In 17th century Amsterdam the unfortunately named Wynand Fockink, with the assistance of his mother (inevitably known as Mother Focking), set up his eponymous gin distillery. It was the heyday of the Dutch East Indies company and the wealth of the orient was flowing into Holland. Taking advantage of newly available exotic oriental spices, the Fockink distillery made expensive distillates for the rich burghers of Amsterdam.
The distillery is Amsterdam’s oldest and and remains largely unchanged. It’s core product is Genever, a precursor to the London Dry Gin that we drink today. Genever is softer and more floral than gin. Made from malt wine, Genever is typically drunk neat at room temperature. I was with Mini Me, the Princess Monkey and our Dutch handler. The handler introduced us to the Fockink people as representatives from Martini Mandate; an influential drinks publication. An impromptu tour and tasting session was organised. The distillery’s output is tiny and only sold at source. Dozens of flavours are produced. The alcohol is poured to the brim of small tulip shaped glasses – the first sip is taken without lifting the glass from the bar counter. One generally repairs outside to savour the rest of the drink; the 18th century bar at the Focking distillery is too small to hold more than about a dozen people.
It was all wonderful, but the spirits are potent and we were in need of sustenance. Our Dutch handler made some calls and got us a reservation at Tokai, one of Amsterdam’s finest restaurants.
To help secure a difficult reservation the restaurant manager had been told that we were with Donald Trump’s advance team, selecting venues for his first Presidential tour of Europe next spring. If the manager thought it odd that two brown men would be representing Donald Trump he didn’t let on. At least we didn’t look Mexican. We left our sombreros in our hotel.
We discussed the usual security topics and moved to President Trump’s more unusual requirements.
Could they make sure that all the wait staff are female and blonde?
They may not have enough trained blondes on staff. Oh.
Could we pay for a hairdresser for the non blondes to change their hair colour? Oh good.
We worked through the menu, eliminating any items that might sound Mexican (tough in an Asian fusion restaurant, but we made it up as we went along)
The Tokai restaurant at the Conservatorium Hotel in Amsterdam is easily worthy of a Presidential visit. The setting, in a former music conservatory is stunning, with a huge multi storey glass atrium creating an unexpectedly grand entrance lobby. The cuisine is Asian fusion – inventive and served with flair. They even carried Wynand Focking’s Genever and used it to make me a delightful dry martini cocktail.
Between them, the Wynand Fockink distillery and the Tokai restaurant represent the best of the old and the new Amsterdam. Collectively they represent Amsterdam’s continued openness to the foreign influences. Most visitors don’t make it much past the Ann Frank museum, the red light district and the “coffee” bars. Explore further – this is a pretty cool, friendly city.
Historical Fact: Dutch soldiers would down a shot of Genever before battle. It made them feel invincible; the source of the term “Dutch courage”.
Plug: my college room mate Josh King has written an excellent account of his experience as Bill Clinton’s advance man. He really did organise presidential tours. Off Script is informative and entertaining. I don’t know who Donald Trump’s advanced man is. I doubt that I would have gone to school with him.