First, we have a confession to make: we love Amsterdam so much that we live here. But it didn’t take long to convince us to relinquish our own house and take a short walk down Amsterdam’s most beautiful canal, Prinsengracht, for a weekend at boutique Hotel Seven One Seven. It is a very attractive old canalhouse, with no obvious ‘hotel’ entrance or big declaration: just a brass bell by the Amsterdam-green door. It feels like home. It looks like a home, too, which isn’t too surprising, since it was a private dwelling until the owners moved out and paying guests moved in. What began as a weekend-party place turned into a business; since then, it has changed hands; its current owners fell in love with it in 1997.
The new proprietors wanted everything: the pictures on the walls, the books on the shelves, the drinks in the cabinet. The people who created its artful silk-and-tweed clutter left with nothing but a cheque and their bags. When you visit, you’ll understand why this had to be the case: there’s a lot of stuff in Seven One Seven, and it’s composed beautifully. And unlike the Dylan, that other style temple down the canal, this place isn’t about exquisite, don’t-touch perfection. You don’t have to be rocking a pair of Manolos to cross its threshold: Birkenstocks or battered old Reeboks fit in just as well.
On arrival, we were met with comfort and atmosphere. In fact, we were met by an old friend, Sven – nicely in keeping with the home thing. We were given the Shakespeare Suite, which had the same warm, anti-minimalist decor as the rest of the property, and a quirky combination of contents: huge Victorian brass bed, rich throws, suiting material for curtains, an unusual parquet-topped sideboard, and family memorabilia giving it a lived-in, personal appeal. We concluded that those weekenders who got to hang out here before it became a business were very lucky people.
After a good look around, we put our feet up for tea and pastries. We had noticed that in the guest book, the ink was virtually still wet from the graffiti scrawl of a major US fashion designer – and Seven One Seven is certainly discreet enough for any passing stars. If I were here avec entourage, I’d go for the canal-facing Picasso Suite. Its enormously long dining table, flanked by two enormously long sofas, makes it suitable for a rock-star party – or a pair of lovebirds with 15 kids in tow, should such a Mr and Mrs Smith exist. Afterwards we headed to Christophe, our restaurant of choice for the night. Michelin-starred, it has a reputation as Amsterdam’s most formal and finest dining experience, so we were conducting something of a social experiment by bringing along our gurgling and hungry eight-week-old daughter, Lola. We’re hoping she won’t get an appetite for solids when she sees the menu.
There has been something of a renaissance in food culture in Amsterdam; there is certainly sufficient local choice to make the lack of a restaurant at Seven One Seven neither here nor there. Although service could generally be better, quality is mostly good and, in terms of variety and experience, we’d say our home town is unbeatable: it’s refreshing and progressive. Supperclub – former artist squat, now world-renowned restaurant – is more popular with the tourists than the locals, but it will feed you an amazing meal over five hours or so, as you recline on a divan. Some courses arrive on a single spoon; and they used to give you a rubber glove to eat the rabbit. 11 is another interesting place: here, you are served a four-course dinner sitting at a picnic table within huge walls that reveal a club as you finish up.
Christophe is a seemingly straighter, top-end restaurant, where the Marigolds stay strictly in the kitchen and Monsieur Michelin has given his one-starred seal of approval. We had assumed it would be very formal, if the price tags are anything to go by, but to our pleasant surprise there was hardly a suit in sight; even little Lola partaking of a little mother’s milk went unnoticed. And the service is superb: the waiters were so attentive, we wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d offered her an alternative.
You know a good restaurant when things just roll: the silent flurry of waiters, the continuous flow of wonderful food and wines, the Dallas/Dynasty decor, an undercurrent of American and French accents, and Lola quietly burbling throughout. It all dashed our preconceptions of formality – but this is Amsterdam, of course. We weren’t wrong about the price tag, though.
Given that we were on holiday in our home town, we made plans to visit the Noordermarkt in the morning, rather than just returning to base. It is a good – and beautiful – walk west up the canal to the market space, where Saturday morning brings vendors of organic food, bric à brac, Sixties and Seventies furniture, and the best apple pie in town (look for the queue at the café on the corner). There are bars all around, and you get a taste of authentic Dutch life that red-light-obsessed tourists can easily miss.
Back at Seven One Seven, we declined to sit on the patio off the back (it’s a canal view or nothing in Amsterdam); it’s more of a ‘curl up by the fire’ kind of place, anyway. Drinks are included in the prices, so to relax with a glass of well-rounded red in the sitting room, or kick off breakfast with a glass of champagne is more than a pleasure. The decor (Balinese mixed with African, colonial meets modern) is all the more attractive because it hasn’t been designed to be marketed. It’s intimate and private, and very relaxing. We’d never guessed what was behind the façade, and we’re rather pleased to be in on the secret. If you like the new breed of country-house hotels in the UK, you’ll love it. The difference is that rather than pushing a rock ’n’ roll vibe (a professor or a sculptor would be as at home here as a superstar) Seven One Seven lets you bring your own.