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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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…
Tucked into the busy Bilderdijkstraat, Cafe Binnenvisser is a good spot for a drink after work – especially if you’re a wine drinker (they have hundreds of bottles on offer), but with the cosiness of a beer café. The bar snacks are decent too: we tried the olives, which were good quality; cheese from Kef (you can’t go far wrong there); and carrot and potato fritters that were light, crispy and came with a fresh yoghurt-based dipping sauce. Don’t, however, bother staying for dinner. We tried two of the four main courses – both pasta based and both disappointing. Linguine con vongole were punctuated by a few rocket leaves and specks of chilli, but not a lot else. Even a lemon juice and olive oil dressing would’ve helped. The pappardelle with walnut, aubergine and pecorino was just as bad: ribbons of dry aubergine were cloying when mixed with the equally dry nuts. Both dishes were reminiscent of student pasta that was crying out for sauce – or at least more oil – to counteract the dryness. But with that being said, Cafe Binnenvisser still offers a cosy atmosphere for a glass of wine with some nibbles after work.
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.
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!