Chinese, Japanese and an Asian-Western fusion – I review three Amsterdam restaurants to find out whether they live up to their eastern promise…
Adam & Siam
One of my hobbies, besides eating, is burlesque. Mostly watching it, not doing it (although there is an exhibitionist performer in me that comes out from time to time). So when the annual Amsterdam Burlesque Festival rolled around in November, I bought my ticket straight away. This year, it was at the Tobacco Theatre on the Nes, which meant finding a pre-theatre dinner option right in the centre of town. We’d foolishly failed to make a reservation at The Lobby, so we bumbled into Adam & Siam and hoped for the best. It seemed to be date night, with all the occupied tables filled by older couples, which was a little odd for my friend and I in our burlesque finery – but not exactly the restaurant’s fault. The rest, however, was.
My burlesque dinner date ordered the soft-shell crab burger from the “West” side of the East-meets-West menu. The battered crab was completely cold and the bun was day-old stale. The best thing about the dish was the fries with truffle mayonnaise (because truffle mayonnaise basically makes any situation better) but that was little comfort for €17. I ordered the green curry with shrimp from the “East” side of the menu, which was better although still nothing more complicated than curry paste and coconut milk. But at least the ingredients in the curry (the shrimps, as well as the Thai aubergines, basil, and so on) were fresh and warm. The service was forgetful (I think I asked for water three times) and the wine nothing to write home about, while the whole lot set us back €30 each for one main course and two drinks. On the plus side, the food provided a welcome base for the night of beer and bare bodies that ensued…
A few weeks later, I found myself invited to Shanghai Bistro* – a tiny but buzzing China-inspired restaurant on Van Woustraat.
Perhaps my favourite of the many Asian street food snacks we tried were the pork “potsticker” dumplings that came dressed in a rich Szechuan peppercorn oil. The vegetarian dumplings were stuffed with mushrooms, which are usually my nemesis but I found they became quite palatable when doused with the spicy, umami-heavy xo sauce on the table.
Another favourite among my group were the bao buns filled with breaded fried shrimp, onions, pickles and lashings of mayonnaise. In the black bean camp were mussels (I’d never actually eaten mussels with black bean sauce before, but the combination worked surprisingly well), as well as bimi – although interestingly their sauce tasted more miso-based than black bean-based.
The meat dishes were good, but all rather similar in flavour profile: crispy chicken had a sweet citrusy glaze and came with lots of lemon zest, spring onions and coriander. Char siu pork was BBQ-ed but had an equally sweet sauce and came with the same toppings as the chicken, as well as pickled carrots and daikon. Our last pork belly dish also came with the same pickled vegetables, spring onions, coriander and lemon zest – meaning that it all started to rather blend together by the end. With that being said, the flavour was delicious – it was just too much of the same.
Shanghai Bistro doesn’t serve any desserts, nor any teas and coffees – which is my kinda restaurant, but might not be up everyone’s alley. Bear in mind too that a cramped kitchen with an over-worked extractor fan feeding a lot of people in a small space does not for great-smelling clothes make. I chucked everything I was wearing into the washing machine, and was still catching whiffs in my hair two days later. If you can get a table (it was packed when we were there), dinner at Shanghai Bistro will set you back €27 per person for a selection of six “Chinese tapas” chosen by the chef, although we ate eight or nine dishes comfortably. Before you go, make sure you pop into the loos: Bruce Pee and Lucy Liu – genius!
*Because I was invited to Shanghai Bistro by the owners, I didn’t pay for my dinner. But as you know by now, I have no problem sharing my honest opinion about pretty much anything – freebie or no freebie.
Meanwhile, a couple of times recently I’ve been at the Pathé de Munt cinema looking for somewhere to eat after watching a flim. But of course you’ve got to be careful because you’re right in the heart of Rembrandtplein tourist traps, and no one wants to accidentally end up in a dodgy burger bar. So I consulted my to-eat list on the fly, and there was Tomo Sushi: a Japanese restaurant that had been recommended to me long ago by someone I no longer remember, but still waiting patiently for its turn on the list.
Tomo looks kind of swanky for a sushi place, and that’s reflected in the prices – eight uramaki will set you back between €10 and €14 here, compared to around €7.50-€10 for the same thing from the sushi place I usually eat at on my street. Then again, location location… We kept it light, trying the tuna and salmon sashimi, plus the unagi maki (with eel) and the spicy tuna maki. I wasn’t a huge fan of the latter (the bright green roe were overpowering) but I liked the glazed eel and the sashimi was certainly fresh enough. Still hungry, I ordered a single tempura prawn hand roll for a whopping €6.50 and then we asked for the bill. It came to €65 for those few bites plus a couple of glasses of wine, which seemed rather steep given that I was still both sober and rather peckish by the end of it all.
Next time, perhaps I’ll consult the list of places in the area I’ve already been…