If you’re reading this somewhere in the Netherlands, or if you’ve ever been served so much as a glass of water in the Netherlands, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the standard Dutch service-without-a-smile (and-perhaps-even-with-an-eye-roll if you’re lucky). And it’s not just in food and drink establishments. Trying to find your size at Mango or Vero Moda or even de Bijenkorf? It probably isn’t going to happen unless you manage to smuggle yourself into the stock room. Done trying things on? Don’t hand me your reject clothes, you tiresome, insignificant thing. Please hang everything up exactly as it was and then retrace your steps until everything is put back precisely where you found it.
(Note: I may be slightly exaggerating for dramatic effect here.)
Coming from Canada, the land known for its ridiculously and excessively polite and friendly citizens, it took me a particularly long while to really get accustomed to this unusual standard … But I can truthfully say that, at this point, I’m a convert. Going shopping back home in Toronto has become an exhausting exercise in small talk and extended smiles and sustained eye contact.
Once in a while, though, it’s nice to be acknowledged and appreciated as a customer – and a human being. My lovely maman came to visit me last week (more on that later!) and, after a gorgeous and sunny walk on the Scheveningen beach, we were treated to just such service.
Ever the foodie, prior to her arrival in the Netherlands my mom had read about the Hague Hotel School (Hotelschool The Hague). The school trains its students in every area of hospitality, which means that everyone spends time working in the kitchen, the two restaurants, and the school’s own hotel. Students are at every level of the operation. Because all of the staff are in fact in training, the food and drinks are offered ‘at cost’ and you can eat and drink for astonisingly low prices …
PLUS, from the moment you enter until the moment you leave, you are treated with North American levels of friendliness and enthusiasm.
We had lunch at the Brasserie Zinq, the more informal restaurant, and we were not disappointed. We were seated right by a huge window overlooking the grounds and, while we meticulously studied our menus, our lovely waitress brought over an absolute mountain of freshly baked bread with aioli and tapenade.
Things were off to an excellent start.
Highlights of the meal include a smoked duck appetizer that my mom raved about, really delicious wines, and a beautiful ‘seasonal salad’ with goat’s cheese and beet curls that melted in my mouth. However, the real winner was when dessert arrived (including cherry-beer ice cream and roasted figs … enough said) and the waitress lit a sparkler on my plate! We had mentioned at some point that I had just graduated the previous day (more on that later too!) and she’d remembered. I may be a big sap, but the smile on my face was pretty much permanent after that.
We must have spent a solid two hours at the Brasserie, so enjoyable was our lunch, and I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re ever in The Hague or Scheveningen and looking for a meal with a gastronomical feel, but without the hefty bill.
A few practical notes:
To access the Brasserie, you have to enter through the school’s main entrance (right across from the Nieuwe Scheveningse Bosjes). Here, you are led by a welcoming, professional and impeccably dressed student to the restaurant, crossing the cafeteria on your way. (It is a school after all.) You may feel a bit weird about this, but don’t! They are delighted to have non-students as it provides more realistic training.
If you have any special dietary restrictions, ask about dishes before you order them (I know – duh – but still). I considered getting the salmon on a bed of paella, but then decided on the salad. My mom however did get the salmon, and the paella turned out to be full of chicken AND pork even though the menu made no mention of this. Fortunately, she isn’t pescatarian and happily devoured the dish.