Travel review: Andaz Amsterdam
Compared to the gabled 17th century canal houses that surround it on either side of the Prinsengracht canal, the solid 1970s brick exterior of the Andaz hotel in Amsterdam is, frankly, disappointing.
Step inside, however, through an ornately stuccoed low-ceilinged corridor lined with Alice in Wonderland-style small black doors, and it's a different story. Your first sight is a series of giant white and gold bell lights hanging over three circular tables (around which you can check in) and an airy glass atrium filled with illuminated hoops and globes of light that represent stars and constellations.
The surreal decor continues upstairs. Every room is adorned with a mural of a fish stitched on to one of 12 objects such as a champagne glass, a fork or a spoon; and there's a pair of yellow and red wooden clogs hanging on the wall facing the bed (painted to look like two people screaming and meant as a reminder to get out and explore the city).
Not being the greatest fan of Dutch designer Marcel Wanders' oversized, child-like tables and chairs for Moooi, I was sceptical about an all-Wanders hotel. But the bedrooms have character and playfulness while remaining restful, functional and, mostly, stylish.
The 117 guest rooms and five suites are well finished and airy; they are open plan and have a small walk-in closet. The spacious glass-front shower cubicle doubles as a full-length mirror; the high-backed, tulip-shaped yellow reading chairs are cosy but refined; and the Villeroy & Boch basins are hand-painted with one of Wanders' one-minute designs in Delft Blue. The wallpaper in the toilet depicts tales of the city's history and folklore.
I eat at the hotel's restaurant, the Bluespoon, with its open kitchen. Diners can see the chefs chop, stir and sauté and hear them chat. The food is so-called Western seaboard cuisine, but the meal I have - crispy iceberg lettuce and radicchio with a poached egg, black truffle and honey mustard dressing; roasted brill on the bone with clams, carrots, capers butter and lemon; apple and blueberry crumble with vanilla ice cream - is a mixed bag.
The produce is fresh and seasonal, the combinations inventive and unpretentious, but I found the starter unbalanced (too much salad) and the dessert stodgy.
The breakfast buffet is attractive and plentiful. The à la carte menu is short but sweet and includes an intriguing smoked eel omelette, although I opt for a more classic but perfectly executed eggs Florentine. The staff are friendly and when I mention I like the peanut butter I am immediately brought a printout of a map with the address of Hartog's, the bakery that makes it, as well as all the bread and pastries served.
Complimentary wine and snacks are served every evening in the library, there is free Wi-fi and a chic leather-bound minibar in the room from which non-alcoholic beverages and snacks are also gratis - the beers on offer include several by independent local breweries.
There are 40-odd video art installations dotted around the hotel (the building's owner Paul Geertman is a collector) and a cosy bar near the lounge featuring a massive communal table. In the basement there's a small but alluring June Jacobs spa where I have the hydrating flux facial with a soothing leg and arm massage.
Andaz Amsterdam isn't perfect. I had problems with my phone and the safe, the restaurant didn't have two of the dishes I wanted, my Prosecco was served too warm, and the minibar fridge in the room buzzed a little, but the staff were courteous, apologetic and offered solutions in that can-do way the Dutch are so good at.
The hotel celebrates the best of the Netherlands and Amsterdam - the staff wear quietly hip uniforms by up-and-coming Amsterdam-based fashion designer Barbara van der Zanden - and it's located in the heart of the tranquil but artsy and beautiful Jordaan district to the west of the city centre, a neighbourhood teeming with boutiques, interesting restaurants and quirky art galleries.
Ask for a canal view room, or a garden view if the former isn't available. The ones overlooking the observatory are a tad oppressive, especially on the lower floors.
It promises to be a big year for Amsterdam. The reopening of the Rijksmuseum after a decade-long refurbishment is one of a long list of major events on a crowded cultural calendar.