Not so long ago, The Hague had something of a dour reputation as a centre of government, a pedestrian sort of place with a handful of expense-account restaurants that lacked a certain verve and vigour. Things have changed – and so very much for the better.
There is still a scattering of smart – sometimes very smart – restaurants in The Hague, but these now play second fiddle to more inspiring establishments, where a new breed of Dutch and foreign chefs have developed creative menus that often feature local, organic ingredients. All of this is very much to the delight of writer and foodie Suzanne Morton-Taylor, who talks to Culture Trip about her favourite restaurants in The Hague. And, as she points out, visitors shouldn’t forget the Scheveningen district, the fishing port on the coast just four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the city centre, where you can sample the freshest of seafood among the old docks.
Restaurant, Italian, $$$
Morton-Taylor’s favourite Italian restaurant in The Hague is a modestly decorated neighbourhood joint, offering superbly prepared and authentic Italian food. Choose a full meal consisting of an antipasto, pasta and a main course, though the antipasto and pasta alone are more than enough for most. There are only a few tables at Bacco Perbacco, so early booking is essential. Also, prices are reasonable with main courses hovering around €20 (£17), and incidentally, it doesn’t serve pizza. The restaurant lies north of the city centre on the way to Scheveningen, well away from the main tourist strip but readily reached by tram.
In the city centre, close to several of The Hague’s main attractions, narrow Denneweg is flanked by several of the coolest restaurants in town, and Dekxels is right up there, with its long and deep premises offering a boho-meets-industrial vibe. The menu is adventurous, and although it includes European cuisine, the most distinctive are its Asian fusion dishes. For example, try the beef tataki with shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice), garlic, chives, nori (seaweed) and ponzu (a citrus-based Japanese sauce). More regular dishes include truffle risotto and peking-style duck; mains are in the region of €14 (£12). Come early or make a booking to be sure of a seat.
Morton-Taylor – along with just about every other foodie in The Hague – reckons that this is “the best seafood restaurant in town”. Simonis aan de Haven is a large and airy place, whose garish decor – think fishing nets, plastic crabs and other nautical knick-knacks – adds to the lively atmosphere. The seafood is served canteen-style, so you order at the counter and wait until they call your number. However, it’s reliably delicious. Portions are generous and prices inexpensive – the sea bass is around €20 (£17), for example – and the fish soup is delicious. Simonis lies among the clutter of Scheveningen harbour, a tram ride from the city centre.
If you thought Scheveningen harbour was all about seafood, think again as this new Peruvian restaurant has made something of a name for itself with rave reviews in the local press. The decor is industrial – exposed beams and so forth – and the menu is startlingly original. One good choice is the pachacamac ceviche, comprising mushrooms, avocado, yellow pepper, green herbs, sweet potato and crispy quinoa. It is all very professionally done – the chef used to work in Michelin-star restaurants – and there is also a liver-wilting range of cocktails. The Caballero de Los Mares (red vermouth, grapefruit, Campari and Angostura bitters) will certainly zing your palate.
Walter Benedict is an attractive bistro-style restaurant | Courtesy of Walter Benedict
Another restaurant on the lively Denneweg is Walter Benedict, an attractive bistro-style restaurant with an elegant facade and bare-brick walls inside. The menu is a canny combination of French and Dutch dishes plus the odd surprise – it serves a mean Flammkuchen (tarte flambée). Customers can opt for a full dinner or light bites and take advantage of an excellent wine cellar. A house speciality is the oysters – three for €8.25 (£7), six for €16.50 (£14) and an extravagant 12 for €33 (£28).
A traditional brown café combines with a bijou restaurant at this delightful little spot on Molenstraat – a narrow and inordinately quaint pedestrianised street in the centre of town. Le Café is an engagingly informal restaurant with vintage photos hanging on the walls, boho-brown furnishings and fittings, and a short and simple French-style menu that includes the likes of snails and oysters. One especially tasty main course is the beef bavette with shallots in a red wine jus for €25 (£21.50). After dinner, select from a good range of bottled beers, and hang around drinking until the wee hours.
The Hague has a substantial Italian community, and for many years, they pretty much ruled the (non-Dutch) gastronomic roost. The restaurant scene is much more diverse today, but the city is still home to several outstanding Italian restaurants, with Giuliano’s one of the best. It is an intimate, two-floor establishment with rustic bygones hanging on the walls and a mostly traditional Italian menu. The house speciality is a beef stew with potatoes and peas, but of course, there is much more, including six different spaghetti dishes from a very affordable €12 (£10.25). Giuliano’s is handily located in the town centre.
If the informal, canteen-style vibe of Simonis aan de Haven doesn’t quite ring your bells, then head round Scheveningen harbour to get to its cousin restaurant, Catch by Simonis. The seafood here is equally fresh and delicious, but the premises are much smarter. Catch occupies an attractive, glassy modern building overlooking the marina and comes complete with an outside terrace with comfortable sofas. Highlights of an ambitious menu include king crab, several different sorts of caviar, and a plaice fillet stuffed with mushrooms and served with potatoes and truffle gravy for an affordable €27 (£23). Also, try the catch of the day.
Rivalling Denneweg, if a little farther out of the city centre, Prins Hendrikstraat is another focus of The Hague’s vibrant and vital social scene, holding a string of cafés, restaurants and independent shops. Here, behind a fancy facade with fish and an octopus painted on the window, is where you’ll find Hendriks – a slick and modern place with some neat decorative touches, including a multiperforated wall. The menu offers a great range of seafood, both fish and shellfish, including a classic fish and chips. However, one of its specialities is mussels served several different ways, with the white wine and garlic version being a favourite.