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Jul 232014

Pizza Pazzani (Italian) 2 Star Rating
Pazzanistraat 1 (Westerpark), 020 722 0980, website

Last week, I started my roundup of the Westerpark’s latest foodie offerings with my review of “the good” (well, good-ish): Mossel & Gin. This week, it’s time to reveal “the bad”: Pizza Pazzani – a pizzeria adjacent to the North Sea Jazz Club, and the longest standing of the three restaurants in this series.

I’ve been to Pizza Pazzani three times now, and my experiences have got successively worse. The first time, the service was slow (but just regular, Amsterdam slow, not actively rude), the pizza was decent (I liked the combo of pastrami and horseradish) and the house wine drinkable.

pizza pazzani amsterdam

The second time, the pizzas were cold (and, if you stop and think about it for a second, this is not just unacceptable but genuinely hard to get your head around: remember how many times you’ve burned the roof of your mouth on pizzas, and then ask yourself how long they need to have been sitting on the pass for them to actually reach room temperature?). And one of the pizzas wasn’t even the one we ordered. When we complained (twice), the best we were offered was a free drink – but not just any free drink: it had to cost below €2.50. Seriously?

The third time at Pazzani is best described by a role play:

Honey Badger, at the bar, which happens to be right next to where we’re sitting: “Can I order a drink please?”
Waitress 1: “No, you have to order at the bar next door or wait for someone at your table.”
Honey Badger, back at the table: “Can I order a drink please?”
Waitress 2: “Umm, ok, but you can also order at the bar – it’s right next to you!”
Honey Badger: “I realise that but your colleague told me I couldn’t order there, which is why I’m asking you here.”
Waitress 2 to Waitress 3: “Did you tell him he couldn’t order at the bar?”
Waitress 3: “No, why would I say that? Of course he can order at the bar!” [note for reader: pissed off voice is currently employed, implying that either he’s lying or he’s saying she’s lying]
Honey Badger: “But – but – but she told me I couldn’t! Ask your friend!” [points to waitress 1]
Waitresses 2 and 3 turn to Waitress 1: “Well?”
Waitress 1: “Actually I did tell him he couldn’t order here – I thought he came in from outside and should’ve been at the bar next door.”
Honey Badger: “But I’ve been sitting right here this whole time?!”
[No apology ensues]

Time passes, and the hard-fought and hard-won beers that we finally managed to order in the midst of the argument have now been drunk (we needed a drink after that little drama, as you can imagine)…

Honey Badger, at the same bar, half an hour later: “Can I order a drink please?”
Waitress 1: “No, you have to order at the bar next door or wait for someone at your table.”
Honey Badger, now losing all composure: “BUT WE JUST HAD THIS CONVERSATION – LIKE HALF AN HOUR AGO!!!!!”

We vowed never to return.

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Jul 162014

Mossel & Gin (International) 4 Star Rating
Gosschalklaan 12 (Westerpark), 020 486 5869, website

I seem to end up in the Westerpark almost every day for one reason or another – whether for a business coffee (is that the same as a business lunch?) at Espressofabriek with a client, to break out the hula hoop, to take a foodie-lifestyle-mitigating jog, or to instantly undo the jog with dinner and a few drinks… So it’s just as well that the Westerpark’s offering of bars and restaurants seems to renew itself more quickly than my head after a hangover.

First up, let’s start with the good(ish): Mossel & Gin

Mossel & Gin mussels

The best of the park’s places that I’ve recently tried, Mossel & Gin serves (you’ve guessed it) mussels and gin. The mussels come in one of five sauces: either classic (presumably the usual moules marinières), Thai, chilli, Roquefort or Caribbean. We went for the Thai and chilli versions on the grounds that we wanted to try something different, but not so different that it involved blue cheese and seafood (which doesn’t sound like a match made in heaven to me – but I could be wrong!). The Thai mussels were pleasantly fragrant, creamy from the coconut milk, and came with dippable bread, chips and salad. I think they’d spent some time next to the Roquefort mussels, however, as one side of my pan started to taste distinctly cheesy. The chilli mussels were heavy on tinned tomato, but the lobster croquettes we shared to start were rather delicious. Not to mention the fantastic G&T I ordered (there are nine to choose from) mixed with V2C gin, Royal tonic, lemon wedges and juniper berries.

Mossel & Gin G&T

Net net, the drinks were great, the food a mixed bag, and the venue fun and animated – albeit in an industrial-chic way that’s rather acoustically challenged (i.e. you can’t hear each other speak).

Next time, I’ll review “the bad”. Just so you know where not to go…

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Jul 082014

Trela Plein (Lunch and brunch) 5 Star Rating
Spaarndammerstraat 55 (Westerpark), 06 26300123, website

The other week, I was at a bit of a networking event thingy and I got chatting to a guy who seemed to know almost exactly where I lived. I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised – Google and Facebook know everything about me, after all, so it wouldn’t take much to find out. And if you judge the pins on my interactive map based on the Principle of Human Laziness, then it’s needless to say that the highest conglomeration of restaurants I’ve reviewed are in the direct vicinity of my house.

Spaarndammerstraat summer sunset

But still, the fact that a total stranger says “You live in the Spaarndammerbuurt near the Walvis, don’t you?” is mildly disconcerting. Albeit that the stranger seemed very nice and un-stalker-y. So yes, for the record, I do live very close to Café de Walvis, Freud and Bar Mick, not to mention all the cool little shops and cafés that have been popping up on my street on what feels like a weekly basis…

Back in the day, we were lucky to have Bagels & Beans. Now, we have our very own salt shop Salsamentum de Zoutkamer (I do wonder how many people buy fancy salt more than once in a blue moon, but fair play to them), vegan café DopHert (which I once liked but has fallen into my bad books after a nasty breakfast experience involving tofu scramble and seitan chorizo – for which you can read chorizo of Satan), spice and tea shop De Kruidenkoning (the man who runs it is super nice – you have to at least say hi to him!), pizzeria Pinsa’s (but expect a 2-hour wait), Middle-Eastern deli Le Sud (a personal favourite), and Asian takeaway Yayang, not to mention local butcher John de Roode, greengrocer Kardesler Market and fishmonger Vis van Henry, all of which I now happily pop into on a regular basis.

Trela Plein Spaarndammerstraat

But all this brings me onto the buurt’s newest newcomer, Greek bakery Trela Plein. It may not be much to look at just yet, but bear with me because these guys have had it tough… They originally opened last winter under a different name, when just a couple of weeks later a huge flood swept through the building and set them back three solid months. As a result, one of the investors pulled out, and the remaining owner decided to go it alone – giving the place a new name and sorting out the flood damage.

Trela Plein bakery - Bougatsa

They’re now back in business and serving up great coffees (try their iced coffees, too, for a refreshing summer pick-me-up) plus a range of Greek pastries. Again, these don’t look all that special from the hot case they’re sitting in, but give one a try and you’ll be surprised. There are several varieties of bougatsas, pitas and puff-pastry combos, generally filled with feta, veggies (leeks and spinach are popular), lamb, or a combination thereof. The Trela Plein boys also serve some simple but delicious cakes, filled sandwiches, and loaves of bread to take away.

Trela Plein coffee

The sheer hard work and determination of Alexandros and Giannis has been frankly inspirational to watch, over what must’ve been a fairly horrific few months for them. The fact that they smile, wave and greet me every time I go past their door is something I appreciate more and more in a world where it’s easy to become disconnected from your neighbours… It’s become something of a habit for us to stop in for a coffee and a pastry on a Saturday morning to get our day started off right. And then to stop back in of an afternoon for an iced coffee and a piece of cake… Alexandros and Giannis, welcome to the buurt!

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Jul 022014

Midtown Grill (picnic bag) (International) 5 Star Rating
Stadhouderskade 12 (Leidseplein), 020 607 5555, website

Pink Flamingo Pizza (International) 4 Star Rating
Gerard Douplein 8 (De Pijp), 020 670 3274, website Book now

Pllek (International) 4 Star Rating
TT Neveritaweg 59, 020 290 0020, website

The list of restaurants I’ve eaten at lately and still haven’t reviewed is getting slightly out of hand… Right now, there are at least a dozen, and that’s not counting the places I was too hungover to remember and/or were only selling beer and bitterballen because of the World Cup. I’m sitting here in my home office desperately trying to think of themes that will tie a few of these venues together – a red thread that will allow me to kill several foodie birds with one stone. I’ve found one – it’s not very creative and it’s a bit tenuous, but it’ll have to do. Some days finding an angle is like pulling teeth…

Three top picks for al fresco dining in Amsterdam

Embarrassingly, I only discovered the ferry that runs from Tasmanstraat (which is literally a 2-minute bike ride from my house) to NDSM-werf about a month ago. Before that, I had to join the blood-pressure-raising shambles that is The Back of Central Station, which meant I very rarely ventured north unless I really had to. This discovery has been life-changing, not least because it has led me to Pllek. Pllek is a charmingly weird place made up of metal containers and a man-made beach. I won’t bother describing it in detail because I’m fairly confident that literally everyone else has made it there before me.

Ferry to NDSM werf

The service situation is a little chaotic, and you can expect plenty of drunk students on sunny days making you feel old and boringly responsible, but don’t let that put you off. The food is actually pretty darn good. Try the chorizo with chimichurri and a bottle of cold rosé: summer on a plate. For mains, we ordered a hanger steak with ratatouille and potatoes dressed in pesto, and the vege option of a ricotta-stuffed courgette flower with a quinoa and aubergine salad. Both were top notch, and we only sank about €60 into dinner and drinks for two.

Pllek chorizo and chimichurri

And now for something completely different. Pink Flamingo Pizza is on the Gerard Douplein in the Pijp, which makes it a perfect spot for sitting outside people watching. It also has the craziest pizzas you’ll ever taste – bar none. I’m talking about Thai curry pizza, bacon and chutney pizza, Moroccan chicken tagine pizza – and all with equally crazy names: the Ho Chi Minh, the Obama and the Macias, respectively. And yet, despite the fact that this really shouldn’t work, it kind of does. There’s something oddly moreish about the fragrance of lemongrass and Thai prawns in among all that cheese and tomato. Or the gentle spice of pineapple chutney on a slice of Canadian bacon. Don’t ask me how or why – just try it.

Pink Flamingo Pizza

But if you really want to make the most of the summer’s al fresco opportunities, then a picnic in the park is the only option. I rarely tend to do this because a) I have no picnic hamper, and b) despite spending hours gathering together food and drinks and cutlery and crockery, I always seem to forget something and end up needing to go back to the house five minutes after sitting down. Cue the Midtown Grill, which has come up with a genius solution…

Midtown Grill picnic

Bloggers’ Picnic – courtesy of the Midtown Grill

The Midtown Grill is part of the Marriott Hotel, which is barely 50 paces from the north entrance to the Vondelpark. This summer (from 18 June until 1 October), they’re offering picnic bags for €22.50 per person that you can order as late as one hour in advance. I was invited to test out the concept with a group of bloggers, and I think I wasn’t the only one to be completely won over by it. More than €20 may sound steep for a picnic, but when you break down what you’re getting it’s an absolute bargain: hearty sandwiches, Caesar salad with their signature steak (cut into sensible picnic-able strips), hand-cut crisps, cheesecake and fresh fruit, not to mention a bottle of wine, two bottles of water, a blanket to sit on, and of course all the utensils you need to make the most of your luxury picnic. You pay a €40 deposit on the swanky rucksack itself, which you get back when you return the bag to the Midtown Grill at the end. Like I said, genius.

Oh, and use the promo code “picknick2014” for a 10% discount when you order. I’m thinking of treating myself to another al fresco picnic this weekend to celebrate…

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Jun 242014

The Fat Dog (American) 3 Star Rating
Ruysdaelkade 251 (De Pijp), 020 221 6249, website

I’d not heard great reports about Ron Blaauw’s latest gastro-street-food experiment, The Fat Dog, if I’m honest. But after an afternoon’s hula hooping in the Beatrixpark (as you do), the prospect of a quick hot dog seemed like a mighty fine one, so we popped in hoping the reviews would be proved wrong.

the fat dog amsterdam

Things didn’t get off to a great start: having been turned away at the bar on the grounds that someone would come outside to take our order, we ended up back at the bar 10 minutes later complaining that no such ordering had taken place. The hot dog, when it arrived, looked pretty exciting, though: I got the Naughty Bangkok (so exciting is exactly what it should’ve been), which came slathered in curried mayo, with finely chopped pickled veg and what looked like rice crispies. The sausage itself was good, but I ended up with most of the toppings all over my face.

hot dog at the fat dog

“The hot dog,” explained the Honey Badger with the pained expression of someone who is tired of his own broken record, “is supposed to be street food, FFS. People need to stop cooking things for Instagram and start cooking things that people can actually eat!” Hear hear. We are working on the “Mike’s Manageable Food” concept right now – and those damned open-face sandwiches will be banned.

gin and tonic

It should be noted, however, that while the dog was fat, the G&T was even fatter. It came with a splash of St Germain, a slice of grapefruit and a smattering of juniper berries. I do declare it to be one of the nicest gin & tonics I’ve ever had – even at €9.50.

The hot dog cost €8, which felt like less good value than the G&T, so all in all you’re looking at nearly €20 for what amounts to street food and a drink (albeit a pretty generous drink). I’m sad to say, the reviews were right: it’s over-priced style over substance. But I might go back anyway for that fat G&T…

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Jun 172014

Cafe Struik (International) 4 Star Rating
Rozengracht 160 (Jordaan), 020 625 4863, website

I went in search of tacos… I found roti. Well, that’ll teach me not to leave restaurants on my “To-Eat List” for so long that they change their concept before I even make it along! Hipster hangout Café Struik has been hosting guest chefs on Tuesday evenings for a while… they made it to my list because I heard about “Taco Tuesdays” (and those of you who’ve been following for a while will know I’ve been in search of decent tacos for some time now) but when I arrived to meet the Honey Badger and his ex-colleagues, it became apparent that there wasn’t a single tortilla in the building – soft or fried.

struik amsterdam inside

Instead, we were met with a veritable smorgasbord of Surinamese food: there was chicken (or a vege option, if you preferred), sweet potatoes, beans, a spiky little cucumber salad… all atop a soft, lightly spiced roti bread – and all for about a tenner. You can’t say fairer than that for a Tuesday night.

Struik roti Tuesday

Scrolling down Struik’s Facebook page while writing this post, I realize that this review is more or less useless, however. I see brunch, I see burgers, I see tagine, I see tortillas (yes, after all that, I even see tortillas again!). But nowhere do I see roti. I don’t know if it was a one-off, or whether the Surinamese chefs will be back. All I do know is that if the Tuesday I stopped in is anything to go by, it’s worth going back to try out some more of Struik’s guest chefs… Now, who’s up for checking out those tacos after all?

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