If I were to pick one region’s cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would likely be the Middle East. Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Israel, Lebanon – all these countries were once part of the Ottoman Empire and all have similar climates, which probably explains the similarities in their cuisine. It’s varied, full of herbs and spices, and with a great balance of sharing dishes (meze, mezze, mazzeh, mazze, spell it how you will) and grilled meats and fish. Plus, due to immigration from these parts of the world to the Netherlands, it’s a cuisine that’s well represented here. There are literally hundreds of Middle Eastern restaurants in Amsterdam, but these are some of my favourites.
Parts of this post are taken from my Amsterdam Restaurant Guide. Want to find out more about Middle Eastern restaurants plus all the other cuisine Amsterdam has to offer? Download the guide here:
It’s hard to categorise Night Kitchen, as they dabble in the general Mediterranean area as well as the Middle East. Yes, you’ll find plenty of za’atar, labneh and sumac, but you’ll also find Italian-style gnudi, French-style mussels and Portuguese-style octopus. Luckily for us, they do all these things (and more) extremely well. On an autumnal evening, Night Kitchen is a cosy spot to prop up the bar with a perfectly mixed cocktail, and then wander through to the restaurant with its dark split-tone walls, copper pots and hanging plants. Your best bet is to order the shareable “dinner with friends” for €44 per person, and relax while dish after dish appears on your table. My favourites were possibly the celeriac with feta, za’atar and pistachio, as well as the octopus with spinach, potatoes, smoked paprika and yoghurt. But fish lovers will also highly rate the grilled sardines and the seabass sashimi. The excellent natural wines are easy to pair with the dishes, too.
Disclaimer: I was invited to Night Kitchen – which means the staff knew who I was and didn’t let me pay the bill. But I’ll be going back as a regular paying customer!
Mitts is a cosy little place on the Javastraat, with natural fabrics covering cushioned benches and greenery adorning the walls. The mezze-style menu is designed to be shared, and the fact that no single dish costs more than €10 makes it highly affordable, too. Dishes are split into a longer list of veggie options and a shorter list of meat ones, of which we tried what felt like a representative sample. Roasted beetroot with burrata and pistachio nuts was creamy and wintry, while grilled broccolini with tahini and za’atar tasted fresh and healthy. Meanwhile in the meat department, two small kofte-style lamb kebabs were possibly my favourite dish: served with a spicy tomato and herb salsa and more tahini. Pulled chicken with hummus, pecan nuts, pomegranate seeds and herbs was also delicious, especially when piled onto pillowy pitas. If you can resist the cocktail list, Mitts is a good option for those on a budget.
Speaking of cocktails, BARDAK is a fantastic little bar/restaurant in de Pijp to drink them! As well as the tasty yet unpronounceable Oaxaca Delight (a tequila, lime and pineapple concoction that was, indeed, delightful), we tried several dishes off the “street food” menu. Aubergine was pleasantly smoky, with crunchy nuts and seeds, creamy yoghurt, and fragrant dill – a good combination of tastes and textures. The arais were flavour pockets of minced-beef pita, served with three contrasting dipping sauces – tahini, green chilli and herb sauce, and amba (a sort of pickled mango condiment). Fried cauliflower with lemon and tahini was about as moreish as it sounds (definitely one for the Ottolenghi generation), while chicken thighs with freekeh came with more tahini and had a similarly lemony flavour profile. It was all lovely in its own right, but a little more contrast between the dishes would’ve been welcome.
Bar Fisk is a combination of Middle Eastern flavours, ultra-fresh fish, and killer cocktails. The food is designed to be shared but is larger than tapas-sized portions. Highlights for me were the corvina tartar, which was essentially a cross between ceviche, tabbouleh and smoky aubergine: literally three of my favourite things on one plate. Mackerel (cured rather than cooked) was served with roasted cauliflower, chilli and tahini sauce: again, there were so many of my best-loved ingredients here that I couldn’t fail to love the dish. Squid came with earthy beetroot salad and crunchy roasted pecan nuts. Golden fried sardines arrived swimming in a peppery dressing atop a marine blue plate. And pan-fried bream fillets were served simply with some roasted garlic, toasted almonds and yoghurt. For me, it’s the combination of Middle Eastern flavours and fresh Mediterranean ingredients that really sets Bar Fisk apart.
De Aardige Pers
Warning: do not eat for at least four hours (more if you can manage it – I can’t) before stepping foot inside De Aardige Pers. There’s no way you’re getting out of there anything other than food-baby full. With the fasting out of the way, start by ordering the trio of starters – the chef’s selection – all top notch. Then move onto the grilled meats: simple but perfectly cooked kofte kebabs, chicken thighs, lamb loin and so on – all served with fragrant saffron rice and grilled tomatoes. De Aardige Pers isn’t fancy looking, but the food is more than decent and the prices extremely reasonable (we paid €30 each for everything I described above plus plenty of wine).
With a gorgeously decorated interior and excellent service, Ali Ocakbaşı is a classy establishment for a night out. Their selection of starters is brought around in a giant basket from which to make your choice. My favourite was the çiğ köfte: finely minced raw beef with bulgur wheat and chilli, hand moulded into sort of knobbly cylinders. Eat them wrapped in lettuce leaves with a squeeze of lemon. Delicious. But the rest is great, too!
With two locations in Amsterdam, Orontes on the Albert Cuypstraat and Orontes West on the Hugo de Grootplein pay homage to the Antakya region of Turkey. They import hard-to-find products from the area and cook them up into excellent dishes, including succulent lamb skewers, aromatic aubergine, and mixed grills cooked over charcoal. Nesip Can’s wine selection is wonderful, too.
Hummus Bistro d&a
Now with two locations, Hummus Bistro d&a serves officially the best hummus in Amsterdam – in variations involving falafel, chicken, siniya (minced lamb) and many more. In addition to the hummus, I also loved their shakshuka, stuffed aubergine, and a plethora of little side dishes that were either spicy or pickled or both. The service was friendly, the prices reasonable, and the wine flowing.
Its name a riff on the Lebanese capital, Beyrouth has been a favourite Amsterdam restaurant for as long as I can remember (owner Kamal Estephan opened it in 1990 when I was just 10). The range of mezza here is huge – you can pick from separate dishes or order a selection of as many as 10 or 15 – so I usually fill up on those alone. Their tabbouleh was perfect: green and grassy with oodles of fresh herbs.
Also worth a mention…
For excellent, affordable manouche (stuffed and rolled flatbreads), try the Lebanese Sajeria in the Jordaan and on Utrechtsestraat. For Turkish mezze and grilled meats, try Maydanoz, and for its Kurdish equivalent, try Zagros – both in de Pijp. For Syrian food, try Sham in the Red Light District and now with a second location in West. And for high-quality group dining (the venue is huge!) check out NENI on Stadionplein. You can also search for Middle Eastern restaurants by location and price via my restaurant finder.