Recently a friend and me had lunch at Lavinia, a lunchroom at the Kerkstraat. Which happens to be the longest street of Amsterdam city centre, hidden between Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht. Lavinia serves mainly vegetarian food, including vegan options and modernistic responsible-food-products like packaged coconut water and UTZ certified chocolate springles. My friend the other day dropped the expression New Foodism. If there’s any such thing, Lavinia has it.
Sustainable and vintage furniture, tap water garnished with citrus fruits and mint offered for free at the counter, intelligent waitresses and more vegetarian options at the menu then fishy or meaty treats. However my friend and me like to look beyond the idea of wholesome, well sourced ingredients and a hip and going environment. What’s it really all about? Like the purpose, meaning and destiny of life we constantly keep asking ourselves about or if we’re not in the spin of this mind-full-ness, being in doubt whether we should actually better be asking ourselves these deep questions instead of simply living the moment.
The difference between questions, doubt and awareness is quite an item which I gladly leave for another post. For now I’d like to keep things close to Lavinia, her food and it’s surroundings. Over a year ago my friend and me independently choose to pursue a vegan life style by skipping diary, fishy and meaty products from our menus. On the side I also rather not digest refined sugar, gluten and nuts. However I do prefer leather shoes and woolen sweaters over synthetic material to address yet another complicated matter of assimilation and appearance. Anyway it’s an entertaining challenge to find out who’s able to cater for our pretty demanding food preferences. My friend questions his vegan lifestyle once in a while. He especially did during the holiday season. Not because, finding himself in Manchester for Christmas, he missed out on the turkey and scrambled eggs with bacon for breakfast. But merely because he doesn’t want to be a pain in the ass for his hosts. Social wise, to confess being vegan – if only it were for the mere pronunciation – isn’t typically easy going. Your food-loving host prepares an excellent and entertaining diner and you act like: “No thanks, I do not eat – as in appreciate – your efforts. But don’t you worry about me”. And that’s exactly what they’ll do the rest of the evening. Worrying and talking about your a-typical food preferences. Deep apologies dear hosts. We’re not here to harm you.
To our unexpected surprise electing a dish from a menu in regular restaurants actually more often then not is a simple task. On average there’s just not so much to choose from. Which makes it easy. A vegan burger nowadays has found it’s way into many a restaurant. It often isn’t the most seducing or appealing item at the menu. You might even rather skip the whole restaurant experience all together, visit your local farm shop instead, buy some real wholesome and good ingredients and cook yourself. However not having to choose really does make life simple once in a while.
Fortunately Lavinia at the Kerkstraat offers a different experience. The intelligent waitresses eagerly inform themselves in the kitchen upon our question if the pick-your-own choice-of-three from the salad station could possibly behold a vegan lunch option. They proudly return with the happy notice that this can be done. Which is great of course. The cakes and sweets I love to indulge unfortunately all contain refined sugar. Which disappoints slightly because the expectations are held high through the Lavinian outlook of things. Tea is to be infused in the form of a simple teabag. Which isn’t very lucid either with even a professionally commercial chain like the Coffee Company serving subtle and refined tea made from bold leaves transferred into individual paper bags with loving care and attention by the barristas.
The Lavinian experience in particular makes us wonder if indeed we’re all still very much attached to the idea of purchasing a package deal while eating out. It’s about what you find at your plate, of course. But we’re comfortably used at paying the bill for the way the food is presented, for the ambiance created for us, including some not very professional but charming gestures or words of the waitresses. I am not judging this predisposition of ours. I am just trying to make it clear to myself and others. The same way as I tend to check the list of ingredients on almost every jar or pack I grap from a shop shelve nowadays. What am I buying? I need glasses to make it clear to myself. But it isn’t the glasses that clarify it. It’s the act of being conscious of it.
And so it is with our restaurant bills. We find it romantically nostalgic if in France the ‚couverts’ are being charged seperately at € 1 per head. We check if the service is included or not before adding a pourboire (tip) to l’addition (bill). I’m starting to realize the truth of this basically very realistic custom. It makes me come up with the idea of a new Amsterdam way. A place where it is specified at your bill what you pay for. Apart from charging the custom couscous with pomegranate, spicy pumpkin soup and two jasmin tea’s, the bill specifies separately for x-amounts: special Monday ambiance; José’s service; vintage tableware and the chefs ‚made with love and attention’ label. Because in most of the restaurants and places you’ll find yourself nowadays, that’s what it is all about. Entourage, feeling, ideas and idealism or what you see is what you get. Do not go beyond, do not pass the borders of our communal comfort zone while sullenly enjoying the moment.