn, Bobby McFerrin, Wende and Blaudzun.