Amsterdam Foodie

The Amsterdam BBQ Restaurants Article that Never Was: Braai, Barbecue Cantina and Venster 33

Rather optimistically, back in April, I started a set of posts about BBQ in Amsterdam. The plan was to culminate the series with a post about the best BBQ restaurants in the city, and I diligently set about doing my research. Only when it came to writing up the article, I found I had only one word to say: Pendergast. Because once you’ve been there, you’re ruined for anything else. Even my Texan in-laws agree it’s some of the best BBQ they’ve ever eaten – on either side of the Atlantic. So sorry, Amsterdammers, you’re screwed.

For ribs of course I love the boys at Bulelani – but they’re a pop-up and are still having trouble scoring a permanent venue, so they’re unlikely to hit the smoke spot or scratch your rib itch unless you happen to be very lucky on dates. For decent meat, there’s Castell and Cannibale Royale and Rijsel. But this isn’t real BBQ: not low and slow and smoky as Satan’s fireplace. It’s just cooking a steak over a charcoal grill. Nothing wrong with that – but not what we’re after here.

Not wishing to be deterred, I set off to Braai a couple of months back when they’d recently opened a new branch just south of the Westerpark. For anyone who’s been living under a barbecue rock for a few years, braai is basically the South African word for BBQ, and Braai-the-restaurant seemed to have been expanding fast since it first opened. Surely worth a try? And it was: the smoked chicken and ribs were suitably full of smoky flavour, and the sweet potato was silky soft in the middle and charcoal-black on the outside. But it wasn’t a patch on Pendergast, which is literally a block down the road. Plus, I wasn’t too convinced by Braai’s pork belly and beef short ribs, which seemed all a bit skinny and lacking in chunky, meaty bite. The beans and coleslaw were decidedly un-BBQ-y too, but given that they tasted good I was prepared to concede that they might just be done differently in South Africa.

Braai - BBQ restaurant Amsterdam
Braai – South African BBQ in Amsterdam

Next on my to-eat list was Green Grill & BBQ whose address includes the word “Leidseplein”, striking immediate fear into the heart of any local foodie. I crashed on undaunted – for you, dear reader (or it might have had something to do with the number of cocktails I’d already got through by this point). When we arrived, however, it transpired that the restaurant had changed into a Tex-Mex concept now known as The Barbecue Cantina. This probably should’ve been enough to put me off, but it had the word Barbecue in the title, so once again I ignored my gut instincts and asked for a table. Margaritas were off the menu – in fact, all cocktails were off the menu – so I settled for a Corona instead (probably just as well, given how drunk we were already).

Barbecue Cantina - Tex-Mex restaurant Amsterdam
Tex-Mex tacos at The Barbecue Cantina

Given my BBQ quest, I probably should’ve tried one of the steaks or the jerk chicken, but I was already nervous about the food by this point and the Mexican side of the menu was looking stronger than the Texan side. In the end, I went for two tacos: one beef chilli, one pork belly. They were surprisingly large and fiendishly hot (temperature, not spiciness) but not too bad as post-day-drinking fare. The corn bread, however, was a burger bun. I kid you not – I don’t think it had ever seen a corn field in its life. The coleslaw was ok, but nothing to write to my Texan in-laws about. Service was pretty Leidseplein: as in, they think you’re a tourist they’re never going to see again so they don’t care.

My final BBQ review happened kind of by accident. I was at a “Cocktails for Copywriters” meet-up at Venster 33 to do a bit of networking. I’d intended to go home in time for dinner, but we were two drinks in (I didn’t rate their G&T too highly, by the way), it was already 8.30 pm, and I spotted brisket on the menu. It seemed like a long shot, but I decided to take the risk and order it just in case this was going to turn into one of those hidden gem stories. Suffice to say, it didn’t: the so-called “Texas Brisket” tasted like very thin fried pork steaks with tomato ketchup. Random wedges of charred bread, dry corn on the cob, wilted lettuce and some slices of bell pepper adorned the rest of my board, none of which was worth the €19 I paid for it. Once again, I should’ve trusted my instincts and gone home for dinner – but my determination to write this article won out. On the plus side, the roasted half chickens that my fellow copywriters were eating looked considerably better than the brisket – but as I’d only just met them, I couldn’t very well start stealing forkfuls off their plates…

Venster 33 - Amsterdam restaurant review
A sorry excuse for brisket at Venster 33

At the end of all my abortive attempts to find decent BBQ in Amsterdam, will I go back to any of these restaurants? Braai – probably not, but that’s mostly because Pendergast is so close by that I’d have no need to. Food-wise, it was the best of the three. The Barbecue Cantina – not for the lack of cocktails, the non-cornbread, nor the Leidseplein service. And Venster 33 – not if I can avoid it, which could be tricky given that my newly-joined freelance copywriters group meets there once a month. Some weeks I think I should change my tagline: Amsterdam Foodie – eats at bad restaurants so you don’t have to.

And on that note, I’m off to book a table at Pendergast.

all the info

A The Barbecue Cantina (American)

Leidseplein 8, (Leidseplein)0623 348836 /

B Braai (International)

Van Limburg Stirumstraat 14a, (Westerpark)020 221 1376 /  book now

C Venster 33 (International)

Eerste van der Helststraat 42, (De Pijp)020 362 6423 /

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