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May 202015
 

Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen (European) 5 Star Rating
Javaplein 25 (Oost/Watergraafsmeer), 020 354 4000, website

Last night I was at Tales & Spirits, which was just as good as I remembered it being when I reviewed it back in November 2012. Tales & Spirits, like many of its ilk, have eschewed the usual starter vs. main course split in favour of small “in-between” courses that encourage people to taste more dishes, share with friends, and generally relax their attitude towards traditional dining. And, in general, I love it.

The same concept applied when I went to Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen a couple of weeks ago. Taking a less formal approach than their sister restaurant (the regular Wilde Zwijnen, next door), they serve small tasting/sharing plates that just keep on coming for as long as you want them to. In both restaurants, the menus are mercifully short, with the focus instead on what’s in season locally. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not new (in essence, eating with the seasons is the “old” way). But these kinds of restaurants have paved the way for what’s become a very Dutch kind of dining: simple and unfussy, casual and contemporary, creative without being pretentious.

So here’s (some of) what I ate at Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen – no need for the flowery descriptions because everything tasted just as it should: of itself.

Salad Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen Amsterdam

Radish and watercress salad (much more exciting than it sounds!)

Lamb Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen Amsterdam

Belly of lamb with white asparagus and peas

Bavette steak Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen Amsterdam

Bavette steak with a sort of salsa verde/pesto thing

Terrine Eetbar Wilde Zwijnen Amsterdam

Rabbit paté with a kohlrabi salad

With the exception of some kind of issue with the wine glasses (there weren’t enough, so we had to have another prosecco instead – #luxuryproblems if ever there was one), the service was pretty decent too. And we even scored a free limoncello to make up for the wine situ. Dinner came to €50 each, including plenty of drinks (you know me by now) and enough food to fill even the hungriest of foodies. I thought I’d got off pretty lightly, all things being considered – until I went outside to find my bike had a flat tire. Cursing my decision to dine 6km east of my house, I buckled in for a €20 cab ride. Yep – typical Dutch dining!

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May 142015
 

Pinch (pop-up at Tunnel37) (International) 5 Star Rating
Tussen de Bogen 37 (Westerpark), 06 39233223, website

Just when I was starting to think pop-ups had had their day, along came one that blew me away. Ok, it’s been a long day, and when a copywriter gets to that tired-and-slightly-hysterical stage, they start doing alliterating headlines and rhyming introductions. Enough already.

So a nice American lady called Megan Vasko invited me to her pop-up the other week. She said she knew a friend of mine who’d worked at MegaCorp, and she’d run into the Honey Badger at a Beer Meet-Up group a couple of years ago (Beer Meet-Up? Isn’t that just drinking?), and she’d spent some time at the same university as me… There were so many connections, I had to say yes.

Pinch sum - spring rolls

Pinch’s fresh spring rolls – my favourite being the Buffalo Chicken!

The pop-up was held at Tunnel37, which is a great little space for foodie entrepreneurs (take note, aspiring pop-up chefs!) – I’d been there before for pho from the Banh Mi Girls, and this time it had been transformed into a veritable dumpling factory. Megan’s concept, known as Pinch because of her propensity to pinch a bit of this and a bit of that from various cultures, essentially serves up two things: fresh spring rolls and dumplings. Fusion-style.

Pinch sum - traditional pork dumpling

Classic Asian-style pork dumplings

When I say fusion-style… think spring rolls filled with smoked salmon, asparagus and dill. Or my favourite: the “Buffalo Chicken FSR” stuffed with chicken in hot-wing sauce and ranch dressing, served with blue cheese on the side. A classic vege Pad Thai was on the menu too, which was also delicious but wasn’t the reason I was there. Everything came with a range of sauces – from the green ‘n garlicky “Crocodile” sauce to a sweet ‘n spicy mango chutney.

Pinch sum - Thai green curry chicken wonton

Megan’s Thai green curry chicken wontons

The dumplings that were up next were even more exciting. While we started with a classic Asian-style pork dumpling, things quickly moved onto steamed parcels of saag paneer. Two crispy wonton-style dishes appeared: one filled with Thai green curry-marinated chicken; the other stuffed with a spicy chicken and corn barbacoa mixture. Each new plate of dumplings took the flavour levels up another notch (kind of a like a wine tasting?!), and I finished by stuffing my face with a spicy, dried-fruit-heavy, South African-inspired, meaty bobotie number.

Pinch sum - chicken barbacoa wonton

Despite the blur, I love this food pic…

So here’s the thing: if you’re a purist, steer clear. But if you’re feeling open-minded about your singular spring rolls and daring dumplings (there I go with that alliteration again), then don’t miss out on potential Pinch pleasure.

Pinch sum - bobotie dumpling

Pinch’s sweet ‘n spicy South-African bobotie dumplings

Megan regularly pops up at Restaurant Day, the monthly Neighbourfood Market, and Tunnel37, but you can also hire the Pinch team for catering gigs. A pop-up dinner (excluding BYOB) would usually cost €25, and individual portions of three spring rolls with sweetcorn salad cost €6.

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May 072015
 

Bardot (European) 2 Star Rating
Van Limburg Stirumstraat 14A (Westerpark), 06 54255004, website

I’ve got this vague, unwritten rule in my head not to visit restaurants within their first six months of opening: there are enough bloggers out there covering the latest “hotspots” as it is, and it’s rarely a true reflection of how a place will fare in the long term. Will someone tattoo that rule on my forehead, please? You’ll see why…

It was Westerpark, there were drinks involved, I was hungry – so far, so Friday night. My colleague had spotted newly opened Bardot in the Staatsliedenbuurt while biking past a week earlier, so we decided to give it a go. Mostly because I’m lazy, and trying to find new places to review (by which I mean places that have been open for longer than six months, but which I haven’t already reviewed) is getting harder and harder.

We ordered a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet. The wine, along with the fabulous service, was the best bit about dinner. Things were about to go downhill rapidly.

Bardot Amsterdam - cat food tin

The Curious Incident of the Cat Food in My Starter

Our starters came, and I’d ordered the intriguing-sounding schelvislever, mostly because I didn’t think I’d ever eaten the liver of a fish before. That’s when the tin of cat food appeared. I kid you not – just take a look at the photo. I’m not sure whether the livers came in a tin from the supplier and the chefs figured they’d just leave it there, or whether someone took the active decision to serve my starter in a can. Either way, no one wants to feel like they’re eating cat food for dinner – especially when the texture and taste were as feline-friendly as the presentation. At this point, some bright spark will no doubt ask, “But how do you know what cat food tastes like?” to which I respond: I don’t, of course, but I honestly now I feel like I do.

The sad part is it could all have been avoided: if the livers had been blitzed up with some butter, lemon juice, nutmeg and a few herbs, and “potted” in a small ramekin (they could have even chosen some hipster jam-jar vessel if they’d preferred), it would have worked just like the fishy version of a chicken liver pâté. But they didn’t.

Bardot Amsterdam - chiperones

Chiperones without much evidence of the plancha

My colleague’s starter was chiperones a la plancha, which were baby squid – although I didn’t see or taste much evidence of that plancha. They were wet and rubbery, and I avoided most of them in favour of the bread with aioli instead.

For mains, we thought we’d play it safe with sea bass. It came with a warm salad of pearl barley, celery and some sort of lettuce (I think) that formed a wilted replacement for the promised lamsoor (which is sometimes translated as sea lavender). Remarkably, it managed to be too salty and too bland at the same time. It should have been freshened up and offset by the salsa verde it was served with, which instead wafted grassily of compost heap.

Bardot Amsterdam - sea bass

Sea bass with compost-heap salsa verde

We skipped dessert and instead enjoyed an extra glass of wine. It should be noted that the wine was on the house because we complained about the lack of lamshoor. The service, as I mentioned at the beginning, was impeccable – which is the only thing lifting Bardot from one star to two. But with dishes that resemble cat food and compost, the kitchen lags a long, long way behind.

I don’t think I can face returning to Bardot in six months’ time… If you do, please report back!

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Apr 292015
 
 April 29, 2015  Restaurant reviews No Responses »

Il Cavallino (Italian) 4 Star Rating
Maasstraat 67, 020 675 3814, website

Last week, I wrote about the dos and don’ts of dining out in Rome, which was basically a summation of all that I’d learned during my four short days there in April. Feeling slightly homesick for Italy (is it possible to feel homesick about somewhere that’s not actually home?), this week I bring you a review of a restaurant that recently brought me a little closer to Rome, at least in spirit.

Il Cavallino is in the Rivierenbuurt, which (as anyone who’s looked at my restaurant map can attest) is not a neighbourhood I frequent very often. We’d been to Knijn to go bowling – something that I am truly terrible at, even though I profess to enjoy it and then proceed to have a tantrum every time I lose. So afterwards, I needed a good glass of wine and some I-suck-at-bowling-but-at-least-I-know-how-to-eat comfort food.

Il Cavallino antipasti - Amsterdam restaurant

Antipasti at Il Cavallino

We started with a platter of mixed antipasti, which is always my favourite option when out with friends who are willing to food-share. (Some people don’t like sharing food with me, I’ve noticed. Hmmm, I wonder why.) It featured carpaccio, smoked salmon (not something I’d generally associate with antipasti, but fine nonetheless), vitello tonnato, a small caprese salad, various tapenades, and a bunch of bread and tomatoes for a DIY bruschetta. Ok, so it wasn’t oozing with ripe Tyrrhenian sunshine, but it was simple and generous, and the Italian staff were friendly too.

Il Cavallino pasta - Amsterdam restaurant

Spaghetti with crab – banished all memories of gutterballs

For main, I kept to the simple theme with a pasta dish of crab, fresh tomatoes, parsley, lemon and a great mound of spaghetti. It was thoroughly my kind of pasta, and I’d make it myself if it was a little easier to buy crab meat around here. I wasn’t so keen on the Honey Badger’s spaghetti with red sauce and strips of beef – for me, the meat needed to be more integral to the sauce and less like chewing on a slightly overcooked steak. Dessert was scroppino, which is more or less my default option if I’m not going for cheese. It was delicious, and put all memories of gutterballs firmly behind me.

Ok, so dinner came to €45 each, which is far more than you’d pay in Rome (but I’m not complaining – give me Dutch wages and employment rates over Italian ones any day). Plus the food was “Italian” rather than regional. But it was tasty, the portions were generous, and the atmosphere was gezellig. And when Italian food meets Dutch gezelligheid, everyone’s a winner.

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Apr 212015
 
 April 21, 2015  Foodie travels 1 Response »

Italy was my childhood sweetheart. Before I’d met Amsterdam, I always thought Italy and I would get married and live happily ever after. Italy, for me, is the one that got away. So every time I go to visit, I leave with pangs of wondering what could have been… After my four-day fling with hot exotic Rome, I’m sitting in the airport contemplating going back to my familiar Dutch city. I know Amsterdam and I will rub along just great again in a few days, but right now I feel like I’ve had to say goodbye to Rome too soon. Just as I was getting to know the Eternal City: her secrets, her foibles, her dos and don’ts…

10 Things to Know about Roman Food

1. Don’t drink cappuccino after midday – cappuccino is a morning drink; caffè (or espresso) is for later in the day. The milk slows your digestion (apparently).

Cappuccino - Rome

Don’t even think about sitting down to drink that cappuccino!

2. Do drink your cappuccino standing up at the “bar” – not, in fact, a place to drink alcohol in the evening, but a place to get a coffee and a cornetto in the morning. Plus, in the touristy areas, it’s literally about a third of the price if you drink your coffee standing up instead of sitting down!

3. Don’t mistake your supplì for a bitterbalwhile both snacks are utterly yummy in their own unique ways, you won’t find rice or mozzarella in your Dutch borrelhapjes.

Suppli - Rome

Suppli: like a rice-and-mozzzarella-filled bitterbal! (sort of)

4. Do lose yourself in the Trastevere neighbourhood – a charming, cobbled-stoned labyrinth of tiny streets with a different foodie find on every corner… Ahhh, Trastevere, did we just have a foodie affair?!

5. Don’t expect to get that ultra-thin-crust Roman pizza before 7.30 pm – the wood ovens aren’t fired up until the evening. At lunchtime, buy thicker pizza by the slice (you choose the size of your slice and they weigh it to determine the price) from one of the city’s 5,300 (!!) places selling the stuff.

Pizza - Rome

Pizza, Roman-style: thin crust or by the slice

6. Do taste the porchetta at Antica Norcineria – it is life-changing. Trust me – I’m a pork addict.*

7. Don’t forget that Italian food is more regional than us northern Europeans will ever understand – when in Rome, don’t order spaghetti alla puttanesca. That’s from Campania – obvs. Instead, try a Roman speciality like tonnarelli al cacio e pepe – for a 3-ingredient sauce (pecorino, pepper and cooking water), it’s pretty darn addictive.

8. Do get your cannoli stuffed to order – because no one wants a soggy cannoli, do they?

Cannoli - Rome

Cannoli should always be filled while you wait

9. Don’t mistake that bright green fluffy cold stuff for real-deal gelatoif the colour looks fake, the ice cream undoubtedly is too. Only step inside a gelateria if the colours of the flavours are the same as you’d find in nature (is the inside of a banana bright yellow?).

10. Do take advantage of free snacks at aperitivo o’clock – somewhere between after work and dinner time, many cafes will serve tasty bites if you order drinks. Try ordering an Aperol Spritz or an Ugo cocktail and see what happens – free food!**

Aperitivo - Rome

Free food at aperitivo o’clock!

*I tried this on Eating Italy’s Twilight Trastevere Food Tour – the client I was working for while out in Rome doing my freelance-foodie business. In fact, I learnt a lot of this stuff from them – just saying.

**Thanks to the lovely Maria from HeartRome who took me out for aperitivo o’clock!

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Apr 092015
 

Van Rijn (European) 4 Star Rating
Rembrandtplein 17 (Rembrandtplein), 020 450 0555, website

Still on the hunt for the elusive top-notch food promised by Thrillist in the Rembrandtplein (I recently reviewed surf ‘n turf restaurant Hummbar and Vietnamese eatery O Mai), I figured that doing it drunk was probably the best way. Most people on the Rembrantplein are drunk most of the time anyway, right?

Ok, so it wasn’t intentional. I’d been to the new Gollem on the Amstelstraat for after-work drinks last Friday. The plan was to have a couple and then move on. But then more people arrived and we decided to stay for a couple more, and suddenly we were five beers deep with no dinner.

It was 10.15 by the time we stumbled into Van Rijn, sandwiched between Escape nightclub and the NH Hotel, thanks to a tip from a reader who’d been following my Rembrandtplein quest. We’d gotten slightly lost on the way there (it’s a long way from Amstelstraat to Rembrandtplein after five Kwaks, ok?), misplaced the Honey Badger en route, found him again, and finally managed to persuade the nonplussed Dutchman who’d joined us that, yes, this Rembrantplein thing really was a good idea.

Frankly, I was already impressed that a) we’d found a table, and b) the kitchen was still open. In a town where most restaurants are winding down by 9.30, we’d lucked out. I was even more impressed when the food turned out to be edible. Better than edible, in fact. I’d ordered this fancy-looking steak dish, which worried me as soon as it came out: it looked far too lean; where were the tasty marbles of fat? I expected it to be tough and tasteless; it wasn’t. Yes, it was lean – but it also cut like butter and tasted like a proper steak.

Van Rijn - Amsterdam restaurant

Steak from Van Rijn

It came with the welcome tang of sauerkraut, earthy artichokes, and fresh little florets of romanesco broccoli. The sauce was creamy, which I’m not usually a fan of with steak, but this one worked because the beef was so lean.

The rest of the dishes I tasted were good, too. Naturally, I can’t remember them (I was hammered) but you’re just going to have to trust me that my tasting faculties are as astute drunk as they are sober. Err-hem.

Of course, you pay for all this posh-food-late-at-night-in-the-most-touristy-square-in-Amsterdam business. Dinner came to €33 each, and we literally only had a main course plus a glass of red wine. But I’d still recommend it if you find yourself on the ‘plein, off your trolley, and liable to have lost your credit card by the next morning anyway. Otherwise, what are you doing on that square in the first place?!

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