I should better re-name this post “first-date restaurants” because when I was single, tapas places seemed to be my first port of call for a casual drink and a bite to eat on pretty much every first date I had in Amsterdam. But, of course, tapas-style food can work on many occasions. Amsterdam is not exactly awash with good tapas, but here are a few places that don’t disappoint…
A long-standing Amsterdam tapas institution, Pata Negra has been going strong on the Utrechtsestraat since 1997. With enormous legs of pork everywhere, and freely flowing wine, you can’t go wrong. Try the flavoursome manchego cheese, the grainy melt-in-your-mouth jamón Iberico, and the tasty patatas bravas.
Five Brothers Fat
Five Brothers Fat calls itself a Champagneria. But don’t let that scare you – they sell delicious Cava too, which is much more wallet-friendly. On the food front, Five Brothers Fat offers a tapas menu that’s designed to be shared: we tried the jamón Serrano, Manchego cheese, chorizo croquettes and pan con tomate – all of which were as you’d expect: simple but spot-hitting. On a more recent visit to their new location next to Oosterpark, I particularly enjoyed the watermelon and feta salad and the tuna tartare. Prices are friendly (as is the atmosphere, for that matter), and now that Five Brothers Fat has three locations – in West, Zuid and Oost respectively – a good glass of bubbles and a plate of tapas are never too far away.
Best Basque pintxos in Amsterdam
A post-lockdown addition to Amsterdam’s dining scene is Basque restaurant and pintxos bar, Sagardi. 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. 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.
I discovered La Oliva way back in 2009: a Basque bar/restaurant specialising in pintxos. Ordering works by pointing at what you like the look of: try a selection of these bread-based concoctions, which (the last time I went) included figs stuffed with blue cheese, classic tortilla, aubergine with tomato sauce and rocket, asparagus and tuna wrapped in ham, jamón iberico, and roasted vegetables with goat’s cheese. La Oliva’s Rioja was excellent, too. The terrace might not be huge, but its Jordanian location makes pavement dining seem almost Mediterranean.
Fusion tapas in Amsterdam
Apparently Ron Blaauw’s had his cheffy fingers in this Spanish-meets-Latino pie, which is probably part of the reason why ESCOBAR is so damn good. It used to be a jazz club and was formerly a bath house – which is to say that it’s surprisingly large for de Pijp. It therefore has a reasonable amount of pavement seating if the Dutch weather is feeling particularly Spanish. The evening I went, ceviche was served leche detigre-style, so that the fish was almost milky, but punctuated by a marmalade-y citrus fruit, red chilli and red onion – sweet and sour, citrus meets spice. Hot dishes included pimientosde padrón (fried green peppers), albondigas (meatballs) and navajas (razor clams with broad beans). Tacos came stuffed with shredded pork, red cabbage, tomato salsa, smoky pineapple, and spicy mayo – I loved the texture, the heat and the flavours, although I wouldn’t recommend them to those who can’t handle chilli. ESCOBAR’s atmosphere is festive, the service attentive, and the food some of the best tapas in town.
Editor’s note: I was invited to eat at ESCOBAR as a journalist, and I didn’t pay for my meal. Obviously I try to be as objective as possible, but I always disclose when I’ve had a freebie.
Is Boca’s truly a tapas bar or is it a spot for Dutch borrelhapjes? The line is a fine one in this case. And frankly, who cares? Generous platters of meat-, fish- or veggie-based snacks comes in small, medium or large sizes depending on how many mouths you need to feed. (Or how hungry you are.) Think steak bruschetta and barbacoa tacos on the meat platter, calamari and shrimp croquettes on the fish platter, or Padron peppers and asparagus with parmesan on the veggie platter.