If you live in Amsterdam, it won’t have escaped your notice that we had local elections last week. Miraculously, I’m allowed to vote in these elections (I’m not allowed to vote in the national elections for some perverse reason, even though I pay Dutch taxes, own a Dutch flat and have a Dutch company registered with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, but don’t get me started…). And in this case they seemed fairly important since, from 1st May, Amsterdam’s 14 stadsdelen will be whittled down to just seven. Which means that the culturally varied and diverse areas of Bos en Lommer, de Baarsjes, Oud West and Westerpark all become one conglomerate mass named simply ‘West’. Now, I’ve not met anyone – anyone – who thinks this is a good idea, so I’m assuming it must be some kind of cost-cutting exercise on the part of the government. Amsterdam may not be a large city, but each area has its identify, character and people who in turn have their own needs and demands.
But ok, I’m no politician, and how does this relate to food? Well, I’ve been taking a look at some of the eating establishment near where I live lately, and noticing that there’s something distinctly Westerparkian about them. They’re classy but not expensive, up-and-coming but not exclusive, and they draw their influences from a diverse mix of immigrant cultures.
On this occasion, I’m focusing on the Italian-influenced restaurants – and they’re all takeaway places. But not takeaways in the Domino’s-pizza-and-Maccy-D’s type way; I mean takeaway that you might eat when you’re not hungover, too.
With a name like Holy Ravioli, you’ve got to be good. Fortunately, they are. I’ve tried a couple of the ravioli (all made from fresh pasta, and filled on the premises in a little ravioli factory out the back) and they’re packed full of flavour and value. Some combinations are surprisingly innovative, too: prawns with Thai-curry sauce, bean sprouts and spring onions, for example. Or veal with sage, spinach and anchovy butter. Or something with truffle that I keep trying to order, which keeps elusively disappearing from the menu (or maybe they’re just trying to keep me coming back for more…). Kevin and Bart (the ravioli boys) also profile the work of local artists on the walls of the restaurant, which is good news for Amsterdam artists and collectors.
Then there’s Lazagne, on the Frederik Hendrikplantsoen. The décor is kind of crazy in a scarlet-and-white-painted-flowers sort of way, but the lasagne chefs seem to know what they’re doing. The menu is simple, with meat lasagne, vegetarian lasagne and cannelloni, which change depending on the season. I tried all three, and the winner for me was the vegetarian pumpkin and artichoke lasagne, which is saying something since (as we know) I am no vege. I do, however, have a thing for artichokes. Weirdly, both lasagne dishes came with the tomato sauce on the top of, rather than in between, the pasta. I didn’t mind, and maybe I am being an ignorant Brit here, but it confused me a bit.
Finally, Pinsa’s pizzeria-cum-cookery-school serves pizza and pasta in the Spaarndammerbuurt. I’ve only tried the pizzas so far, and they’re not up to much. Their oven does not get hot enough, and they’re stingy on the toppings – including the basics like tomato sauce and cheese. It’s a shame because I want to support them, but after two mediocre experiences I’d go that bit further to La Perla or Da Portare Via to ensure quality.
Incidentally, all three places opened in the last year (give or take), proving that the area’s food scene is on the up and up. Which just goes to show: the government can take the Westerpark’s name from the Westerparkers, but they can’t take the Westerparker’s spirit from the Westerpark.