Amsterdam Foodie

Hapje Hour in Amsterdam: restaurant reviews of Primi, El Hermano de Kique and more

My favourite moment of the day is somewhere around 6.30 pm, when work is finished, it’s not yet time for dinner, and the kitchen is filled with the familiar glug-glug-glug sound of a just-opened bottle of wine being poured. If I’m at home, it’ll perhaps be accompanied by some cheese and biscuits or slices of chorizo; if I’m out, it might be beer and bitterballen, or G&T and olives. Either way, this first-drink-of-the-day meets early-evening snacks moment has a name in our house: Hapje Hour – which, incidentally, will be the name of my bar if the Honey Badger and I ever open one.

The Italians call this aperitivo, and they do it spectacularly well. I’m not sure what the Spanish call it, but the same principle applies with tapas. The Dutch have their borrelhapjes, of course, but there’s room to branch out from the deep-fried snacks and blocks of cheese – as moreish with mustard as they may be. And Amsterdam – with its work-life balance that means most people leave work at a sensible time – is finally starting to get on board with this. More and more restaurants, bars and cafés are starting to offer small shareable bites with drinks, and the quality and inventiveness of the food is going up in parallel. Here are just a few I’ve discovered recently…

El Hermano de Kique

I was sad when Alex from Trela Plein upped sticks and went back to Greece. But my sadness abated when I learned that the venue would be taken over by the guys who run our local wine shop: Jacqwijn. For reasons best known to themselves, they decided to rename it El Hermano de Kique (who Kique is I have no idea – nor do I know who Jacq is for that matter) and open a Manzanilla and tapas bar. I’m not a huge fan of Manzanilla (which is a type of dry sherry that gives me unfortunate flashbacks to oxidised wine) but they serve dozens of regular wines too, so I’m not complaining.

Amsterdam wine bar - El Hermano de Kique
Wine hour at El Hermano de Kique

We ordered a Sardinian red I’d never heard of and settled in for some jamón, cheese, olives, beetroot salad, and rillettes to start with. Unlike many tapas bars in Amsterdam, the plates are small and cheap – so it’s possible to try quite a few different dishes even if there are only two of you. AF tip: if you order the rillettes, get a portion of bread too. For some reason, it’s not served with bread (although there is a bowl of mini breadsticks on every table) and my inner French person feels it needs it.

From there, we moved onto warm dishes: squid stuffed with roasted red peppers (excellent), and chicken skewers with a bulgur wheat and roasted tomato salad. While the chicken was moist and tasty, the salad was served fridge-cold, which detracted from the flavour of the sweet tomato and mild spices. Sweet-and-sour glazed eel came with just-pickled carrots – an umami bomb.

Amsterdam wine and tapas - El Hermano de Kique
Beetroot and feta salad at El Hermano de Kique… but who the hell is Kique?!

We made a night of it and spent about €40 each, but the nice thing about El Hermano de Kique is that it would be equally possible to pop in for one glass of wine and a hapje for under €10. Oh, and did I mention it’s on my street? Score.

Primi

Flying the flag for aperitivo o’clock is Primi, where the friendly Italian guys offer free snacks with your drinks between around 5.30 and 7.30 pm every day. I tried their Aperol Spritz (refreshing as ever) and their Smoky Margarita (a little low on tequila/lime hit for me) and tucked into a board laden with olives, nuts, marinated artichokes, creamy little basil tarts and (my favourites) tiny pizza pockets stuffed with oozing mozzarella and a smidge of tomato sauce. The evening was off to a flying start.

Amsterdam restaurant review - Primi aperitivo
Aperitivo o’clock at Primi

Not stopping there, we ordered various antipasti to share: arancini (fried balls of risotto) were tasty – but not quite as good as the arancini I had at Fa Pekelhaaring last week. We also tried the excellent burrata, which was served with a sort of cold pea soup – I’m not sure the lack of acidity quite worked, but I applauded Primi’s efforts to serve the creamy cheese with something other than tomatoes and basil. Aubergine parmigiana was triumphant, however.

We were fairly full by this point, but determined to try some pasta dishes nonetheless. The Honey Badger’s carbonara was made with genuine guanciale and (surprisingly) a creamy sauce. On the way back to our bikes later, I started down the “in Rome it’s only made with egg, not cream” route, to which he replied: “you’re always moaning that Italians are puritans about their food and never experiment – well, this tasted good so who cares if it’s not the typical Roman recipe?” Fair point. My friend’s tagliatelle with stewed wintry lamb shank was equally tasty, if a little heavy on the cinnamon. And my gnocchi was perfectly fresh and pillowy, served with spicy ‘nduja, crumbled pistachio nuts, and ricotta cheese that had a surprising kick. Delicious.

Amsterdam restaurant review - Primi - gnocchi
Gnocchi with ‘nduja, pistachio and ricotta

With two bottles of upper-end Italian wine, free shots of Limoncello and a couple of desserts to share between the six of us, dinner came to around €60 each. Again, however, we could’ve spent significantly less had we not rolled out of Primi considerably tipsy – despite the huge quantity of food we’d ordered. They don’t call me the Amsterdam Foodie for nothing!

Bar Spek

Since the end of last year, I’ve been organising a regular “freelancer borrel” for fellow entrepreneurs who are without colleagues on a Friday night; and last month’s after-work drinks location was Bar Spek. Over a couple of seizoensbieren (seasonal beers), we tried the flat bread with shaved pumpkin, goat’s cheese, chilli, sage pesto and a sort of courgette tzatziki. I liked the bite from the pumpkin (it wasn’t mushy as you might expect), the fragrance from the sage and the freshness of the courgette cream. Surprisingly good, as well as easy to share!

Amsterdam restaurant review - Bar Spek
Bar Spek’s eminently shareable flat breads

Bar Spek’s falafel were rather bitter – I wasn’t sure if it was because they were made with broad beans (according to the menu) or just served with too much tahini. We also tried a sort of sweet ‘n savoury baklava filled with cheese, walnuts and dried fruit, and drizzled with honey. A single bite tasted good, but it was too sweet to eat a lot of it. Still, hats off to Bar Spek for serving shareable bites that are different from the usual…

Tapas de Arroyo

Ticking the traditional tapas box is Tapas de Arroyo on the Amstel River, complete with rustic wooden interior and legs of jamón hanging from the ceiling. They make a tasty jug of Sangria, fresh and moist tortilla, and garlic-laden smoky shrimp with hot butter and smoked paprika. Arroyo’s albondigas (meatballs) also have a nice loose texture and a rich tomato sauce. Pork cheeks were a good effort, but not a patch on those I ate in San Sebastian (to be fair, I was spoiled for life by being taken to the best tapas bar for pork cheeks in the city by a local foodie). I was looking forward to chorizo with pimientos de Padrón, but cooking them in the same oil in the same pan didn’t work – the chorizo fared well, but the peppers ended up greasy and flaccid. They’d have been better served separately. For tapas in Amsterdam, however, Arroyo is not a bad choice overall.

Amsterdam restaurant review - Tapas de Arroyo
Tapas de Arroyo’s garlic-laden smoky shrimps

Aperitivo o’clock, borreltijd, tapas time or happy hour – whatever you call it, where are your favourite places in Amsterdam for an early-evening drink and a snack? Let me know in the comments!

all the info

A Bar Spek (Italian)
€€

Admiraal de Ruijterweg 1, (Oud-West)020 618 8102 /  book now

B El Hermano de Kique (Tapas)
€€

Spaarndammerstraat 55, (Westerpark)020 223 1096 /

C Primi (Italian)
€€

Van der Hoopstraat 96, (Westerpark)0621312343 /  book now

D Tapas de Arroyo (Tapas)
€€

Weesperzijde 85, (Oost/Watergraafsmeer)020 752 6273 /  book now

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