Where to eat Russian food in Amsterdam: Oleg Pelmeni Bar – reviewed
Always on some kind of self-help kick, I’m currently doing a thing called “The Artist’s Way”. For those of you who’ve never heard of it, it’s a 12-week course that’s designed to help you discover (or recover) your sense of creativity. It involves lots of exercises and activities, possibly my favourite of which is the weekly “artist date”. For an hour or two, you get to do something fun, by yourself, that’s just for you. One week, I decided to go to the new Russian supermarket in de Pijp, Vkusvill – mostly just to browse the interesting ingredients and indulge in a bit of armchair travel (albeit not actually from my armchair). I came back with a bag of frozen pelmeni that we ate for dinner that Friday night, and a takeaway dish of stuffed cabbage that we had for lunch. This may not sound like much, and indeed it was hardly a creative breakthrough. But it made a change from dashing to the AH between work and dog walking. It felt like I’d “travelled”, even if only to de Pijp.
With my new appreciation for Russian food, I remembered a recommendation I’d been given for Oleg Pelmeni Bar in the Plantage neighbourhood. It was really just the word “pelmeni” that stuck with me, and I decided to book a table to see what the handmade version tasted like.
Inside, the décor feels restful, organic and in keeping with the natural wines and focus on fermentation. With that being said, it took us a while to find a natural wine we actually liked. If you’re inexperienced in natural wines (as we were), I suggest you start on the “Evolution” side of the menu, as opposed to the “Revolution” side. In the end, we loved the Italian red that we picked – majestically named “Nero Capitano” – with its satisfying balance of fruity vs. farmyard-y.
Meanwhile on the food menu, there are cold shareable things, other cold dishes, warm dishes, and of course pelmeni – the Russian answer to the global dumpling phenomenon. Unlike the wines, I’d suggest you try at least one dish from each of the four parts of the menu. My favourite dishes included pea tempura with horseradish cream – which was like a restaurant version of wasabi peas – and mackerel tacos, whose shell was made from fermented celery root. These diminutive fish tacos came with a spicy, creamy sauce that had a serious (and welcome) kick to it.
The pelmeni themselves, of which we tried two varieties, were also dumpling-delicious. The first came stuffed with beef and a creamy, nutty, mustardy sauce; the second was stuffed with fermented aubergine and came with a tinglingly tart sauce of berries and cream, drizzled with a herb oil.
Dinner added up to to €80 per person, but the wine (we ordered bubbles, the Italian red and a glass of ice wine in place of dessert at the end) was the lion’s share of the bill. The food itself was very reasonably priced for the quality, and the service was also helpful and accommodating.
So after three versions of pelmeni in the space of a month, I’m still no expert but I’m ready to continue my education. Russian food in Amsterdam: where do you get yours?