It was my birthday last week – another year closer to 40. I didn’t feel much like celebrating, and besides, there’s enough going on already this year with all the wedding malarkey. But let’s face it: I wasn’t going to sit at home and eat cabbage soup, was I? So I decided to meet a friend for lunch at the much-hyped Avocado Show, and booked a table for dinner at the not-hyped-at-all Graham’s Kitchen. You can probably guess where this is going…
All Hype and No Trousers: The Avocado Show
I’ve subscribed to two daily Google Alerts: one for “Amsterdam food” and the other for “Amsterdam restaurants”. In the past six months, I’d say there’s been some mention of The Avocado Show pretty much every day. To date, this place has 50,000 Facebook followers and 66,000 Instagram followers. And they only opened a few months ago. Either The Avocado Show has the best PR team on the planet, or people are just plain bonkers when it comes to avocados.
For my brunch/lunch dish, I ordered the eminently Instagrammable poké bowl, which cleverly uses the avocado to create a bowl shape that’s then filled with raw salmon, fish eggs, edamame beans, sushi rice and seaweed salad. Of course, it photographed beautifully. But while the whole looked to be great, the sum of its parts turned out to be fairly average. And for €15 a pop (plus €8.50 for the Bloody Mary) that sum wasn’t cheap either.
De Pijp’s Best-Kept Secret: Graham’s Kitchen
Later that day, after working our way through a few bubbles at the Hoxton, we biked down through the residential streets of the Nieuwe Pijp to what felt like the polar opposite of Hipster Avocado Land. Understated and under the radar, Graham’s Kitchen is a culinary enclave down an often overlooked street sandwiched between Van Woustraat and the Amstel River. It was the first properly warm day of the year, so we sat outside at basic tables (no tablecloths) with simple place settings.
Like many of Amsterdam’s best chefs at the moment, Graham Mee doesn’t offer much choice: you’re invited to order between three and six courses, with the option to take the wine pairings with whichever courses you like. (Or not, if you’d prefer to just order a bottle.) There are also a few of “Graham’s Favourites” on offer: oysters, charcuterie, and so on, but the fixed menu looked so good we didn’t try any of these.
Before the meal proper started, we were treated to a few delightfully unique amuses bouches: the first was crispy beef skin (I think!) for dipping into a white bean purée. The second was a creative take on the English breakfast (Chef Graham is from Liverpool) featuring black pudding, egg, bacon and the like in an elegant little potje. And the third was what looked like a miniature garden, with radishes growing out of black crumbly “soil” and a cream-cheese dressing. If the flavours weren’t enough by themselves, the presentation was next-level gorgeous.
But it was the starter that was possibly my favourite dish at Graham’s Kitchen: for the second time that day, I found avocado on my plate – this time with zesty corvina ceviche, earthy quinoa, fiery jalapeno gel, sweet and fragrant pineapple cream, fresh peas, and crunchy corn nuts. It was a zingy delight – a birthday party on my palate.
In the mood for fish lately, I continued with cod served with a Dutch-Asian fusion of brown shrimps, spring onions, edamame beans, seaweed, sweet slivers of daikon, and an umami-rich miso jus. It tasted as impressive as it looks.
The meaty main of lamb (both slow-cooked rump and succulent neck) came with a mix of loosely Mediterranean vegetables, aubergine purée, lentils, burrata and basil cream. I’m not sure what the jus was made from, but it paired perfectly with the red wine that accompanied it – a Honoro Vera from Calatayud.
While the Honey Badger waxed lyrical about the dessert, I went for the kaas plankje. Four cheeses were served complete with homemade crackers and fruit-and-nut bread, with the highlights for me being the Shropshire Blue (a taste of my birth country) and the Dutch goat’s cheese (a taste of my adoptive country). Dinner came to €70 each including the paired wines, although I have a feeling the Sommelier might have known who I was and been rather generously pouring us extra glasses at no cost. Still, the three-course menu for €38 is competitive with restaurants of a similar level.
And, since Graham’s Kitchen still seems to be one of Amsterdam’s best-kept secrets, you’ve got a far better chance of scoring a table there than at The Avocado Show.