When I first moved to Amsterdam as a student in 2001, French restaurants were the height of fashion. In fact, going out for dinner pretty much meant Dutch eetcafes, Italian pasta or French fine dining. Things have moved on since then, and all for the better, but there’s still some fantastic French food to be found if you know where to look. Some of it is more old-school than others, but these are all top-quality restaurants.
Before we get into the list, a quick note about making reservations – which are pretty much essential at restaurants of this calibre in Amsterdam. Many of the restaurants below have reservation systems on their websites, but there are also sometimes good discounts via TripAdvisor.
Café de Klepel
Café de Klepel is a cosy, unassuming little French restaurant right by the picturesque Jordaan neighbourhood. It serves classic French/Dutch dishes, great cheeses and organic wines, and the service is professional, too. Take your parents, take a date, take a colleague – it’s a great spot for any occasion.
I would happily go back to Rijsel’s converted schoolhouse interior for some of the kitchen’s much-touted rotisserie chicken. Mine came with cubes of roasted root veg, dressed butter lettuce, and seasoned roast potatoes with mayo. Meanwhile, one of my table mates tried the onglet (hangar steak) and reported it to be tender and tasty as well. For the less carnivorous, there are actually fish and vegetarian options as well – but most people go there for the chicken. It’s all about top-notch comfort food.
Cantine de Caron
Occupying one of the huge brick buildings of the Westergasfabriek, Cantine de Caron has the feel of a bustling French grand café – complete with white tablecloths, proper silverware and flowing wine. The restaurant’s size makes it somewhat easier to score a table, too. The evening I visited was autumnal, so we started with some charcuterie and bread to share, followed by a comforting dish of slow-cooked beef cheek with stewed cannellini beans. Pure wintry warmth.
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, canal views, romantic ambiance, and of course its classic but excellent French-led food, that seems somewhat unforgivable. 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.
Up one of the leaf-lined stone stairways on the Herengracht is Brasserie Ambassade – the relatively recent (2015) addition to the boutique Ambassade Hotel (1953). The interior pairs starched white tablecloths 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 escargots 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 á la carte menu are around the same as the Belhamel, or you can get the three-, four- or five-course lunch menu for a fixed amount. Champagne is advisable.
*Editor’s note: I was invited to eat at Belhamel and Brasserie Ambassade as part of a press trip, which meant I didn’t pay for my meals. Obviously I try to be as objective as possible, but I always disclose when I’ve had a freebie.
Bistrot des Alpes
When the long Dutch winter comes around, one of the few solaces of knowing I’m going to be wearing a coat for the next six months is the thought of Bistrot des Alpes‘ Savoie-style comfort food that transports you straight to the mountains. Think raclette, fondue, tartiflette, charcuterie, and as many calories as you can shake a ski pole at. Don’t forget to take a selfie in the ski lift that’s sitting in the middle of the restaurant!
Inside, restaurant Mont Blanc is like an Alpine chalet (albeit a very fancy one): everything smells of pine wood, there’s a roaring log fire, leather sofa, sheepskins on the lounge chairs by the entrance… It’s the perfect spot to decompress after a hard day’s skiing (I mean, working) with a glass of bubbles and some amuse-bouches before making your way to your table. We plumped for the five-course fixed menu, the first of which involved the humble leek – elevated to new heights with trout roe and smoked hay. Next up came a take on the French classic, oeuf en meurette: a rich bowl of slow-cooked egg yolk with an onion purée and a decadent reduction of Persan – a Savoie red wine that paired perfectly with the Pinot Noir we drank with it. But perhaps my favourite course was the fish: a medley of crisp-skinned perch, tiny sweet crayfish, creamy bisque and Swiss chard. The French cheese trolley was also a huge hit. Dinner at Mont Blanc comes at fine dining prices, but every detail is taken care of – from the crockery to the wine pairings.
I first found Wijnbar Boelen soon after I moved here, when de Pijp was the (only) place to go out at night. After a long absence, I recently rediscovered it as a lovely spot for a glass of wine and a plate of cheese or charcuterie after work on a Friday evening. They do good, classic main courses as well: steak, duck and the like. It’s not cheap, but it’s very good quality French food and wine, and the service is extremely attentive.
Le French Café
Surely the queen of breakfast sandwiches, the croque madame is a thing of great French beauty: two thick, crusty slices of bread filled with ham, gruyere and mornay sauce, topped with a fried egg. So simple and yet remarkably hard to find in Amsterdam. Well, search no more: Le French Café is here to help! They also do a range of other French-inspired lunch sandwiches plus aperitif hour and dinner in the evening. The interior and terrace are pure French bistro – you can’t help but feel a bit like Emily in Paris.