Yesterday, I spent the day in Haarlem, researching a chapter to our new guidebook.

One idea that I had was, in order to find a good restaurant where I could eat in the evening, I would ask everyone I encountered where they recommended. If the same place came up three or four times, then it seemed a fairly safe bet that this be okay to try.

However, my first attempt at asking was a little disheartening.

It was at the tourist office, and I thought they should have some decent idea of where was worth eating.

“Oh, we have so many restaurants,” said the smiling lady dismissively.

“Yes, but which of them are good,” I persisted.

She waved a hand. “Oh, they’re all good.”

I shuddered at an involuntary memory, when my wife and I chose to eat at a Chinese restaurant in Scheveningen. The place was called Wang Hai, by the way, and is to be avoided at all costs.

The food itself was pretty disappointing, but what really turned me off the place was what I found in our soya sauce. As I was shaking the soya sauce on to the plate, I discovered hundreds of tiny black specks. Some kind of seed, perhaps? No, in fact, upon closer inspection they turned out to be flies.

I alerted the waitor and asked him to bring us a new soya sauce. He did so and… exactly the same thing.

Eventually, he brought over a brand new bottle, which oddly enough didn’t have flies in, but by that time my appetite had been ruined.

Or – another random memory – the time when we were up in Workum, in Friesland, and desperate to find something to eat. After about 19.30, since the Dutch have such early eating habits, mild anxiety about where to eat does turn into outright panic.

This panic brought us in contact with a totally deserted Chinese restaurant, which were highly recommended by some Dutch barstaff we had just spoken to.

The Chinese meal was not unlike microwaved vomit, and in actual fact made me very ill the following day. A little culinary tip, which may come in useful: when you are sat, waiting to be served a meal, and you hear a clearly audible ding, then that is very much the time to make for the door. But, as I said, we were desperate and I knew that we could either stay and eat or leave and go hungry for the entire evening.

So, obviously, seeking the advice of the Dutch about where is worth eating – when every place worthy of calling itself a restaurant in this country cannot possibly be bad – is not a particularly sensible idea. I need to come up with a new strategy. And these Dutch folk need to buy our book.

I eventually ended up eating at Specktakel, simply because it was the only restaurant mentioned in both of the guidebooks that I happened to be using. It was okay, but I was again a bit disappointed by the quality of the food. Most people, I imagine, come for the idea. A truly global menu, which changes every two months. Looking at the list of starters, I laughed out loud, and had to ask the Dutch waitress if she was kidding me.

She assured me that she was not.

Not one single dish came from the same place. There were Scandinavian reindeer croquettes. Australian tunafish. African antelope. Oh my God. Most professional chefs would probably walk straight back out the door, wondering how on Earth any credible chef can cook such a diverse menu to any reasonable standard.

But, since I’m not a professional chef, I stayed.

And disappointed I was. But, still, the inventive range of dishes held some charm.


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