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Jul 282015
 

Salmuera (American) 3 Star Rating
Rozengracht 106 (Jordaan), 020 624 5752, website Book now

Just when you thought you’d sorted your Hendrick’s from your Bombay Sapphire and your Fevertree from your bog-standard Schweppes tonic, it turns out mezcal cocktails are the new G&T. Once the preserve of only the ultra-hip and fabulous (read: Hiding in Plain Sight), now mezcal is working its way through the rest of Amsterdam’s Horeca trade… For those who have no idea what I’m talking about: mezcal is essentially a smoky version of tequila – it’s a bold drink that goes with bold flavours. Like barbecue. Which is probably why it’s so popular right now, since grilled meat seems to be enjoying a renaissance too…

Enter Salmuera: a South-American-fusion restaurant that’s in the same spot that Nghia N Nghia and Chow used to be. Not that I’d know as the turnaround was so quick that I never managed to eat at either of them before someone tipped me off that the place had changed again. (Is my restaurant database out of date? Yes! Can I keep up with the pace of change around here? Not a chance!) The inside is cute and the outside is even cuter: tucked between two buildings, the tables are nestled under a leafy trellis with a vintage Heineken sign hanging above the entrance in all its rusty-metal hipster glory.

Mezcal margarita Salmuera

The “Salmuera Margarita” and the “How do you like them pineapples?”

But back to the mezcal. I hope you like your drinks smoky, because probably about 75% of the cocktails involve the stuff. After deliberating for an irritating (for everyone else) 15 minutes, I finally went for the Salmuera Margarita: a short but potent concoction of not just mezcal but also spicy-smoked chipotle peppers and something with an old-fashioned orangey tang. It was bloody gorgeous. One of the nicest drinks I’ve tasted in a long time, and an excellent example of what you can do with mezcal. It was so good, in fact, that rather than order something else on my second round (research purposes only, of course), I selfishly ordered more of the same. Sorry-not-sorry.

Ceviche Salmuera

Tiradito – a spicy, citrusy Peruvian ceviche

The food menu is mostly a mix of grilled meats, ceviche and various small bites and sides. We tried the tiradito – raw white fish (possibly seabass but I forget) with crunchy corn kernels and a hot (as in chilli, not temperature) citrusy sauce that was mysteriously moreish. The Mexican grilled corn on the cob fried in a spiced cheesy butter was similarly addictive, although my dinner companion (who is from LA and therefore as close to being Mexican as you can get without actually growing up south of the border) said she could make it better herself. (Hmm – still waiting for my dinner invitation.)

Corn Salmuera

Corn-on-the-cob with fried cheese… mmm…

I was less impressed by the mains, which is a shame as everything had been going swimmingly until that point. My lechon (roast suckling pig) was drier than it should have been for a slow roast on the bone, and my chimichurri was essentially chopped raw onions in oil. I missed the herbs entirely. My friend liked her steak, but for me the meat tasted of the iron in the blood and not the succulent umami I was looking for. The coleslaw we shared was fine, but the wild rice salad reminded me of rice salads we had on picnics back in the 80s: lacklustre and without much depth of flavour.

Pork salmuera

Roast suckling pig: more Instagram than flavour

With all this being said, I’d probably go back. It was a game of two halves, and next time I’d focus on the first half only: cocktails and small bites, rather than a full meal. And whatever else I may think, Salmuera certainly knows what it’s doing with its mezcal.

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Jul 162015
 

Pho 91 (Asian) 4 Star Rating
Albert Cuypstraat 91 (De Pijp), 020 752 6880, website

Yesterday, two days before I’m due to go on holiday, I feel that familiar tickle in my throat and ache in my sinuses. I’m getting a damn cold. It’s never a good time to get sick, but two days before a holiday that will involve 11 adults, two kids (I feel sorry for them), one French villa and more bottles of Bordeaux than I’m prepared to admit to, followed by a huge wedding in a chateau… I am pissed off.

So I took action: vitamin C, Echinacea, warm salt water rinses, tea, and – the foodie’s choice of penicillin – soup. Pho, to be precise, packed with beef, chicken, herbs, onions, chilli sauce (extra – the more spice the better is my theory when it comes to colds) and, not unimportantly, plenty of liquid. It came from Pho 91, which is a jovial little place that’s not much bigger than a hole-in-the-wall and has a queue of people (albeit a short, fast-moving one) lining up to get their Vietnamese fix.

Pho 91 Amsterdam

The foodie’s penicillin: pho soup from Pho 91

I liked my soup – but it’s hard to tell whether that came from a discerning palate or a sore throat. The beef (which was in three forms: thinly sliced raw, brisket and meatballs) was uniformly good. I wasn’t so sure about the chicken, which was dry and felt unnecessary. I also could’ve done with more lime – but then again I am a citrus nutter.

I didn’t drink – which means that a) I really am sick, and b) it was a cheap dinner. The pho itself was €14, and my cup of tea €2.50. But the question is: will it work? Can I recover by tomorrow? A week of French restaurants and wine tastings says I’d damn well better try…

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Jul 072015
 

Pizza Heart (Italian) 4 Star Rating
Reguliersdwarsstraat 51 (Rembrandtplein), 020 370 5150, website

A few months back I wrote a series of posts in response to Thrillist’s claim that Rembrandtplein was the best neighbourhood for food in Amsterdam. I’ll grudgingly admit that there were (in the end, it turned out) quite a few decent restaurants in the area – including Salsa Shop, O Mai and Lion Noir (although Hummbar’s burgers were so life-changingly awful as to negate my goodwill towards the tourist-thronged plein altogether). But what particularly struck me during my “research” was just how many options there are for late-night dining in the area…

You’ve got to admit that Amsterdam could not generally be considered a late-eating city. I hear my neighbours clanking cutlery on their plates at 6.30 when I happen to be passing their door, and I’ve many times been turned away from a restaurant at 9.30 because the kitchen is closed. In that respect, Amsterdam is no Venice of the North. But around the Rembrandtplein, on the contrary, you can find at least a handful of places that are keen to welcome you in past 10 pm.

One of these is Bar Huf, which I reviewed favourably back in 2014 – although last time I tried to eat there late at night the place was so rammed there wasn’t the slightest chance of getting a table. Another is Van Rijn, which I went to more recently and which thoroughly impressed me with the quality of its food and service – especially given the location and the time of day.

Pizza Heart

Pizza Parigina from Pizza Heart: good old-fashioned post-pub food

But when it comes to late-night dining, you can’t do better than a good old-fashioned pizza. Admittedly, pizza has long been known in Western Europe as post-pub food – the drinker’s dinner of choice. But us drinkers have got wiser and classier since the days when a greasy dough delivery was going to do the trick. Now, we want fresh tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and the kind of ham that doesn’t come with tinned pineapple and call itself a “Hawaiian”.

Enter Pizza Heart: a pizza bakery with a couple of tables (plus plenty of takeaway boxes) right in the middle of the Reguliersdwarsstraat. Given its position on the street that’s home to possibly the largest number of stag and hen parties in Amsterdam, I didn’t hold out much hope. Oh ye of little faith, Victoria. Pizza Heart was every bit worthy of its name: a huge (and very hot) wood-fired oven baked its pizza bases to crisp perfection. The ingredients on the top were definitely more Italian than Hawaiian (phew) and I loved my Pizza Parigina as much as a hungry little foodie who’s four beers deep possibly could.

Pizza Heart Amsterdam

I Heart Late-Night Pizza in Rembrandtplein – no, really!

When I look back at their website now, I do notice a couple of dodgy combinations (there does appear to be a Pizza Hawai after all, as well as something called a Pizza Exxentricia – both of which somehow involve pineapple). But I am trying not to judge, because my initial impressions were based on the quality of the food I ate in the there and then – not to be swayed by my general menu-snobbery afterwards.

So there you have it: late-night pizza in the heart of late-night Amsterdam, for just a tientje (that’s €10 to you) or thereabouts – wood-fired oven to boot! ***And ssshhh, don’t tell anyone I ever use Thuisbezorgd, but I just discovered they offer delivery on there too…***

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Jul 012015
 

Bistro Noord (International) 4 Star Rating
Mt. Ondinaweg 32 (North), 020 705 9906, website Book now

Hendrix (Lunch and brunch) 4 Star Rating
De Clercqstraat 82 (Oud-West), 020 22 14 18, website

Het Houten Huisje (Lunch and brunch) 4 Star Rating
Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 289 (Dam), 020 625 6542, website

Little Collins (Lunch and brunch) 5 Star Rating
Eerste Sweelinckstraat 19F (De Pijp), 020 753 9636, website

Pakhuis de Zwijger (Lunch and brunch) 3 Star Rating
Piet Heinkade 179, 020 624 6380, website

Ok, so my “office” (aka the spare room in my apartment) doesn’t have air conditioning. On the plus side, I get to be a freelancer on the hottest, sunniest week we’re likely to see in Amsterdam this year. Let’s just say this is a prime opportunity to work on what I call my “Freelancer Tan”. And the good news is, it’s set to last till the weekend – which means that even if you have a real job, you can still make the most of the weather on Saturday and Sunday (or maybe even take Friday off!) and go enjoy the sun on a terrace somewhere…

Bistro Noord

You can smell the sunshine in this salade Nicoise from Bistro Noord!

Wherever you are in Amsterdam, there’s a piece of pavement with your name on it. Here are 5 of my favourite places to lunch al fresco when the weather in Amsterdam is this awesome.

Noord: Bistro Noord

Undoubtedly the most expensive on this list, I ended up at Bistro Noord kind of by accident a few weeks ago while attempting furniture shopping at Van Dijk, Neef Louis and their ilk. It was a happy accident, though, as the salade Nicoise I had was excellent. Made with fresh tuna (of course), and those gorgeously salty tiny black olives chopped up in the dressing, it was just what my body needed to tackle the dreaded shopping ahead. The bread and butter was a thing of wonder, too. I can’t attest for much more than that, but I’m planning to go back for dinner just as soon as my house-moving fund has replenished itself. And because it’s in Amsterdam Noord, it has plenty of space for outdoor seating. (Note: Bistro Noord is only open on Sunday lunchtimes from 1 pm, I later discovered…)

Hendrix

Open-faced sandwiches and wraps on Hendrix’s terrace

West: Hendrix

Until a few months ago, Hendrik used to be Café Louter – a spot I liked to meet people at for a coffee or a beer, whether indoors or out. Now, it’s been taken over and has relaunched as Hendrix, which is a clever name because it makes me want to order a gin & tonic as soon as I step foot on the terrace. They also do a nice line in wraps (I tried the shrimp and avocado one) and open-faced sandwiches (the butternut squash with ricotta and caramelised onions was tasty, too).

Zuid: Little Collins

Little Collins has long been my go-to brunch spot in de Pijp, and I’ve been meaning to try it out for dinner for yonks. And rest assured that when I do, you’ll be the first to know. Until then, however, the terrace at Little Collins remains one of my favourite places for a cheeky daytime rhubarb Bellini, excellent coffee and juices, and an amazing line in international brunch fare – from shakshuka to kedgeree to a Full English.

Little Collins

Marinated smoked salmon and potato cakes: brunch at Little Collins

Oost: Pakhuis de Zwijger

Not far from my old office at MegaCorp, Pakhuis de Zwijger used to be a regular haunt for lunches with colleagues or after-work drinks. It’s got a bunch of picnic tables out the front, and serves hearty sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices. I recommend the smoked chicken or salmon club sandwich for those who are feeling particularly hungry!

Centrum: Het Houten Huisje

Another one of those happy accidents, I was out buying tiger-print leggings for hula hooping (yes, you read that right) from a shop dedicated to such things on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal. Feeling a little peckish beforehand (do we see a shopping-induced eating pattern here?), I ducked into a small wooden hut right opposite. Het Houten Huisje serves up a decent flat white, organic drinks, and freshly toasted paninis. Vegetarians are well catered for here, with many of the fillings not involving meat or fish at all.

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Jun 252015
 

Odessa (International) 4 Star Rating
Veemkade 259 (Amsterdam), 020 419 3010, website Book now

It was a bitterly cold night in January 2006; I was 26 years old and had lived in Amsterdam for precisely two weeks. Some friends from London were spending the weekend in the city, and had invited me to join them at Odessa – a restaurant on a boat that didn’t even make it onto the tourist map that was my constant companion at the time. I rode my newly purchased second-hand bike as far east as I’d ever been. I got so lost that I spent half an hour frozen-fingered on the phone to my friends, just trying to locate them. And I arrived so grateful to see them after a fortnight of knowing no one but my neurotic landlady that I immediately broke down in tears.

That was nine-and-a-half years ago, and I’d venture to say that Odessa has changed as much as I have during that time. I don’t remember much about the food that night – I don’t think it was anything special, but then again a) I wasn’t writing a food blog, and b) I was hungry more for company than for anything else. I feel like I recall dark wood, burgundy furnishings and low lighting – a 90s take on sophistication. But it was dark and wintry and I felt homesick for one of only a handful of times in my life – so don’t trust me on this one.

Odessa Amsterdam restaurant - interior

The interior of boat-restaurant Odessa

On the eve of my 35th birthday, I returned to Odessa and found a very different place from my memories. First of all, the head chef is now a guy I know who used to work at Brasserie Bark. It was total coincidence, as I’d had no idea he’d moved jobs, but I was happy to see him at such a tranquil, friendly restaurant. It’s an old boat, but the interior breathes a cool, contemporary feel that’s neither cold nor stiff, and it looks out over the calm of the IJ river. I liked the atmosphere immediately.

Odessa pizza - Amsterdam

Odessa’s white pizza came topped with mascarpone, courgette, artichoke and lemon

After a pre-birthday celebratory G&T, we kicked off with a loosely Italian set of starters to share: a simple plate of prosciutto followed by a white pizza topped with mascarpone, courgette, artichoke and preserved lemon. Possibly not one for the purists, but if you love lemon as much as I do, you can’t go wrong here.

Next, I ordered a simple steak with chimichurri, potatoes and salad. Odessa now calls itself a “pizza and grill” restaurant, so this makes more sense than it sounds like it would as a follow-up to the Italian starters. The steak was tender, flavoursome and perfectly cooked, and the chimichurri had a good hit of garlic. The salad was an interesting mix of tomatoes, watermelon and feta – I liked the flavour combination a lot, but the mixture was getting a little watery from sitting out for a while. I skipped dessert in favour of another glass of wine, but my chocoholic friend Nicola had only good things to say about her chocolate sundae.

Odessa grill - Amsterdam

Steak with chimichurri was next on the menu

The bill came to just over €50 each, which I was happy to pay for the quality of the food we ate and the service we enjoyed. But more than the food, I was happy to be back in this same spot – nearly a decade later – and this time with two of my best friends in the world, and another friend in the kitchen. All people I’ve met during my time in this gorgeous city I’m proud to call home. I know it’s a cliché, but times really have changed…

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Jun 172015
 

Best Coast Taqueria (Mexican) 5 Star Rating
Jan Pieter Heijestraat 137 (Oud-West), 06 55272427, website

Tacos. Without question, the most commented-on topic on this blog. Everyone has an opinion about where to get a decent taco in Amsterdam, and in most cases they’re opinions I’m more than happy to listen to. A few people had recommended Best Coast Taqueria to me over the past year or two (check out my reviews of Orale Taqueria,  Salsa Shop, Burrito Maker, Caramba, and the Original California Burrito Company – not only for what I thought of those places, but more importantly for all the other taco spots that people have mentioned in the comments) and you’ll see Best Coast pop up a few times. I’ve even had private Facebook messages telling me I need to get down to BarBrå on a Friday night to check out these legendary wraps.

So it was fortunate that one of my Oud-West friends is already a fan, and decided to celebrate her birthday there a couple of Fridays ago. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that Best Coast is still a pop-up, albeit one with quite some longevity. They’ve been appearing at Cafe Bedford Stuyvesant (in Oost) on Thursdays, and at BarBrå (in West) on Fridays and Saturdays for a while now, and I’m hoping that perhaps it’s a precursor to a permanent location?

Tacos -  Best Coast Taqueria - Amsterdam

Fish tacos with red cabbage and spicy, creamy sauce

We kicked off the celebrations with some tortilla chips and just about all the toppings it was possible to order: there were black beans, guacamole, cool and crunchy radishes, that crumbly fresh Mexican cheese… you name it. When it came to taco-ordering time, you could mix and match – so obviously we did. I had the carnitas (akin to pulled pork) with raw pineapple and a smoky pineapple salsa, followed up with a deep-fried fish taco with red cabbage and a spicy-but-creamy sauce. Both were fabulous, and Best Coast’s salsas and sauces deserve a mention all of their own.

Quesadillas - Best Coast Taqueria - Amsterdam

Stuffed quesadillas with more excellent salsa

Next, we tried the quesadillas, which were packed full of melting, oozing cheese as well as plenty of slow-cooked meat. They were served with yet more delicious salsa, some sour cream and a coriander-heavy salad to freshen the palate.

Despite the fact that we were rather full by this point (we’d eaten some extra nachos mid-meal as well), the girls were intent on pressing on with dessert: tortilla chips topped with ice cream and chocolate. Well, you’ve had salted caramel before – why not chips and ice cream, eh?!

Dessert - Best Coast Taqueria - Amsterdam

Tortilla chips with ice cream and chocolate (the salted caramel of Mexican cuisine?!)

It wasn’t really my cup of tea (as we say on the island), but that probably has more to do with my general inability to eat a lot of processed sugar – especially at the end of a big, wine-fuelled meal. But the girls loved it, so I’d say give it a try…

My only criticism (and it’s not a deal breaker) would be that the service is a little confusing. It’s not that it’s bad – it’s just that because of the separation between the bar (which serves the drinks) and the pop-up (which serves the food), it’s not possible to order both drinks and food from the same person. If you knew who was who, it might be manageable, but as it was I felt like we spent a fair bit of time flagging down the wrong people.

I don’t know how much dinner cost because the birthday girl paid (if you’re reading this and thinking this is bonkers, I’d agree. But this is also Holland, where people pay on their own birthdays, not just for themselves but for everyone else too – go figure). However, the menu prices looked reasonable, and my friend’s loyalty to her Friday-Night-Taco-Nights makes me think the tab can’t be too bank-breaking.

And as for the search for the perfect taco: could it be that I’ve found two? Both Best Coast Taqueria and Orale Taqueria are serious contenders…

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