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Feb 252015
 
 February 25, 2015  Restaurant reviews No Responses »

Bistro Zuidlande (French) 4 Star Rating
Nova Zemblastraat 586 (Westerpark), 020 475 2046, website Book now

Did I tell you I’m buying a house? I’m not going far. You know how wedded I am to Amsterdam, and to the West specifically, and to the Spaarndammerbuurt even more specifically, and actually to my very own kitchen. So I decided to just shift the kitchen upstairs – three floors upstairs, to be precise. The neighbours have a roof terrace, and I don’t, so I am making what must possibly be the shortest move in history: about ten metres vertically.

It was touch and go for a while. Turns out banks really don’t like freelancers. Especially foodie ones who don’t know much about money. They’re not exactly fond of Americans either, but at least the Honey Badger has a “real” job. And I can be a stubborn old cow when I want to be, so I somehow managed to harass the mortgage guy enough to make it happen.

All of which meant that last Friday I was in Bistro Zuidlande (on the Spaarndammerstraat – where else?) celebrating the signing of the first contract with my neighbours. It’s taken me a while to make it to Zuidlande (despite the convenience of its address) because ever since Het Parool gave it a 9, it’s been impossible to get a table at less than a week’s notice. This time, with the notary appointment already booked, we were lucky. It’s a funny feeling, realising that you’ve known the people whose house you’re going to be living in for 8 years already – but a good feeling all the same. We started with bubbles, of course, which were spiked with something that tasted like a cross between lavender and limoncello, and made a toast to our new homes.

Bistro Zuidlande Amsterdam

Bistro Zuidlande (no food pics – it was too dark inside!)

The menu is French, which is actually kind of rare in Amsterdam these days, even though it was practically all you could get 10 years ago. It featured things like calf’s tongue and skate wing, which I thought was fairly brave as they’re generally considered more “foodie” and less crowd-pleasers. The Honey Badger had the calf’s tongue and loved it. I, on the other hand, had the richest scallop dish I’ve ever eaten. They came (three of them – whole scallops, not cut in half lengthways like restaurants usually give you to save money) on the half shell nestling in a hearty dollop of gooey cauliflower and truffle puree, topped with a puff pastry lid. A scallop pie, if you will. It could have probably sufficed for a main course, but that was still to come…

Speaking of which, next up was a “Cassoulette” (which I assume is just supposed to be a mini-version of a cassoulet). Now, generally I love cassoulet, but this one I was a little on the fence about. It’s not that it didn’t taste good: the meat was all fantastic, especially the Toulouse sausages. It just wasn’t a lot like the cassoulets I’ve had in France and cooked myself subsequently. Random vegetables kept popping up, like mushrooms and turnips, that didn’t feel very Provençale. And the sauce was a rich, truffle-laced, umami jus, without the sunny-sweet influence of ripe tomatoes. (Admittedly, this may well be because the Netherlands is devoid of ripe tomatoes at this time of year.) As a dish, I remained unconvinced by it.

By this point, we were all far too full for dessert (I’d probably hit that point already after the Scallop Pie Effect) so we settled for a digestif and a bit of a moan about WOZ waardes. Generously, my neighbours picked up the bill, which came to around €200 for the four of us. And then they wandered off home to what will soon be my new roof terrace :-)

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Feb 172015
 
 February 17, 2015  Restaurant reviews 6 Responses »

Orale Taqueria (Mexican) 5 Star Rating
No fixed address, 06 34987782, website

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I learnt there’s an actual word for a place that sells tacos. You know: just like the bakery sells bread and the butcher sells meat, the taqueria sells tacos. How cool is that? And suddenly these taquerias (or whatever the plural is) seem to be springing up like snow drops in February.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know that I’ve also been in search of a decent taco for a while. Well, even if you didn’t, you’ve probably figured it out from the title: “part 5?” I hear you ask, wondering how this simple task could be so darn hard. So, to give you a quick recap, I’ve tried tacos from the Burrito Maker (his name is semi-misleading; he doesn’t only make burritos); long-time Mexican restaurant Caramba on the Lindengracht; the Original California Burrito Company (same issue with the name); and most recently, Salsa Shop (one of my 2014 Amsterdam Restaurants of the Month). But just as I was starting to feel like I’d run out of potential taco purveyors, a new breed of pop-ups started, well, popping up: the moveable taqueria feast!*

Mezcal tequila Hiding in Plain Sight Amsterdam

A “Flight of Mezcal” from Hiding in Plain Sight

A couple of weekends ago, I signed up for a “Tequila y Tacos” event at Hiding in Plain Sight (my favourite cocktail bar in Amsterdam) without really having any idea who would be making my tacos. Turned out it was Orale Taqueria, who wooed me within the first five minutes by bringing over their ceviche tostadas. I could have happily skipped the tacos and spent the rest of the afternoon crunching away on raw, citrusy, chilli-hot shrimps with avocado.

But I’m glad I didn’t, because the tacos were awesome too. All made with soft corn tortillas (which seem to be the only kind of tortillas that any self-respecting taqueria serves now – gone are the days of the humble, so 2012 flour tortilla), the three we tried were distinctly different and a far cry from the stodgy carb-fests that used to be the only Mexican we could get in Amsterdam. One was made with lamb and a bright green (from all the herbs) salsa verde; the second was a chicken mole whose flavour was so rich I could’ve sworn it was beef. The last was most surprising of all: crispy cauliflower with a smoky dressing that made it taste just about as meaty as the other two.

Tacos Amsterdam - Orale Taqueria

Orale Taqueria’s tacos – ok, so we clearly got far more than three…

We tried the jalapeno poppers too – I’d had them before in the US and found them kind of greasy and unsatisfying. In contrast, these were bright in flavour, barely battered and speedily fried for minimum oiliness, and punctuated with a light-but-gooey cheese filling that would have been spectacular had I not burnt my lips trying to shovel them in so fast.

Ok, I’ll admit it: I’ve found the perfect taco. But this search has been way too much fun to stop now; what are your favourite taquerias? Let me know where I should get my next taco fix in the comments below!

*The first taqueria I came across was Best Coast Taqueria at the Kimchi Festival. The nice man who runs it told me they supply their salsas to the Salsa Shop – which makes sense because I couldn’t get enough of the latter’s peach habanero. But as I’ve only managed to taste one of Best Coast’s tacos (and at a festival, not a regular venue) I feel like I don’t yet have enough experience to write about them properly. From what I’ve tasted, though, they’re doing a great job! They pop up at BarBra, the Albert Cuypmarkt and various other locations – check out Best Coast Taqueria’s Facebook page for the latest!

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Feb 102015
 
 February 10, 2015  Restaurant reviews No Responses »

Baut (International) 4 Star Rating
Wibautstraat 125 (Oost/Watergraafsmeer), 020 46 59 26, website Book now

Last week, I was waxing lyrical about Foyer – a temporary restaurant in the Felix Meritis building, from the same people who brought us Repéré last winter. A longer-term contender on the temporary restaurant scene, however, is Baut – this week’s top pop-up on the opposite side of town. Well, I say pop-up, but Baut has been around for a couple of years now, making use of Het Parool’s former building on Weesperzijde. I’d tried to book a table there half a dozen times before (on the recommendation of Dutchman Doorn) but to no avail. I suspect that half the problem is the constant threat that they’re about to close: everyone wants to get there (and then get there again) while they still have the chance. But Baut has been playing this game since 2012, and the clock that was cited to stop ticking at the end of 2014 has now been wound up for another 90 days until the end of March 2015.

So, with my reservation firmly booked in for the past two months, I was all geared up for my first visit to this famed restaurant (the late Johannes van Dam gave it a 10 – talk about high expectations!). It has that sort of warehouse-chic vibe that you’ve come to expect from these places – I guess it all adds to the here-today-gone-tomorrow atmosphere. And they do have a great sign outside.

Baut restaurant Amsterdam

Baut’s iconic signage

We kicked off with the house aperitif (slowly, slowly Amsterdam restaurants are starting to get better at selling me a drink before I even look at my menu… really, they should all be doing it – I am such easy money). It was a little sweet, but in an orange-peel-and-vanilla kind of way that wasn’t overpowering. The dinner menu was organised according to geography: France, Italy, the Netherlands, and (somewhat inconsistently) Asia. There are four dishes in each area, and they’re sized somewhere between a starter and a main course – i.e. get two and let the kitchen decide which order makes most sense to eat them in. Alternatively, you can opt for a chef’s surprise menu of varying numbers of courses.

Baut Amsterdam - steak tartare

Steak tartare at Baut – with sadly boiled egg :-(

I started with a French classic: steak tartare – the steak part was delicious, as were the dressed baby lettuce leaves it came with. I was disappointed to find my egg boiled rather than raw – but I guess that’s the fault of the Health & Safety Police. (Vive la France, I say!) I also ordered risotto with asparagus (served curiously out of season) and a buttery piece of pan-fried cod from the Italian department. All very tasty; all very classic.

Baut Amsterdam - risotto

Asparagus risotto with cod – from Baut’s Italian menu

We worked our way through a bit of cheese and a lot of wine, and ended up spending about €70 each – but really, that was mostly due to the wine. Still, had it been €50 each, I think my overall verdict would have been the same: it was nice – pleasant, well executed, but all rather safe. It lacked whatever it was that Foyer had last week – the vibrancy, the creativity, the risk factor. Maybe it’s because Foyer’s temporary residency is still much younger, so it hasn’t learnt to tone itself down. Maybe it’s because Baut’s kitchen is headed up by the same chef who ran IQ Creative’s empire for 12 years. But maybe – after all – it’s about time for Baut’s clock to stop ticking.

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Feb 032015
 
 February 3, 2015  Restaurant reviews No Responses »

Foyer (European) 5 Star Rating
Keizersgracht 324 (Jordaan), 06 2831 0403, website

A couple of years ago, pop-ups were everywhere – there was My Table at People’s Place, Cosmic Chilli cook-offs at the café that’s now turned into Bar Brouw (can anyone even remember what it was called before?), and multiple guest chef nights at Hiding in Plain Sight. And in some ways, I think pop-ups are here to stay – for many reasons that haven’t changed.

But what has changed is the hype – it’s switched from individual chefs doing one-off events, to temporary restaurants inhabiting a space for a few months (or even a couple of years). It makes sense: restaurants take investment, and temporary venues can offer a welcome reduction in Amsterdam property prices. Plus, serious chefs want the chance to showcase their talents for at least a season – not just a night.

Foyer restaurant Amsterdam

The bar at Foyer – serving Boys beer

Last spring, I reviewed Repéré – which I loved and lost by the end of March. Now, its team has moved onto Foyer in the impressive Felix Meritis building – and it seems to me they’ve found a home, albeit a temporary one. I was there for the leaving dinner of a very dear colleague of mine – our tour guide, Chrisje, at Eating Amsterdam Tours. We toasted her Trip Advisor reviews over an aperitif of so-organic-it’s-cloudy pear cider – as you do.

The formula for the menu is much the same as it was at Repéré – if it ain’t broke, ‘n all that – so we chose from three starters and three mains (meat, fish and vege, respectively). The only difference was the addition of an optional in-between course, which I swapped in for my starter. It was a rich, truffle-fuelled poached egg with ribbons of crunchy celeriac – an earthy, wintry, comforting little pile of flavour.

Foyer Amsterdam - main course

Pork belly, kale, salsify… winter on a plate

Next, I (predictably) went for the pork belly, which came with roasted salsify, crispy kale, a thick jus and a few welcome leaves of postelein. It was delicious – and just the right size for such a rich, meaty main course. Everything came accompanied by wines that I can only describe as “raw” – they tasted young and a little underdeveloped on their own (like they hadn’t quite turned into wine yet?!) but fruity and natural with the food… Strange but good.

The desserts, however, were my favourite part of the meal – and that is odd coming from a kaaskop (cheese head – I’m taking this Dutch phrase literally) like me. Mine involved blood orange, beetroot, slivers of wafery chocolate, and all kinds of interesting crunchy things – plus this pink lake that you see in the picture. It’s hard to describe (as you can tell by the fact that I am failing abysmally) but suffice to say it was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a while.

Foyer Amsterdam - dessert

Dessert at Foyer: weirdly hard to describe (but in a good way!)

Dinner came to around €50 each, which seemed more than reasonable for a three-course meal with paired wines, in a stunningly converted canal house overlooking the Keizersgracht. So reasonable, in fact, that my colleague and I decided to treat Chrisje to her share of the bill – which made the evening more expensive for me but no less delicious. I’d have paid a lot more (in fact, I probably have paid a lot more in other restaurants) for food that good.

Foyer will be at Felix Meritis until 1 April 2015 – so you have slightly longer to catch it than you did when I reviewed Repéré. But we’re all curious to find out where they pop up next…

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Jan 272015
 
 January 27, 2015  Restaurant reviews No Responses »

Volt (European) 4 Star Rating
Ferdinand Bolstraat 178 (De Pijp), 020 471 5544, website Book now

Volt had been recommended to me by my boss at MegaCorp a couple of years ago. But given that a) she’s a regular and I wasn’t too keen on bumping into her on a Saturday night; b) she’s Head of Communications, which means she can afford to go to far more expensive restaurants than I can; and c) she lives in Oud-Zuid (nuff said), I’d avoided Volt until now. Turns out my prejudices (like most prejudices) were ill-founded.

Volt restaurant Amsterdam - squid chorizo

Volt’s answer to surf ‘n turf: squid and chorizo

Volt is unexpectedly affordable, with starters all coming in at under €10 and mains in the €14-18 range. It’s also neither pretentious nor uptight (although the service was a little hit and miss the night we were there). And – most importantly – Volt’s chef buys his cheeses from Kef, one of Amsterdam’s finest cheese shops on the Marnixstraat.

Volt restaurant Amsterdam - cheese Kef

Cheese from Kef, served at Volt

I started with small, firm parcels of stuffed squid served with fried chorizo and a tomato jus. In general, I absolutely love this combination of surf ‘n turf, and this dish didn’t disappoint. My main was ravioli stuffed with Jerusalem artichokes and dressed with a nutty butter sauce. It came with some other roasted roots and toasted nuts – a festival of autumnal vegetables. It lacked a citrus kick so I asked for a segment of lemon to squeeze on top – a DIY flavour enhancer. I’ve already mentioned the cheese I had to follow, which was as delicious as you’d expect from Kef.

Volt restaurant Amsterdam - ravioli

Volt’s autumnal ravioli

As I said, the service was a little hit and miss: on the one hand, a couple of our drinks got forgotten; on the other, the waiter warned us that the white wine we’d ordered hadn’t spent much time in the fridge and suggested we order another instead. While you could argue that the wine should have been kept at the right temperature in the first place, I appreciated the fact that he didn’t just pour us a bottle of warm wine (which has happened to me on numerous occasions in the past).

So, while Volt may be on the border of de Pijp and Oud-Zuid – two of Amsterdam’s most prestigious neighbourhoods – I’ll be recommending it to those who live elsewhere in Amsterdam, too. If for nothing other than that cheese board…

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Jan 202015
 
 January 20, 2015  Amsterdam food guide 7 Responses »

Boca's (Tapas) 5 Star Rating
Westerstraat 30 (Westerpark), 020 820 3727, website

Burgers Patio (International) 4 Star Rating
Tweede Tuindwarsstraat 12 (Jordaan), 020 623 6854, website

Dauphine (European) 4 Star Rating
Prins Bernhardplein 175 (Oost/Watergraafsmeer), 020 462 1646, website

Harkema (International) 3 Star Rating
Nes 67 (Dam), 020 428 2222, website

de Kas (European) 5 Star Rating
Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3 (Oost/Watergraafsmeer), 020 462 4562, website

Cafe Kostverloren (Dutch eetcafe) 4 Star Rating
Tweede Kostverlorenkade 70 (Oud-West), 020 820 3161, website

Lion Noir (European) 4 Star Rating
Reguliersdwarsstraat 28 (Rembrandtplein), 020 627 6603, website

Razmataz (European) 4 Star Rating
Hugo de Grootplein 9 (Westerpark), 020 486 8408, website Book now

Van de Markt (European) 4 Star Rating
Weesperzijde 144-147 (Oost/Watergraafsmeer), 020 468 6958, website

You remember back in December I told you I was writing a series of “FAQ posts” about restaurant tips that readers routinely ask me for? Well, to continue the theme, here’s one I made earlier…

Question: I’m coming to Amsterdam with my team from work/extended family/entire friendship group/insert large-sounding amount of people here. Which restaurants can cater for large groups?

Answer: Well, that depends on your budget and which part of town you’re in… But here are some options.

de Kas restaurant Amsterdam

De Kas, Amsterdam

High-end restaurants for large groups

De Kas – Oost

I recently celebrated a wedding at de Kas, which proves just how big a group it can cater (there must have been at least 80-100 guests). De Kas literally translates as “the greenhouse” – which means that a) the restaurant is housed in one, and b) all the ingredients used come from it. Or at least, most of them. The rest come from the surrounding gardens and local farms. Very local, very seasonal, very delicious – just quite expensive.

Read full review of de Kas

Van de Markt – Amstel

I ate at Van de Markt for my boss’s leaving party, so the entire communications team of MegaCorp were there. Large groups are required to take a fixed menu, though, so make sure you let the kitchen know if anyone in your party if vegetarian or has other dietary requirements. The restaurant overlooks the Amstel river, has starched white tablecloths, impeccable service and an impressive wine cellar.

Read full review of Van de Markt

Van de Markt restaurant Amsterdam

Van de Markt, Amsterdam

Lion Noir – Rembrandtplein

Lion Noir is the kind of place you’d like to go for a high-class hen (bachelorette) party. Its dark decor features impressively masculine antlers, gothic chandeliers, and clientele wearing (wait for it) dresses and heels! Yes, in Amsterdam. It feels ever so slightly debauched without being seedy. And the cocktails are to die for. The last time I ate there it was the night I celebrated my friend’s engagement with the rest of our girlfriends – ideal.

Read full review of Lion Noir

Mid-range restaurants for large groups

Burgers Patio – Jordaan

Despite the name, this restaurant serves a lot more than just burgers. It does, however, have a nice patio for al fresco dining during the summer, and the whole place exudes a sort of Mediterranean vibe… There’s a daily market menu for around €25, or you can choose broadly French and Italian dishes a la carte. For groups of up to 15, you can book via the regular online reservation system. Larger groups are also welcome but menu restrictions do apply.

Read full review of Burgers Patio

Harkema – Dam

Tucked down the Nes, just south of Dam Square, Harkema is surprisingly huge. I’ve been here a number of times since I reviewed it in 2010 and it’s got better every time (which means I should probably re-review it, but frankly I don’t have time and their business seems to be booming with or without my star-rating system). The food ranges from steak to Asian fusion, and the service can be a little hit and miss. But it’s a safe bet for a big group – you can be as loud and raucous as you like. And I frequently have been.

Read full (rather out of date) review of Harkema

Dauphine restaurant Amsterdam

Dauphine, Amsterdam

Dauphine – Oost

Dauphine is another institution of a restaurant – a favourite among the business lunch crowd who come up from the Amstel business park every day. It serves classic Caesar salads, crowd-pleasing steaks, smoked salmon with poached eggs, and desserts from Holtkamp. A great option for a corporate lunch or after-work dinner.

Read full review of Dauphine

Budget restaurants for large groups

Boca’s – Jordaan/de Pijp

With two locations in Amsterdam (at roughly opposite ends of town), Boca’s is perfect for a casual birthday borrel. You can order huge platters of meat, fish or vegetarian snacks to share, and the standard is consistently of a much higher quality than your average deep-fried borrelhapjes.

Read full review of Boca’s

Razmataz (bar section) – Westerpark

The restaurant at Razmataz would fall into the mid-range category, but it also has a lovely separate bar serving eminently shareable (and sizable) snacks at highly reasonable prices. Think creamy bacalao rillettes to spread on bread, charcuterie plates, French cheeses… and they do a lovely Aperol Spritzer too. I’ve been here for birthdays, pre-wedding drinks… I even almost hosted my cookbook launch there.

Read full review of Razmataz

Razmataz restaurant Amsterdam menu

Razmataz, Amsterdam

Café Kostverloren – Oud West

Claiming to have world-famous burgers and 35 sorts of beer, Café Kostverloren is great for a party. I also remember a very accomplished Caesar salad dressing – which is not something to be sniffed at. If your group outing happens to be taking place at the same time as an important Dutch football match, Kostverloren is a good bet to watch the big game (unless of course you’re trying to avoid it altogether).

Read full review of Café Kostverloren

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