It’s the final day of my Vegetarian January Challenge, which means that (the next few hours notwithstanding) I think we can safely say I made it an entire month without eating any meat or fish… But before I celebrate (i.e. blow the whole thing by bingeing on a massive burger), I still have a few vegetarian restaurants in Amsterdam that I need to review. Two are below – a couple more will come in February… who knew this would become such a labour of love?!
Indian vegetarian restaurant: Saravana Bhavan
Apparently Saravana Bhavan is a chain of over 60 restaurants spanning much of the globe. But it wasn’t until it popped up to fill the ill-fated spot once occupied by Rijksen and Roots (not to be confused with vege-café ROOTS below) that I’d even heard of it. Many Indian dishes are vegetarian by definition, but Saravana Bhavan has made this their USP – which makes it perfect for the vege-foodie, temporary or long-term.
The “Cheese Masala Dosa” that we ordered first was an enormous, wafer-thin pancake, golden and crispy on one side, folded into a large but neat triangle stuffed with a lightly spiced potato and onion mix and melted, grated cheese. It came with four sauces, all of which tasted distinctly different – none were hot (as in chilli-heavy) but all were aromatic with warm Indian spices. I could’ve happily eaten the whole dosa to myself and gone home completely satisfied.
The “Saravanaa Special Meal” was essentially a thali featuring no less than ten little dishes, plus rice, chapatti and poppadum. No one was going home hungry, that was for sure. Three of the dishes were cool and yoghurt-based; four were varying types of South Indian curry; one was like a spicy thin soup; another a cardamom-laced rice pudding. It was like nothing you ever eat in westernised “Indian” restaurants – either here or in the UK. I was impressed by how authentic everything tasted – and at the same time perplexed I could have that feeling without ever having been to India. In essence, they could’ve been serving me anything – all I knew was that the flavours were far more intense and interesting than your average curry house. Plus, there were lots of Indian people around – which is always a good sign.
In case you’re thinking of heading to Saravana Bhavan for a romantic night out or special dinner with your parents, it’s worth noting that the atmosphere isn’t exactly gezellig (think fluorescent lighting and a high table-to-space ratio), nor is the service much to write home about. But so long as you’re prepared for that, you can just focus on the food – which is what you’re there for. Our bill came to €25 each including a drink; the dosa alone, however, was only around €8 or €9 and would’ve made a perfect and filling meal in itself. Whether I’m looking for an Indian restaurant, a vegetarian restaurant or both, Saravana Bhavan is one spot I’ll definitely be coming back to. Let’s hope it can turn around the curse of its address!
Vegetarian café: ROOTS
And now for something completely different. Roots is a health-food café and takeaway with two branches in Amsterdam serving up smoothies, juices, veggie burgers, salads and sandwiches. Which would sound like ideal lunch fare, were it any good.
My “Immunity Smoothie” perhaps took its name from the banana medicine I remember taking (as antibiotics) as a kid… Too sweet, too thick and too cloying – with so much cinnamon it tasted like carrot cake that had been blended into baby food. Oh, and don’t bother asking for a glass of water to help force your €7.50 smoothie down – unless you’re prepared to pay for it.
My veggie burger, meanwhile, cost €10.50; I was hungry half an hour later. It tasted ok – or as ok as “burgers” made from beans and beetroot are ever going to taste – there just wasn’t nearly enough of it. Does Roots think that because I’m not eating meat I’m on a weight-loss diet? And if that’s the case, shouldn’t I at least save some money to make up for it?
The “egg” sandwich (in fact made of chickpeas) was even worse. Yes, it sort of looked like egg salad – I suppose. All it tasted of, however, was mustard, mayonnaise and stale bread. My lunch companion didn’t bother finishing it, and instead raided her fridge for leftover pork ribs a couple of hours later. I couldn’t blame her.
As if giving up meat wasn’t tough enough, ROOTS left me hungry, embarrassed (it had been my suggestion) and out of pocket. Plus, their receipt-printing machine was on the blink – now even my accountant hates ROOTS.