It had been a particularly frustrating day of Dutch customer service by the time dinner rolled around on a Saturday night a few weeks ago. KLM had frayed my patience into fibrous scraps, and the server at the bowling alley and bar we’d just hit up to unwind was lucky her attitude didn’t result in physical violence. I was at the end of my customer service tether, and one more bad experience was destined to turn into a straw/camel’s back situation.
Better still, the drinks were from Porem – Geisha’s sister cocktail bar that’s right next door. I’d been there before (take a look at my Amsterdam Drinking Guide) so I opted for El Mariachi to start – it seemed sensible to order something I knew I was going to like after the day I’d had… The food menu was extensive and I wasn’t in the mood for making decisions, so I gravitated towards the chef’s menu. Undecided about how many courses to choose, the waitress advised us we could skip dessert and have three savoury dishes for a €5 supplement on the three-course menu. I was sold. Partly by the thought of the food, and partly by the fact that for the first time that day, someone seemed to be actually thinking about the wishes of the customer.
Our starter was a mix of sushi: tuna and salmon sashimi, a rainbow roll and a regular roll. Geisha doesn’t serve a huge range of sushi, so I assume the chef changes up what s/he serves, but you can expect a couple of rolls plus a few pieces of sashimi. Up next was a seafood soup that was slightly spicy, slightly sour and very good. It came with a few mussels, shrimps and veges, but the stand-out part was the broth itself.
Our third and final course comprised two dishes: beef tenderloin that had been seared and was served raw and very tender, with an umami-rich sauce that was slightly sweet and slightly citric too. The other dish was seabass, served with its skin crispy and a sticky soy sauce and spring onions. An excellent balance of textures as well as tastes.
While our chef’s menu cost €41, we ended up with a bill of around €70 each (including tip) because – ummm – I needed more cocktails. But clearly it would be possible to eat at Geisha for less. And however much you spend there, I have no doubt that the service would be just as good.
The next morning, cravings for noodle soup were in tune with a) the autumnal weather, and b) a slight cocktail hangover. So we set off to Ramen-Ya, Amsterdam’s latest answer to the ramen trend that’s not exactly sweeping our city but is at least heading in the right direction. Ramen-Ya is in the Red Light District, which in some ways is not that helpful to locals (I hardly ever find myself in the RLD) but in others is quite handy (when you’re showing visitors around, at least there’s somewhere decent to eat).
That being said, it doesn’t feel all that touristy because it’s quite hard to see that it’s even a restaurant. Yes, there’s a sign outside and a menu in the window, but the frontage is tiny and opens up to a red staircase and not a lot else. Once downstairs in the basement, Ramen-Ya is big enough that you can probably rock up without a reservation. But you wouldn’t know any of that from the outside.
We ordered two bowls of ramen: the “Kimchi Ramen” and the “Hakata Deluxe”. The former comprised chicken broth with kimchi (obviously), pork char siu (essentially BBQ-ed pork belly), black wood-ear mushrooms, half a boiled egg and, of course, the noodles. The ramen themselves had great bite and flavour to them; the char siu was melt-in-the-mouth; the egg was perfectly cooked with a rich orange yolk; the mushrooms tasted like seaweed (which is lucky for me as I don’t like mushrooms as a rule); and the kimchi added a welcome sour kick. In short, I loved it.
The Hakata Deluxe was a pork broth (far creamier and stronger in flavour than the chicken broth of the Kimchi Ramen) with soy sauce and a fattier variety of char siu. The Honey Badger loved it, but I found the richness of it all a bit overpowering.
The service was a little hit and miss (they didn’t bring our side of kimchi till after we’d finished our soups), but Ramen-Ya is a serious contender to Le Fou Fow and I’ll definitely be going back. A bowl of ramen will set you back between €11 and €15, depending on what you go for, and will keep you full till dinnertime. Plus, what could be better than a steaming bowl of noodle soup on a rainy Sunday?