As long as you are happy with simple fare, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Leiden. Perhaps this is partly because eating establishments seem very friendly, but the food itself was quite well prepared.
The first night we went to Wielinga, highly regarded, but more importantly, about 2 minutes’ walk from our accommodation. It was cold and dark – I suppose it is all those canals, but it felt like London, that kind of cold. At any rate, it was a good choice, not least because it was quiet.
Actually, I have to give the thumbs up to all the places we ate at in Leiden. The music was always good and at a low level where one could choose to listen. Maybe that’s why, at the end of a few days, I wanted to move there. Well, not the only reason.
Anyway, back to Wielinga, which divides itself into a bistro, a bar and a restaurant, but they all merge seamlessly. We sat in the bistro, but I believe the menu is the same as in the restaurant. Between us we had the following main courses:
Skin fried cod fillet with mashed potatoes, spinach and calf gravy
Ragout of mushrooms and truffle wrapped in pastry with charcoal roasted vegetables
Rosé fried pheasant fillet with sauerkraut, crispy bacon, parsnip cream and orange plum sauce
Crispy fried sweetbread with potato mousseline, sautéed chicory and porcini mushrooms gravy
I had the cod, and was relieved, after a horrible fish experience in Mons the week before, to have a piece of fish that was cooked nicely. It was a simple dish – all the more important to execute it in a good way. Everybody pronounced themselves happy and I should make a special mention of how beautiful the vegetable ragout looked.
Dessert of the Chef’s Menu
5 selected cheeses with quince compote and cranberry-fig bread
The dessert of the day was a sort of deconstructed – and very pretty – tarte tartin. I thought that the cheese platter was neither here nor there, but Manny was quite enthusiastic and in fact we went back a couple of days later to have it again. On that occasion we also tried:
Carrot cake with mascarpone mousse and yogurt ice cream
Well, I suppose I was expecting some rather ubiquitous slab of cake with cream cheese and icecream on the side. But it was a very creative construction, with nothing in common with that picture I had in my head. Elegant. Fancy that.
The Dutch seem to like their coffee chains. We started out Day two at one of them: Anne and Max. The coffee was okay, but like many of these places, they simply don’t have the space for a canister of plain black tea – ceylon, or English Breakfast or some such. I confess mystification at this and it loses me as a customer. Fortunately, as I’ve learned to do in Europe, I carry my own teabags. Problem solved. I guess.
We had a dish which was nothing like we expected from the menu.
AN EXCELLENT START…
A savoury breakfast with oeuf en cocotte and your choice of bacon, tomato or warm smoked salmon.
Served with toast, avocado and tomato
In practice, we received two pieces of brown bread with a very thin spread of avo on it – think vegemite thin – and a thin slice of tomato. The smoked salmon was baked into the egg, which was rather overcooked, not something that improves either egg or salmon.
Don’t get me wrong. If this place was in Geneva, we’d not be complaining. But I really hoped we’d do better in Leiden.
After wandering around, discovering a couple of yarn shops, I might add, I ended up at Voorafentoe for lunch. It has what I gather is typical Dutch cafe fare with a strong emphasis on bread. With misgivings I decided to try the lentil soup and was pleasantly surprised. A generous serving of piping hot curry and coconut flavoured red lentil soup and a large dark brown perfectly heated roll which had been sliced down to the bottom crust into half a dozen pieces. A novelty (to me) which worked well was toasted pinenuts in the soup. All in all for just under 6 euros, a bargain.
Even better, I discovered they had English b/f tea. There was no longer any doubt about it, it would be our breakfast place the next morning. We needed places which opened by 8am due to early work starts while there, which limited our options, but we still had an excellent choice. Breakfast at Voorafentoe started with coffee which stood up to its reputation – it won best coffee in the Netherlands a few years ago – fresh orange juice and good natural yoghurt with granola and fruit. Then we both had the croque monsieur, ie with an organic fried egg on top. It was all cheap, way too much for us, but in the dark and the cold, maybe that’s how you have to eat in this part of Europe in winter. I know, it’s autumn, but to an Australian it’ll pass for worse.
Voorafentoe is open on Thursday nights for dinner, not special, but good value. I had steak, which was an absolute treat given that I could never afford to eat it in Geneva. Manny had fish and was very happy with it. I think we paid about eleven euros for each dish. The burgers looked perfectly cooked, by the way, and I wish I’d had the chance to try one.
On another occasion I tried the tomato soup in Voorafentoe. It was the usual story – okay for tomato soup. It’s really hard to get the depth of flavour that makes a soup worth eating to the end. I ate maybe half of it. A discussion with the waiter ensued. He said that it was like a national dish for the Dutch and he didn’t understand why. It’s a boring soup. It was being taken off the menu. And sure enough I see that
- SWEET POTATO COURGETTE SOUP WITH CRÊME FRAÎCHE
has taken its place.
I did try another highly regarded place for lunch: Bistro Noroc. It’s a sweet, teensy place with very friendly staff. The menu is – you guessed it – soup, sandwiches, salads and pasta. I tried the pasta for a change and it was okay, but in retrospect I wish I’d gone for a sandwich, which after all, is the local preference. We went back for drinks another time.
Overall, however, as you may have guessed, we spent a lot of time in Voorafentoe. It wasn’t just the food/drinks which sold us, but it’s a cafe with a lovely vibe. Spacious, various areas to sit, the music is good enough to listen to – which is something I rarely find myself saying. Cafes in Geneva could take a lesson just from that. Ambience – it’s important if you are trying to create a place where people might hang out. I mostly had a book for company there, and we were very happy together. The staff were lovely, but then, we didn’t strike a place where they weren’t.
I did get as far as sitting down in Roos, but it was so crowded and noisy, I went back to Vooranfentoe instead. I suspect Roos would be best first thing in the morning. Both Roos and Vooranfentoe are on the canal, and on market days sitting outside at either place is quite atmospheric. However, it was too cold for me to consider this, though I admired the fortitude of those who did.
We loved eating in Leiden. A wide range of choice, and in particular lots of the sorts of cafes I terribly miss here in Geneva. My only wish is that more of them bothered to provide plain black tea instead of habitually offering the evil Earl Grey in that guise. Oh, and a big thumbs up for the fact that we were only served fresh milk whereever we went. Cafes in Geneva, again, take note. It’s not that hard. Stop serving UHT!