Amsterdam Foodie

A Slice of Scandinavia in Amsterdam: Selma’s, Kessens and Bar Tack

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.

Scandinavian cafe Amsterdam Selma's
Meatball salad at pastel-hued Selma’s

But onto the important bit: the food. The menu is as unpronounceable as it is delicious: I ordered a Smörrebröd (open-faced sandwich) of the Skagenröra variety, which was a crawfish and shrimp mayo-based salad served on good toasted sourdough bread. It was fairly creamy, but the addition of lamb’s lettuce and plenty of dill freshened it up nicely. Meanwhile, my friend ordered Köttbullesallad – which I can only translate as meatball salad. Yes, that’s salad. With meatballs. It’s not a combination I’d have ever thought of, but it worked surprisingly well: the salad was rocket based (not my favourite variety of lettuce) but the beetroot and apple were fresh, sweet and delicious, and contrasted in both texture and taste with the soft, comforting meatballs.

I could’ve stayed at Selma’s all afternoon. Come to think of it, perhaps next time I will.

If (like me) you can’t afford to eat out in restaurants all the time, you need my cookbook to spice up your lunch! The print version is the price of a simple meal; the e-book version the price of a craft beer 🙂

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.

Kessens Scandinavian cafe Amsterdam
Traditional Swedish gravlax at Kessens

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.

Kessens princess cake
Kessens’ “princess cake”

Bar Tack

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.

Bar Tack - Scandinavian restaurant Amsterdam
Generously filled pitas at Bar Tack

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.)

all the info

A Bar Tack (European)

Postjesweg 124, (Oud-West)020 2616969 /

B Kessens (European)

Rozengracht 24, (Oud-West)020 221 7431 /

C Selma's (European)

Jan van Galenstraat 70, (Oud-West)020 221 2785 /

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