“ Address: Scheldestraat 112 / 1078 GP Amsterdam / Netherlands „
I'm a frequent visitor to Amsterdam and I usually stay at the Novotel on Europa Boulevard. This is the Novotel near to the RAI exhibition centre. Whilst it's a nice enough place to stay, if you stay there as often as my colleagues and I do, you soon get very fed up with the restaurant menu. In January I was there with my French colleague Dominique and we desperately wanted to eat somewhere else as she was sick of the menu. I suggested that we head north along Europa Boulevard and Europaplein, towards a street where I knew we would find lots of different restaurants from which to choose. It's a bit of a bleak walk at night as there are few people around once the RAI has closed and you need to pass under the railway line through a tunnel so if you're a bit wary of walking around at night, a tram line runs along this route.
When we reached Scheldestraat we realised that there were more restaurants than we would ever need all lined up on either side of the street. I'm a decisive person and I can't stand too much wandering around and comparing menus especially when it's cold. Dominque liked the look of a Pakistani restaurant but I convinced her that eating curry in Holland when she can eat better in England for much less would be a mistake. She kindly agreed to go along with my request to eat Thai food and after a quick glance at the menu in the window of Chutima's Thai Food House, we headed in.
The restaurant is tiny and beautifully decorated with traditional Thai art. There are only eight tables, two of them tucked away through an archway and the other six in the main area. If you want to be sure of getting a table it would be wise to ring and book in advance. The decor was charming with a row of gilded wooden ladies kneeling in the window, scroll paintings on the wall, carved wooden trims around the ceiling edges, photographs of the Thai royal family, and rich fabrics on the table, glimpsed through glass covers.
The owner brought over the menus, asking how good our Dutch was and then giving us - ha ha, this is Dutch humour - translated menus in English. These were presented in attractive wooden boxes which opened to reveal the food and drink menus. We'd had a bad day at the office - I won't go into it but the phrase 'total waste of a day' springs to mind - and were in the mood for a beer or possibly two. Unfortunately we'd already decided that the food looked great before Dominique spotted that the only beer on offer was alcohol free. The restaurant clearly has no alcohol license.
We ordered our food and an alcohol free beer for me, a tamarind juice for Domique and a large bottle of water to share. The beer and juice were brought to the table on a little wooden tray with feet and poured out for us at the table. The use of the little tray was typical of the rather dainty little touches and attention to detail that seem to be an integral part of the Chutima's experience.
To start we each ordered a soup - a prawn Tom Yum for me and a vegetable soup with coconut milk for Dominique. She originally chose one without the milk but the owner came back to double check that we realised how spicy the soups would be. For me a good hot Tom Yum holds no fear but for Dominique, a switch to something not quite so hot seemed to be a wise decision. Since we both eat fish and vegetables but not meat, we each chose a dish and agreed to share. Dominque chose prawns with cashew nuts, onion and vegetables (Koeng Ma Mueng) and I asked for tofu in red curry sauce (Paneng Jee) after checking that all the coloured curries were roughly the same level of spiciness. I didn't want to order something that would blow Dominiques head off. Rice is included with all the main course dishes and we chose to have jasmine rice (steamed or boiled, I'm not sure - but definitely not fried).
Normally I like to share a portion of Thai fish cakes or another nice snacky starter but unfortunately the veggie or fish starters were a bit limited. Several things I would normally quite like - like the aforementioned fish cakes - were listed as containing minced up chicken, fish and prawns, so they were off limits.
The soups arrived quite quickly and were presented in small green bowls - if I'm honest, rather smaller than I would like as I do love soup. The Tom Yum Koeng had a good level of kick and a couple of massive prawns with their shells removed but their tail shells left on to make them easier to hold and eat. For me a perfect Tom Yum should be full of 'bits' that you need to carefully remove - chunks of chilli, lemongrass, leaves and twigs - and for me that's part of the ritual of a good Tom Yum. In this respect the 'bit level' was rather low for me but the soup was excellent none the less. Dominique's soup made her eyes water and she made a few comments about this not being as mild as she'd expected.
We had ordered water which hadn't been brought to the table so we reminded the owner and he brought it over on his little wooden tray along with some glasses. We asked him why the place is called Chutima's and he explained it was his wife's name and that she was in the kitchen doing all the cooking. The only other member of staff was the Thai waiter who spoke excellent English and brought most of the food to the table.
The main courses were brought to the table in more green celadon glazed bowls, matching the plates and the covered dish of rice. We were left to serve ourselves which I was happy about - I don't really like being served by waiters or waitresses. The quantity of rice was just right for the amount of food which was good - too many places either give you far too much or far too little rice. I took a small mound of rice and a couple of spoonful's of each dish. The portions were not so big but luckily for me my dining companion seems to have quite a small apetite so I didn't go hungry - in other words, I got to be a pig and take advantage of her being rather more dainty than me.
The prawns with cashew and vegetables were excellent. The veg were in good sized chunks and tasted ultra fresh and still had a good crunch to them (where appropriate). The cashew nuts were delicious and the prawns were served shell off but tail on, as I described earlier for the soup. Dominique and I had a bad tofu experience just a week earlier (a vegetarian 'banquet' with no tofu at all) so I was pleased to be able to get it this time, although I must admit that this was the very standard compressed tofu which is quite bland and I generally prefer the more fibrous varieties of bean curd. The sauce was not particularly hot and I suspect they had toned it down a little once it was clear that Dominique was a bit of a novice.
There's a very limited dessert menu of fruit, banana in coconut milk or Thai ice-creams but we weren't tempted by those or by having tea or coffee. The owner kindly made up two bills for us so we could each put our half through expenses and we paid Euro21 each. For Amsterdam I would consider this to be pretty good value - though of course the absence of alcohol from the drinking options helps to keep the bill down.
I've eaten several times at Djago, the Indonesian restaurant just a few doors away, and I loathe Indonesian food. I will certainly try to persuade anyone who urges me to go to Djago's again to step a few doors away and get much nicer food for a similar price. We will definitely aim to go again, and in fact Dominique went back two days later and ate at Chutima's again because she liked it so much.
Note - Chutima's is closed on Saturdays. Weird eh?