The summer of 2018 will go down in history: either as the hottest summer in a century, or the beginning of the world’s global-warming end. I’ve been taking at least two cold showers a day, but still I struggle to cool down – my brick apartment has essentially turned into a storage heater. I know you know what I mean, because it’s all any of us Amsterdammers can talk about for the past two months. So, by necessity, I’ve been spending as much time in, on or beside the water as possible.
The Romantic Lunch: Belhamel
The Belhamel is one of those places that’s truly stood the test of time (it’s been run by its current owners since 1998) but I’d lived in Amsterdam for 13 years before I finally made it there for the first time. Now, having witnessed its art deco charm, its canal views, its romantic ambiance, and of course its classic but excellent French-led food, that seems somewhat unforgivable. But there it is. During my lunchtime visit, I tried Belhamel’s scallop and jumbo shrimps with puff pastry (think vol au vent, but less 80s) and beurre blanc. Pair it with a glass of oaky Chardonnay and you’re in classic French heaven. Be sure to try their signature white chocolate cheesecake with raspberry coulis, too.
Editor’s note: I was invited to Belhamel as part of an IENS Insider Tour, which meant that I didn’t pay for my lunch. Usually, starters are around €12-15, mains around €25, and desserts around €10.
The Fine-Dining Lunch: Breda
I discovered Breda on my fifth anniversary with my other half, which just so happened to be the day we announced our engagement. So my circumstances were not exactly unbiased, but I can honestly say my meal that night was one of the best I’d tasted in months – if not years. From the runner beans that took me straight back to childhood in my parents’ garden, to the horseradish and wild-garlic dressing that pepped up otherwise-ordinary greens, to the smoky grilled flavour of rib-eye and corn – everything I tasted was spectacular. It’s been just as good when I’ve been back to Breda since – whether at lunchtime or at dinner.
The Boozy Lunch: Jansz
Yes, the Pulitzer Hotel has been around for donkey’s years, and I’m assuming it’s always offered its guests something to eat. But Jansz – the Pulitzer’s restaurant that’s been a hit with locals – only opened in 2016, as did its much acclaimed cocktail bar. If the weather is nice, sit outside in the sheltered courtyard: you’ll be treated to a view of the Westerkerk that feels almost like a secret. A glass of Chardonnay will cost you €7, but it’s a generous pour and the service comes with a smile (and free tap water, which is always a plus). First time around, I tried the Reuben sandwich for €13, which was stuffed with pastrami, sauerkraut and cheese, and decadently fried in butter until the cheese had melted. My second lunch at Jansz was in celebration of my wedding with my witnesses – we shared various salads, steak tartare and suchlike – all of which were excellent. And the restaurant’s interior feels highly fitting for a decadent lunch. Don’t forget to order some Champagne, and/or hit the cocktail bar afterwards.
The Classic French Lunch: Brasserie Ambassade
Up one of the leaf-lined stone stairways on the Herengracht is Brasserie Ambassade – the relatively recent (2015) addition to the Ambassade Hotel (1953). The interior pairs starched white table cloths and ornate chandeliers on the ceilings with modern art on the walls. Here again you’ll find classic French cuisine – it’s not cheap but it’s done well. Think escargot gratinated in properly garlicky butter, rich foie gras with tart berry coulis and sweet brioche, flat-iron steak cooked to a perfect medium-rare, crispy confit de canard with gamey duck jus, and even the odd salad for the vegetarians… Prices for the a la carte menu are around the same as the Belhamel, or you can get the three-course lunch menu for €37. Again, Champagne is advisable.
Editor’s note: my lunch at Brasserie Ambassade was also part of the same IENS Insider Tour, so another freebie. Rest assured that I wouldn’t be recommending these places if I wouldn’t send my Dad there – and he taught me everything I know about restaurants!
The Budget Lunch: Lebanese Sajeria
The rest of the restaurants in this round-up are up the pricier end of the scale, so I wanted to include at least one option for those on a budget, or those looking for a canal-side lunch to go rather than one to stay and linger over. Enter the Lebanese Sajeria, which does an industrious line in manoushe: a type of flatbread that’s rolled and eaten with your hands. I tried one of the vegetarian versions featuring za’atar and halloumi – the latter of which was not what you’d expect, being grated and melted rather than sliced and fried. The za’atar was rich in sesame seeds and dried herbs (and don’t worry – it comes with pretty much whichever version of manoushe you choose), while the flatbread itself was flavourful from the whole wheat. The entire thing was wrapped up with mint, cucumber and tomatoes and served in paper for €7 – you can eat it upstairs (but it’s small, hot and spartan) or walk 50 metres to the nearest canal-side bench. A much better option.