It’s been remarked on more than one occasion that the decadent mix of cosmopolitans, singledom, careers and boy talk that my friends and I enjoy in Amsterdam is reminiscent of Carrie & Co.’s exploits in Sex and the City. The differences, though, are several: I’m not a columnist, but a copywriter; Helen and Renee are a fashion designers, not gallery owners or PR people; Nicola is an account manager, not a lawyer. While tottering around in Manolo Blahniks might fly in yellow US taxis, sturdy boots and flat trainers are required to conquer Amsterdam’s cobbled streets. Mounting my bike in ‘the naked dress’ might not make too much sense either. Instead of dainty salads in minimalist, spacious New York restaurants, we order bowls of chips in cosy Dutch eetcafes. And when we buy ice cream, we don’t just pretend to eat it.
On Thursday evening, we met after work for a catch-up on the week’s news, 98% of which was man-related. While some of us had been sending inappropriate emails to inappropriate people, others had reached moments of clarity about the men they were trying not to sleep with. Where better to share such experiences than a Belgian brown café, over a krug of sweet dark ‘bok beer’ and some wholesome winter fare? Zotte is conveniently located just round the corner from my Leidseplein office, but I’d only been there once before. Though crowded, coming straight from work should guarantee you a table, and you can always sample a couple of the infamous Belgian beers (beware, some of them are 8% alcohol) before you order food. Influenced by hormones that would be better described in a different blog, I went for a rare steak with peppercorn sauce and a glass of red wine. The girls had quiche and a spinach and goat’s cheese lasagne. In the middle of the table, we shared two unceremonious bowls of chips and salad that were included in the price of the main courses. In the absence of any possibility of a man-hug, this is the kind of food that’s the next best thing: warm and fuzzy, animal and protective.
Two days later, however, our desire was for something completely different. Saturday night, all dressed up as far as Amsterdam goes, and in the mood for dancing. We met at Gala, a trendy, London-esque restaurant housed in the heart of what’s known as ‘gay street’. Gala’s style could be described as ‘fusion tapas meets cocktail bar’ but that would make it sound a lot worse than it actually is. Seated two on either side of a long, communal, high table on posh bar stools, we ordered a bottle of Spanish rose from the tantalisingly pierced waiter (who was, unsurprisingly, gay). The menu offered several small dishes, of which we chose eight to share between us. First to arrive were four skewers of raw tuna marinated in ginger and soy sauce: a barely adorned mouthful of raw pleasure. Next came steak with blue cheese, followed by cod croquettes with wasabi mousse, a very strange dressing reminiscent of bright blue gloss paint and something that looked like hair gel. It probably didn’t taste like hair gel, but the sight was so confusing to my palate that I wasn’t quite sure what I could taste. Another highlight were the moreish broad beans fried with chorizo. The bell peppers stuffed with squid were less appealing as a result of the non-descript mush that surrounded the squid, but the patatas bravas, bread with a tomato concasse and tortilla were good, if less ‘fusion’ than the rest. The bill was mercifully less trendy than the staff, coming to under €30 each, which we thought was rather good for a restaurant that really could feel at home in New York.
Afterwards, we went to Arc, a bar whose cocktails are as beautiful as its men though more available, and discovered the ‘decadent mojito’. Made with champagne instead of soda water, the Cuban concoction could barely be bettered for pure Sex and the City – that is, until we ran into the obligatory gay best friend.