Ever since Noma took the culinary world by storm, Scandinavian food has been getting sexier by the day. So it’s probably no surprise that the number of Scandinavian cafes and restaurants in Amsterdam has been steadily going up over the past few years. For a long time, there was only Scandinavian Embassy (which is a story for another time, but suffice to say if I ever go back it will have to be in disguise)… More recently, Kessens, Selma’s and Bar Tack have opened to an Amsterdam public that welcomes most new cuisines with open arms. And rightfully so.
Selma’s Nordic Bakery Café
The first thing you notice about Selma’s is the décor: it’s all relaxing pastel hues of pink and turquoise. You feel calmer just for being there (note to self: should probably go and work in Selma’s when feeling particularly stressed). The coffee is also excellent: a strong flat white with just enough milk and plenty of smooth, fruity flavour. And because Selma’s is along the Jan van Galenstraat away from the tourist centre, the service is pretty good too – Selma (whoever she is) evidently knows that she needs to keep a local crowd coming back for more.
But onto the important bit: the food.
I could’ve stayed at Selma’s all afternoon. Come to think of it, perhaps next time I will.
Kessens Swedish Café
In contrast to Selma’s, the interior of Kessens is stark and minimalist. But still (curiously) relaxing in its own way. The coffee is also good – not as full-bodied as Selma’s but still very drinkable, and suitable for those chillier autumn days when you’re looking for a slightly longer hot drink. Again, the service was friendly and efficient – in Kessens’ case, despite the fact that it’s more or less on the corner of the Rozengracht and Prinsengracht.
Going full Swedish on the menu front, I ordered the traditional gravlax prepared with aquavit and dill. It came on soft but well-textured, fresh, brown, thick-cut bread; and it was served with a dressing that was more of a dipping sauce, but tasted like a thick, sweet vinaigrette. It was simple and not particularly creative, but it was well made and hit the spot.
For dessert, my lunch buddy and I split a so-called princess cake: with its wafer-like crispy base, vanilla sponge, red fruit jam, whipped cream, and a thin green marzipan layer over the top, I didn’t expect this puffy cloud of sugary colours to be something I’d like… but in spite of myself, I found I did.
I vaguely remembered that “tack” means “thanks” in Swedish, ever since a skiing holiday in Åre about a decade ago (mostly because my boyfriend at the time kept saying “tock” instead of “tack” – you can see why we broke up). So when a fellow foodie recommended Bar Tack, I had a suspicion it might have Scandinavian origins – and indeed it does. The interior is relaxed and cosy – a good spot to take your laptop or to meet a friend. At lunchtime, which was when I visited, the primary food options are various filled pitas as well as a salad and soup choice. I ordered the pita filled with (smoked) chicken, black beans, corn, tomato, chilli and coriander. The pita itself was warm and fluffy and the filling generous and hot. The chicken didn’t taste very smoky but I liked the lightly creamy sauce that bound it all together.
On the drinks front, the teas were fine, the coffee a little weak, and the juices pricey (a small glass of fresh orange and grapefruit juice will set you back €4). With that being said, we ended up spending around €30 for lunch and non-alcoholic drinks for two – not too bad given that I sat in Bar Tack working for another hour or so after I’d finished eating.
I’d have no trouble recommending Kessens, Selma’s or Bar Tack to visitors and Amsterdammers alike. Time will tell, but I’d put money on the fact that Scandinavian food will be more represented in Amsterdam in the future. And in the meantime, I’d probably best get my disguise on and head back to Scandinavian Embassy…
Know of any other Scandinavian cafés or Nordic restaurants I should be checking out in Amsterdam? Let me know in the comments below! (This post was updated on 22 November 2017 to include Bar Tack as well.)