Now that we’re having to make reservations everywhere we go, the idea of starting the evening with aperitivo in a bar and then moving onto a restaurant for dinner – or starting in a restaurant and then heading to a bar for a glass of wine – is getting a little more complicated. So instead, why not simplify things and do your eating and drinking all in one spot?
Best for al fresco dining: Alba
With the unfortunate timing of opening right before lockdown, Alba on the Wibautstraat is now making up for lost time. The restaurant’s extensive, leafy terrace is perfect for corona-savvy summer evenings, and it’s even covered with vast umbrellas in case it rains (which it did – a lot – when I was there). There’s a varied menu of natural, organic wines by the glass, which the servers will let you taste before you decide if you ask nicely. But for those who fancy themselves as sommeliers, there’s an expansive list of wines by the bottle to select from. On the food front, Alba is hard to categorise. We tried a perfectly devilled egg, which felt classically French, but later had a Japanese-style slow-cooked egg with a sort of curried mousse – impossible to describe but trust me, it was good. Continuing the fusion theme, we ate ultra-fresh peas with tofu and crispy chilli oil, side by side with ricotta gnocchi and courgette. And finished up with hanger steak with spiced sweet potato puree and chipotle dressing. Even the bread and butter were delicious. Including a bottle of very good rosé and a tip, we spent €94 – which felt like pretty good value. Given that Alba is practically opposite my house, I’ll definitely be back for more.
Best for date night: Winehouse SOMM
Tucked down a residential street in De Baarsjes, you’re not going to stumble across Winehouse SOMM by accident – it’s the kind of place you’ve got to know about. Great for a date night, SOMM is candlelit, relaxed and almost every table has a good view of the kitchen – which is important because, while it might describe itself as a wine bar, the food is what you’re really here for. I’d (wrongly) assumed that we’d be having our wine with snacks, but in fact you’re looking at a three- to six-course menu that’s very reasonably priced. Most courses seem to be heavy on meat or fish, so this probably isn’t suitable for vegetarians unless you plan just to come for the wine. Think oysters, salmon, duck, entrecote – that kind of thing. The wines are fantastic, but in the end play second fiddle to the outstanding food despite the fact that SOMM calls itself a wine bar.
Best for pintxos: Sagardi
A new post-lockdown addition to Amsterdam’s dining scene is Basque restaurant and pintxos bar, Sagardi. I can’t speak to the restaurant side of things (although I’ve heard good reports from trusted sources, including a Basque friend of mine), but I did stop by for a couple of glasses of wine and some pintxos. For those unfamiliar with the concept, pintxos are bite-sized snacks that often (but not always) come on top of the piece of bread. They’re held down with a stick that’s later used to count how many pintxos you’ve had and charge you accordingly (at Sagardi, each food-on-a-stick is worth €2.75). I particularly enjoyed their Lardina: prawn wrapped in cheese and bacon, breaded and deep-fried. Diet food this is not. All the sausage-based pintxos were pretty good too – from the ubiquitous chorizo to the regional txistorra – pairing perfectly with a glass of full-bodied Basque red wine. My only warning would be that when the restaurant is busy (and it seems to be pretty much all the time), those of us at the bar tended to get a little neglected on the wine and pintxos front. When the service came, it was very friendly – there just wasn’t much of it.
Best for aperitivo: Primi
Flying the flag for aperitivo o’clock is Primi, where the friendly Italian guys offer free snacks with your drinks between 5.30 and 7.30 pm every day. While sipping our Aperol Spritz, we tucked into a board laden with olives, nuts, marinated artichokes, creamy little basil tarts and (my favourites) tiny pizza pockets stuffed with oozing mozzarella and a smidge of tomato sauce. Not stopping there, we ordered various antipasti to share: arancini (fried balls of risotto) were tasty. We also tried the excellent burrata, which was served with a sort of cold pea soup, and a dish of aubergine parmigiana – simply triumphant. Primi also serves pasta dishes, gnocchi, main courses and desserts – but after all the aperitivo snacks you’ll probably be far too full to eat them all! Primi now has two locations: near Westerpark and on Amstelveenseweg.
Best for Cava and tapas: Five Brothers Fat
Five Brothers Fat calls itself a Champagneria. But don’t let that scare you – they sell plenty of Cava too, which is much more wallet-friendly. On the food front, Five Brothers Fat offers a tapas menu that’s designed to share: we tried the jamon Serrano, Manchego cheese, chorizo croquettes and pan con tomate – all of which were as you’d expect: simple but spot-hitting. Notably good were the patatas bravas (we went back for seconds, addicted to the creamy, spicy sauce) and a cauliflower dish that had Lebanese overtones. With desserts (try their version of Death by Chocolate) and plenty of booze, we came away having spent only €40 each including a tip – so the prices are friendly. And so is the atmosphere for that matter.
Best for wine tasting: Rayleigh & Ramsay
Rayleigh & Ramsay have a unique concept in Amsterdam as far as I know: instead of table service, they have at least half a dozen (probably more) wine-dispensing machines throughout the bar. Each machine contains ten bottles of temperature-controlled, vacuum-sealed, perfectly preserved wine. As a customer, you simply pre-load a card with credit and wander around to take your pick of the dozens of wines available. And not only do they come by the glass – they come by the half glass and by the taster sample too. In short, R&R is a great way to try lots of different, and interesting, wines – especially if you’re with a few people who each fancy something different. On the food front, Rayleigh & Ramsay does various shareable, snackable plates – think charcuterie, pâté, cheeses, and so on. If you’re looking for something more substantial, main courses are also on offer, and there’s a good-value fixed menu. I had a dish of confit pheasant, pork belly with a warm-spiced crust, mash with apple and sauerkraut that was perfect wintry comfort food. Rayleigh & Ramsay now have three locations: on Overtoom, Van Woustraat and Spaarndammerstraat.