A long time ago (ok, about seven years ago) in a land called Amsterdam, life for me was one long tapas-fuelled speed date… Until one day I was all tapas-ed out (read into that what you will) and my forays into chorizo and patatas bravas were few and far between.
Modern tapas: Pikoteo
Brought to you by the same people who started Hugo’s (which exists no more – I am gutted), Pikoteo has the same bright, slightly edgy vibe and a great drinks menu. It’s also within walking distance of my house (the Spaarndammerbuurt is on an endless upward trend when it comes to food) and is one of those restaurants you can imagine working well on a number of different occasions.
We ordered a round of dishes to share, starting with one dish per person, and then just built up from there. We kicked off with my faithful pimientos de Padrón, which were a little less salty and fried than I’d have liked them to be – but probably healthier for it. The scallop and avocado ceviche (this is modern, fusion tapas, ok?) was fresh and heavy on citrusy yuzu, but again a little lacking in salt. My favourite dish of the evening was the smoked beef carpaccio with truffle and shaved Idiazabal cheese – bold but delicate, pungent but refined, all at the same time.
Round two involved pulpo with celeriac and kimchi, which didn’t quite work for me; while octopus and kimchi are usually strong flavours, they got lost among the earthy celeriac. We also tried the tuna tataki, which came with a delicious ajoblanco (a cold almond and garlic soup – often known as white gazpacho – but used here as a sauce rather than a soup). Aubergine beignets weren’t really beignets in the New Orleans sense of the word, but were rather like aubergine chips (fries) that had been perfectly battered and seasoned. Ribs came slow-cooked and pulled (as in pulled pork) on a crispy taco shell with light pickles. Delicious for a pork fiend like me.
Dinner came to €60 each, but we got through a lot of wine and even threw in a plate of cheese and (possibly?) dessert at the end. You know what I’m like…
Traditional tapas: Barra
At the other end of town, in de Pijp, is another tapas kid on the block – but this time of the more time-honoured variety. Their jamón Ibérico was divine, with that melty, grainy fattiness that is more than a little addictive. I also preferred their pimientos de Padrón to those at Pikoteo. But the rest was a bit of a mixed bag: grilled scallops with courgette and asparagus seemed to have been served on chipsticks (those weird 80s crisps), slathered in a kind of cheese that made the whole thing taste like soil. (Don’t ask me how.) Patatas bravas were fine, but the so-called pig’s cheek that we ordered tasted suspiciously like beef with roasted vegetables (another item on the menu). Prawns fried in garlic were tasty, but the Manchego cheese a little bland. And the service left quite a bit to be desired: we had to follow up on our orders several times. Still, enough red wine made up for all that… Dinner came to about €45 each, which wasn’t too steep considering how much we ate and drank.
The conclusion? I’ll undoubtedly be back at Pikoteo – partly because of its location, and partly because there were still several things on the menu I wanted to try. As for Barra: while it wasn’t bad, I’m still a far bigger fan of Restaurant Madrid when it comes to traditional-style tapas in Amsterdam.