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Aug 262015

Duende Dos (Tapas) 3 Star Rating
Nieuwe Willemsstraat 1-3 (Jordaan), 020 427 0204, website Book now

Vlaamsch Broodhuys (Lunch and brunch) 5 Star Rating
Van Woustraat 78 (De Pijp), 020 400 4555, website

7.15 am: I am rudely awoken by the Honey Badger’s alarm. I pretend to be asleep. It’s useless.

7.30 am: The Honey Badger presents me with a cappuccino. This is quite literally the highlight of my day and I go “Yeahhhh!” on a regular basis – like I’ve never seen a cup of bloomin’ coffee before.

8.30 am: After half an hour reading the news, I am at my desk. My clients all seem to either a) live in the US; or b) like working at midnight for some bizarre reason. So there’s always a mountain of email to get through (I am attempting not to answer mails after 7 pm in a bid to spend less time glued to screens – success is limited). I get in a good couple of hours of serious writing/editing/blog-posting before the social media ADD sucks me in…

…And suddenly it’s 11 am: I go for a run (on a good day) to work off all the food and wine I will later consume. I am pleased if I don’t hate it too much.

12 noon: I am, once again, starving hungry. Most days, I eat leftovers from the night before that are all tupperware’d up in the fridge. But today, I meet a friend who’s got the day off for lunch. We’re on the Van Woustraat and I have vague recollections of emails, Facebook posts, comments on my blog, press releases – all informing me of great places to eat in the area. I fail to remember any of them and instead we wander into the Vlaamsch Broodhuys. I am annoyed that I’m not trying anywhere new (I’ve been to the Vlaamsch Broodhuys on the Haarlemmerstraat before) and that with five locations it’s essentially a chain. But by this point I’m too hungry to care.

Vlaamsch Broodhuys Amsterdam

Lunch at Vlaamsch Broodhuys – quite the spread!

12.30 pm: The service is such that we are actually eating within 20 minutes of sitting down. I don’t have to wave my arms around – not even once – to order my lunch. It is a minor miracle! The food is decent as well: we order two things off the menu to share, but what arrives is a whole board-load of food with a basket of different types of bread. There’s a small caprese salad (the mozzarella is some of the best I’ve had this side of Italy), artichokes in bulgar wheat, smoked mackerel rillettes that remind me of holidays in Cornwall, a nicely dressed green salad, and a generous blob of hummus. The latter is the only thing I’m not too keen on: it’s so smooth it tastes almost buttery, and is tinged with green (basil?) rather than tahini which is completely lacking. That aside, the rest is delicious, and the coffee is excellent too.

1.30 pm: My email has been beeping at me with requests for translations of job vacancies for a Dutch bank, edits to a food story being pitched to an online magazine, and press enquiries from a Norwegian travel publication looking for insider tips to Amsterdam. I’d better get back to my laptop before my inbox implodes.

6 pm: It’s time for a beer. It must be time for a beer – right? I head to Checkpoint Charlie, this funny-looking new place that’s sprung up just south of the Westerpark (because, as we all know, if there’s one thing I like more than a drink in the evening, it’s a drink in the evening close to my house). I’m meeting a lady called Megan who does a pop-up called Pinch. This feels like a two-birds, one-stone situation: I get to try someplace new AND it’s always fun talking to foodie entrepreneurs.

8 pm: We’re two beers down and it’s clear that neither of us feels like going home to cook dinner. I peruse Google Maps, hoping to spot somewhere to eat that I’ve never been before. This is tough – as I said, we’re only a couple of blocks from Westerpark. I finally alight on Duende Dos – it’s a tapas place that I tried to go to once before but they were closed for a private party. It’s also 300 metres from where we’re sitting – bonus.

8.30 pm: Due to equally good service (I’m on a roll today), we’re halfway into our first glass of wine. By this point, Megan and I have covered pop-ups, politics and boys, so we’ve clearly not looked at the menu. Instead, we ask the waitress to bring us a few dishes of whatever she thinks is good.

9 pm: From the kitchen come a dish of merguez sausages and a spinach salad with plenty of fresh goat’s cheese. They’re both good, but nothing life-changing. The roasted vegetables are a little too sweet and oily for me, and the chorizo comes in rather unsatisfying thin slices rather than meaty chunks. Cheese in manchego-shaped slices appears (you know what I mean) with a block of membrillo; only it’s not manchego – it’s kind of rubbery, like a cross between a young gouda and a hard goat’s cheese.

11 pm: We spend about €30 each, including a full bottle of house red, and I feel bad that I already know I’m only giving this place three stars. The waitress was an absolute gem, and I wish that I’d decided 8 years ago to split out my ratings for food and service. Then I figure that Duende Dos has probably been in business longer than my website has, and I doubt they care all that much what I think. Good for them.

11.30 pm: I drag myself up the four flights of stairs to my apartment, wondering whether to pretend to be more sober than I am. Screw that. The Honey Badger wisely opts not to bother berating me for getting home so late without telling him where I am – we’ve been through this so many times before, he’s given up.

12 midnight: In bed. Ugh – this hangover is going to suck tomorrow. Rest and repeat.

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Aug 202015
 August 20, 2015  Restaurant reviews No Responses »

Choux (European) 5 Star Rating
De Ruyterkade 128 (Nieuwmarkt), 06 16 51 23 , website

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, it won’t have escaped your notice that possibly the biggest maritime event of all time is currently taking place on our very doorstep. SAIL Amsterdam’s 2015 edition started yesterday and runs through till Sunday, with free entry to lots of the tall ships, fireworks every night, and all kinds of parties in between. Enough guides to SAIL have been written on Amsterdam blogs already (and in any case, this is a restaurant review site, not a things-to-do blog) so I won’t go into the details of what’s on (take a look at the SAIL event guides on Eating Amsterdam or Awesome Amsterdam if you’re looking for more info). Suffice to say, I’m going to be hanging out at restaurants that just happen to be close to the IJ river for the next few days…

SAIL Amsterdam - tall ship

The first of which was Choux. I’d not been before last night, but I had high hopes given that it’s run by the same people who brought us pop-ups extraordinaire Repéré and Foyer previously. Now, they’re back – this time at a permanent location on de Ruyterkade behind central station.

The concept is similar (if not identical) to Choux’s previous incarnations: the menu is short, with dishes appearing as lists of ingredients rather than florid descriptions. The three-course menu is only €31, and you get to choose between three starters, three mains and three desserts. If you take the four- or seven-course menu, you get even less choice – but who needs it when the food is this good?

SAIL Amsterdam 2015

The meal kicked off with a little amuse that involved horseradish and pea shoots (among other things) alongside our aperitif. My starter comprised black rice, tiny pieces of pork, and squid that had been sliced very thinly so that it resembled tagliatelle or flat rice noodles. It was delicate and delicious and topped with a few salty-sweet clams for good measure.

My main continued the fishy theme with poached cod, beetroot and summer kale, accented with small, salty, dried shrimp. I wasn’t so keen on the latter (it was a bit like eating a crunchy jar of shrimp paste) but the cod itself was cooked to silky perfection, the Chioggia beet and kale providing a firm-textured contrast.

I skipped dessert (I’d had the cheesecake before at Foyer) in favour of the cheese plate: an aged Gouda, a super-runny brie and a creamy blue cheese. I wasn’t bowled over by it, and neither was my chocoholic friend by her chocolate dessert (she said it seemed more cakey than mousse-like), but the cheesecake lived up to its reputation.

Choux Amsterdam restaurant

We took the wine arrangement too (because why not when you’re already several drinks deep from your SAIL revelry?) and I continued to appreciate the fact that Choux’s wines (just like Foyer’s) are a challenge to my preconceptions. They serve not just organic wines, but wines I can only describe as “raw”: they’re cloudier and fruitier than their conventional wine cousins, but also more interesting on the palate. I particularly liked the young red I had with my cheese – just don’t ask me what it was. Like I said, SAIL revelry had been in full force for several hours by this point…

Dinner came to around €60 each, and we could undoubtedly have spent a lot less if we’d not gone quite so crazy on the wine. The food itself is only €31 for three courses or €38 for four, which I consider to be a bargain in Amsterdam terms, especially given the level of quality.

Of course, we completely missed the evening’s fireworks in our post-prandial haze. But still, there’s always tonight. I’m off to REM Eiland to check out the views of the boats from up there – and maybe even catch the fireworks this time. You?

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Aug 132015
 August 13, 2015  Restaurant reviews No Responses »

Dok (Lunch and brunch) 4 Star Rating
Moermanskkade 71 (Westerpark), 020 362 7211, website

Woods (International) 3 Star Rating
Danzigerkade 8 (Westerpark), 020 808 0646, website

Hipsters. Just when you think you’ve located them (either so you can avoid them like a plague of dodgy beards or go join them for their next cold-brew coffee) they’ve moved on – taking over a recently abandoned stretch of industrial wasteland and turning it into the latest (I dread this word) “hotspot”.

When I first moved to Amsterdam back in 2000, I lived in a cockroach-infested tower block in Amsterdam Noord. Hipsters didn’t really exist back then, but students did, and we all headed as far south as possible to what was then the part of town to hang out in: de Pijp. A decade or so later – and with some notable neighbourhoods reaching hip status in the intervening years – Amsterdam Noord has achieved a remarkable turnaround. Led by the NDSM wharf but now stretching far beyond that, its network of container communities, converted industrial shipyards and urban-beach feel have propelled it to the far right of the Cool Wall. When once I winced at friends with kids considering a move to Noord, now I positively encourage them: “house prices will only go up!” speaks the middle-class capitalist on my shoulder.

So it was with some surprise, then, that on a recent bike ride home from my local Gamma (my apartment-move means I now actually own a loyalty card for a hardware store) I discovered the hipsters had been at it again. Cycling through what had until recently been just another industrial wasteland (known as the Houthavens), I found a Brandt & Levie food truck selling gourmet hotdogs, a theatre showing that subtitled play about Anne Frank, half a dozen “co-working spaces” clad in solar panels and those weird succulent plants that are supposed to be good for the environment, and various places to eat and drink that seem to have sprung up faster than the time it’s taken me to get my head around the “pour-over coffee” trend. (I used to do this as a student 15 years ago because I couldn’t afford a coffee machine – since when did it become a thing?)

Dok Houthavens

Dok’s urban beach in the Houthavens (loving the streamer of ties!)

One of those places is Dok, which you can’t really call a café or a restaurant – it’s more like a collection of containers, decked out to look like beach huts, in a giant adult-sized sand pit. I showed up to meet a fellow freelancer for lunch at 12.30 on a Wednesday, and was amazed at how quickly the place filled up – do all these people work in the Houthavens these days? Were they mostly students from the housing complex down the road? Freelancers or unemployed? I think I’m probably too old to tell the difference. Either way, if there are no tables left, you can grab a deckchair on the “beach” and soak up the sun on a summery day.

Dok sandwich

Open-faced hummus and roast vege broodje at Dok

The menu was nothing too creative, so we stuck with good ol’ broodjes. And to be fair, the sandwiches they did – while safe – they did well. We had a BLT with truffle mayo, and a vegetarian open-faced sandwich topped with hummus, roasted vegetables and walnuts. The service was friendly enough, if a little lacking in presence, but what’s new? Lunch came to only €9 each, which felt like good value given the mini beach vacation we took in the middle of the working day.

Dok beer tap Amsterdam

Amsterdammertje beer tap: clearly a necessity for any hipster bar

The following weekend, after another mammoth DIY session on another gloriously sunny day that really shouldn’t have been spent grouting tiles, the Honey Badger suggested lunch outside. My heart sank at the thought of trying to find a spot on a terrace in town, and then we remembered the Houthavens… Hopping on our bikes back in the direction of Gamma, we passed Theater Amsterdam and – right next to it – a spot called Woods that had a parasol-ed table with our name on it. I asked the waiter for a lunch menu; “I can’t guarantee lunch!” he replied. Then, seeing the look of perplexity on my face: “Aren’t you going to this afternoon’s performance?”

Woods - vitello tonnato

More open-faced sandwiches – this time the vitello tonnato from Woods

Having established that no, we weren’t here for pre-theater food, and yes, we’d really just like to eat some lunch, please, things got a little better. Service was quick (presumably because the theatre crowd all cleared out about 10 minutes after we arrived) and the food was decently prepared. We tried the vitello tonnato (another open-faced sandwich, this time with veal and tuna salad) and the “Hotdog Woods”. It came in an overly crispy bread roll with a knife sticking menacingly out from the sausage. It was more or less impossible to eat, but it tasted nice once you’d got past the inconvenience of battling your way through yet another hotdog designed more for Instagram than for eating. Lunch was a slightly pricier €12 each, which is perhaps because Woods is more of a dinner restaurant than a lunch café.

Woods hotdog

The eminently unmanageable “Hotdog Woods”

While the quality of food and service at Dok and Woods may not have been any better or more innovative than elsewhere in the city, the Houthavens still (just about) has this in its favour: not that many people know about it yet. Which means that if it’s a blue-sky day in Amsterdam and every terrace south of NDSM and north of de Pijp is jammed full of people, try heading northwest and you might just find your place in the sun. But you’d better be quick, ‘cause the hipsters are coming…

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Aug 052015
 August 5, 2015  Restaurant reviews No Responses »

Hosokawa (Asian) 3 Star Rating
Max Euweplein 22 (Leidseplein), 020 638 8086, website Book now

Last week, I did a very Dutch thing. Or at least, I tried to. For the first time in a decade of living in the Netherlands, I decided to collect those little stamps they always try to give you at the cash desk in Albert Heijn. Aptly named “Restaurantzegels”, ten of these stamps entitle you to a 2-for-1 meal at dozens of restaurants all over the Netherlands. Surely a no-brainer for a freelance food writer who attempts to budget the way other people attempt to diet: with much effort and little success?

So I filled up my card (remarkably quickly – it seems I shop at Albert Heijn more than I thought I did) and hopped online to book a restaurant. Only it wasn’t that simple: the places I’d starred all seemed to be mysteriously unavailable. I checked a few other restaurants at random to see if my experience was an anomaly, but even the humblest of eetcafes only seemed to have availability at 9.30 on a Wednesday night. Seriously – are these places even open at 9.30 on a Wednesday?

And then my Dutchness failed me. I gave up with the whole zegels business, threw the card in the recycling, and instead booked my first choice of restaurant at 7.30 pm on a Friday – for full price. Like I said, budgeting is much like dieting: even the best of intentions generally go to shit pretty quickly.

Teppanyaki grill - Hosokawa

The chef at work at Hosokawa’s teppanyaki grill

Friday night came, and off we went to Japanese restaurant Hosokawa – it had been recommended to me a while ago, and Albert Heijn’s Restaurantzegels website had reminded me of my intention to try it out. None of the places I recognised on the website were particularly expensive, so I assumed Hosokawa wouldn’t be either. Clearly I was wrong. We’d booked the teppanyaki side of the restaurant (there are separate tables for sushi and teppanyaki), and a quick glance at the menu confirmed that we weren’t getting out of there for much under €100 each. The set menus came in at a minimum of €66, and you’d struggle to find a bottle of wine for under €30. It was like a re-run of our Yamazato experience.

Still, we were there now, so we had little choice but to crash on and worry about the bill later. In some strange attempt to add value, what happened next was very strange: a waitress came over and tied bibs around our necks. The Honey Badger was not amused: “Never in my adult life have I had to wear a bib at a restaurant!” I took his point. Especially as I didn’t consider anything we ate that night to be particularly messy.

Honey Badger - Hosokawa

An unamused grown man wearing a bib – and not on a stag do…

The meal started with a small dish of cold egg custard with a few slices of vegetables set into it. I wasn’t convinced. While the teppanyaki chef prepared our fish course, we chugged a small bowl of miso soup – trying to get it down before the fish was ready. The salmon and sea bass were undoubtedly fresh, and both they and the onions and courgettes that were fried up at the same time on the grill were “done” about the right amount. But that’s pretty much all there is to say – it’s like a giant indoor BBQ without the rubs and marinades.

Fish at restaurant Hosokawa

The fish course: salmon, sea bass and vegetables, straight off the hot plate

What I will say is that the dipping sauces were fantastic: we had a nutty, rich miso sauce; a simple soy-based sauce; and a tart, vinegary dip laced with daikon and spring onions. The chef told us which sauce would go best with which part of the meal, and he was right.

Salad - Hosokawa Amsterdam

Kizami salad – a good palate cleanser between courses

After the fish came a light salad of raw veges and sesame seeds that was dressed perfectly. It cleansed the palate before our main course of beef with vegetables and rice. I opted for the sirloin (arguing that I’d saved us a whole €4 by not choosing the tenderloin!) which was expertly prepared in front of us with fresh and smoked garlic, as well as a generous glug of Cognac that lit up the room (for full flambé effect, watch my 10-second video on Instagram). It could’ve done with more seasoning (although the sauces made up for that) and I had to ask the chef to chop it up into smaller pieces (because large slices and chopsticks don’t mix), but other than that it was a decent dish.

Beef teppanyaki

Sirloin of beef from the teppanyaki grill

Dessert was as uninspiring as I’ve come to expect from Asian restaurants: fresh fruit, mango and lime sorbets, and a dollop of whipped cream in the middle. We sipped our green tea, taking bets on what the bill was likely to come to. To say that we were pleasantly surprised to pay €90 each would be true and untrue at the same time: we’d anticipated three figures, so we were happy to stop at two. But was it worth €90? I don’t think so.

I left feeling much as I did when I left Yamazato: like I just don’t get it. I’ve never been to Japan, so I make no claims to be an expert. But I neither do I understand how grilling a few pieces of fish and meat can be so expensive – no matter how good the dipping sauces are. Those bibs had better be designer…

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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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