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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 Book now

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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Apr 022015
 

Morgan & Mees (European) 4 Star Rating
Tweede Hugo de Grootstraat 2-6 (Westerpark), 020 233 4930, website

Let’s be realistic here. No one – not even my own mum – is sitting waiting for my blog post to pop up every week. The rigorous blogging schedule is imposed by no one but yours truly. And yet I always feel horribly guilty if I don’t post. The rest of you bloggers out there can probably relate.

This past week I’ve been working 12 hours a day plus both ways on the train to Belgium at the weekend. I’ve not had a chance to go eat at any restaurants – let alone write about them. The Honey Badger and I have been ordering takeaway at 9pm and then falling asleep in front of Friends an hour later. I’m a total loss as to what to blog about this week. Still, post (I convince myself) I must.

So I look back through my list of places I’ve eaten at in the past and not yet written about. Recently opened hotel-restaurant Morgan & Mees pops out for two reasons: 1) I took decent(ish) photos that should remind me what I actually ate; and 2) dinner that night was so totally clouded by the announcement one of my good friends made as soon as we arrived (that she was getting married and moving to Portland, Oregon) that I’d never quite managed to evaluate the meal in writing.

I do remember, however, that the food was good – perhaps a little on the small side, but sometimes good flavours come in small packages. The ingredients were clean; the dishes tasted fresh and punchy. So I’ll let this post be a little photo album of dinner… and then you can go and taste it for yourself.

Sea bass ceviche - Morgan & Mees - Amsterdam

Sea bass ceviche was citrusy and delicate

Moroccan salad - Morgan & Mees - Amsterdam

Pimped-up tabbouleh?

Calamaris  - Morgan & Mees - Amsterdam

Calamaris with chorizo, beans and tomato

Pork - Morgan & Mees - Amsterdam

The so-called “Procureur 24 Heurs” – pork with sauerkraut and apple

Dessert - Morgan & Mees - Amsterdam

Lemon meringue pie meets crumble and ice cream

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Mar 242015
 
 March 24, 2015  Restaurant reviews 2 Responses »

O Mai (Asian) 4 Star Rating
Utrechtsestraat 12 (Rembrandtplein), 06 43598740, website

Last week, I wrote a response to Thrillist’s ranking of the Rembrandtplein as the top neighbourhood for eating and drinking in Amsterdam. (Say whaaat?!) Eager to find out whether the any of the plein’s recent restaurant offerings were worth their salt (or my money), I set out to taste the lobster and burgers at surf ‘n turf joint Hummbar. The results were – umm – unequivocally horrible. At least on the burger front. Which is kind of important in a burger bar.

But as a couple of eagle-eyed commenters rightly pointed out, one bad restaurant does not an un-foodie neighbourhood make. Clearly much more research would be required. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

O Mai spring rolls Amsterdam

Spring rolls at Vietnamese restaurant O Mai

I’d had Vietnamese restaurant Ô Mai, just off the aforementioned plein, on my radar for a little while, although I can’t now remember when or how I’d heard about it. I was due a catch-up with recently single girlfriend, so we decided to drop in for a drink and a couple of portions of spring rolls and pho.

The spring rolls were fresh and tasty, and came with three different dipping sauces, which I always appreciate. In the end, we eschewed the pho for a bowl of Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang (good luck pronouncing that one!): flat rice noodles with a medley of prawn, char siu and ground pork, and even what appeared to be a little quail’s egg. Beansprouts and broth came on the side, which meant you could make it as soupy or dry as you preferred.

O Mai noodles Amsterdam restaurant

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang

I liked it, but was the overall experience of the food plus the spartan ambience and somewhat brusque service enough to convert me to the wiles of the Rembrandtplein? I still prefer Taste of Vietnam as a “posh” Vietnamese venue, and Little Saigon for its cheap-and-cheerful hole-in-the-wall nosh. Ô Mai can have four stars; but the Rembrandtplein? It’s still far from topping my rankings.

Where in the Rembrandtplein ‘hood would you like me to review next? Let me know in the comments below!

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Mar 172015
 
 March 17, 2015  Restaurant reviews 7 Responses »

Hummbar (American) 1 Star Rating
Utrechtsestraat 11 (Rembrandtplein), 020 723 7000, website

Back in February, Thrillist published an article about the top 14 neighbourhoods in Amsterdam (surely that’s all the neighbourhoods in Amsterdam?) ranked according to their food and drink options. In the top five were Oud West (#5), Westerpark (#4), De Pijp (#3), Jordaan (#2) and at #1 (could we be reading this right?) Rembrandtplein. Yeah, right, thought all the Amsterdammers on my Facebook page.

Ok, so the Reguliersdwarsstraat’s finer offerings are close by (I’m thinking of Lion Noir and Bar Huf, although both of those more or less count as chains these days). Then of course there’s Salsa Shop – my September 2014 Restaurant of the Month. But still – there’s far more bad than good on the Rembrandtplein itself. Or is there?

The Honey Badger had noticed the recent opening of an enormous new lobster and burger place called Hummbar (needless to say, we’ve been misnaming it as “Hummer Bar” ever since – frankly it was asking for it) on the east side of the Rembrandtplein. Hummbar’s proximity to Starbucks and its evident sponsorship by Heineken didn’t bode well, but we crashed on in the vague hope that it might be something like Smokin Barrels. It wasn’t. The lobster tanks were – well, umm – empty, so we weren’t entirely sure the surf half of our surf ‘n turf wasn’t just coming out of the freezer. To be fair to Hummbar, though, there was nothing wrong with the steamed lobster – it tasted fresh enough, even if its provenance was a little dubious.

Hummbar Amsterdam burger and lobster

Surf ‘n turf at Amsterdam’s Hummbar

The burgers, however, were another story. I don’t think I’ve tasted burgers like that since the 90s: solid grey lumps of greasy, processed, unidentifiable protein that remind you of cheap school BBQs and taste of salt and vaguely of ham flavourings. The toppings weren’t much better either: they’d somehow managed to make the “Old Amsterdam Cheese” taste like those plastic orange squares you associate with Maccy D’s burgers. The rest just oozed out onto my plate in €15 worth of soggy filler, none of which could make up for the intense grey might-be-meat that was missing even the umami char of a grill. I literally didn’t realise it was possible to f*ck up burgers so badly in 2015.

To add how-can-we-wash-this-down insult to burger-disaster-of-the-year injury, we had to pay for water – despite having ordered “real” drinks as well. Even our waiter was nonplussed by this: “Umm… we don’t seem to have any tap water. I know, I was confused too – I’m not sure what the origin of that is?” The origin, I explained, is money. And while many Amsterdammers I know mentally blacklist restaurants that don’t serve tap water, many tourists will walk into Hummbar not knowing that 200 ml of Sourcy is going to set them back €2.75. And the next day, many more tourists will do the exact same thing. Ergo: Hummbar doesn’t give much of a crap what the locals think.

As for the staff, I fear turnover will be high. The kitchen had lists of burger toppings stuck to the wall. There are only three burgers – if the chefs can’t remember what to put on them, I’m not sure their place is behind the stove. I don’t think our waiter is going to last long, either. He was so English-ly apologetic about everything (including the water situation), it made my Dutch side genuinely uncomfortable. I felt sorry for everyone who worked there, while at the same time wanting to take them on a staff outing to Smokin Barrels to show them how it’s done.

€60 lighter, we decided to get out of the Hummer Bar before things got any more depressing. Needless to say, the Rembrandtplein’s latest “hotspot” had done nothing to dispel my scepticism about Thrillist’s food & drink rankings (although keep an eye out as I’ll be reviewing nearby Vietnamese restaurant Ô Mai soon). As for the Honey Badger’s verdict? “I’d rather get a hummer in the Westerpark.” I see.

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