On a recent trip to Amsterdam by car, we stopped off at a service station to fill up and get a spot of lunch. I’d never been to a Dutch service station before and wasn’t expecting anything above and beyond the usual fast food offerings we get here in the UK – especially as the brick and concrete structure looked so uninviting. If it hadn’t been for the calls of nature, we would probably not even have got out of the car. But I’m glad we did.
Walking into the small service station I could see the usual buffet set up but the smell was amazing. It didn’t smell like school dinners, chip fat, overboiled vegetables or baby vomit. It smelled of food. Real home cooked food.
As I walked in I could see the chefs hard at work chopping, stirring, preparing and tasting their dishes before putting them out on the buffet counter. I’ve never seen anyone in a UK service station taste anything. I’ve seen them take things out of huge packets ‘fresh’ from the freezer and lob them into deep fat fryers. I’ve seem them prod tired looking meat or fish with thermometers but don’t ever recall seeing a sense of pride on their faces like these Dutch men had as they tasted and adjusted seasoning.
We started at the fresh fish counter. Indeed we chose the fish we wanted and watched the chef prepare it for cooking as a fishmonger would.
We chose our salad as he cooked the fish to order. There were bowls upon bowls of freshly chopped and dressed vegetables and pastas. Nothing looked like it had come out of a tin or a packet. The chopping was rough and rustic. The range creative and seasonal.
Desert was simple but hand made. We saw the lady at the til lay sheets of puff pastry down, dollop over some cream, top with huge strawberries and then slice them as evenly as she could reserving a big one for the head chef with a wink.
She took these apple pies out of the oven, toasted some nuts and layered them on top.
But best of all she made my daughter’s hot chocolate by melting some dark chocolate and adding warm milk. Simple and tasty with not a trace of artificial sweeteners anywhere.
We paid around £25 for four meals of outstanding quality and ate the lot almost licking the plates clean.
I felt guilty that I had made a judgement on this little service station before setting foot inside. I felt humbled by the pride of the team who had prepared my wonderful pitstop. I feel sad we don’t come close to this pride or quality in the UK.