My favourite moment of the day is somewhere around 6.30 pm, when work is finished, it’s not yet time for dinner, and the kitchen is filled with the familiar glug-glug-glug sound of a just-opened bottle of wine being poured. If I’m at home, it’ll perhaps be accompanied by some cheese and crackers or slices of chorizo; if I’m out, it might be bitterballen or jamón.
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 al fresco dining: Alba
With the unfortunate timing of opening right before first 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 €95 – which felt like pretty good value. Given that Alba is practically opposite my house, I’ll definitely be back for more.
Best for pintxos: Sagardi
A 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. 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 in the early evening. 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!
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 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. 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.
Best for bistro vibes: Alex + Pinard
I’m not sure who Alex is – nor Pinard, for that matter – but their wine-bar-meets-bistro concept is simple: good-quality, affordable wines by the glass and shareable dishes that are several cuts above the average borrel hapje. We tried the jamon croquettes, cauliflower with ricotta and bottarga (cured fish row), and crispy rabbit tempura with a flavoursome tarragon dip. And not only are the prices friendly – the service is, too.
Best terrace: Clos
On perhaps my favourite square in Oost, Beukenplein, you’ll find Clos – a wine bar with a covered, heated terrace and plenty to make you happy in the wine and food department. The wines by the glass are arranged to make it easy to select one you’re bound to like, and there are plenty of top-notch snacks to nibble while you tipple. Think good-quality charcuterie and cheeses, fresh bread with hummus, meatballs in tomato sauce and more.
Best for natural wines: GlouGlou
Officially the cutest wine bar in Amsterdam, GlouGlou is the very definition of gezellig. I can happily while away an evening here, starting with after-work drinks and progressing steadily into late-night “ohhh, just one last round then” territory. I’d like to tell you what to order, but I always seem to go off-menu with some ad-hoc recommendation or other from the nice barman. GlouGlou specialises in natural wines.
Best for personal recommendations: Wijnbar Paulus
No more than a couple of blocks from GlouGlou (which is handy if the former is full), Paulus is a rather more modern, hipster alternative. But no less helpful when it comes to making off-menu recommendations. They also offer a selection of cold cuts and cheeses to keep the tipsiness at optimum level.
Best for sharing plates: Paskamer
Paskamer is Dutch for changing room, but this cosy spot in de Pijp is in fact a wine bar-slash-restaurant. So who knows where the name comes from? Because they offer around 50 wines by the glass, you can pair a different one with each dish you order, or just plump for a bottle to split with your pals. I think we accidentally did both, which is probably why I ended up so drunk. Anyhoo… The food is perfectly designed for sharing, and the knowledgeable waiting staff will help you with wine pairings if you’re into that. Think smoky pulpo (octopus) with spicy mayo paired with a grauburgunder from Pfalz, or umami-rich marinated salmon with an Alsace pinot blanc. But perhaps my favourite wine came from the Spanish specials: a Catalunyan blend of syrah, carignan, mazuelo and grenache that tasted like a Priorat but for a fraction of the price. With cheese? Yes, please.
Best for an after-work borrel: Cafe Binnenvisser
Tucked into the busy Bilderdijkstraat, Cafe Binnenvisser is a good spot for a drink after work – especially if you’re a wine drinker (they have hundreds of bottles on offer), but with the cosiness of a beer café. The bar snacks are decent too: we tried the olives, which were good quality; cheese from Kef (you can’t go far wrong there); and carrot and potato fritters that were light, crispy and came with a fresh yoghurt-based dipping sauce. Cafe Binnenvisser offers a cosy atmosphere for a glass of wine with some nibbles after work.
Best for French fare: Wijnbar Boelen
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.
Aperitivo o’clock, borreltijd, tapas time or happy hour – whatever you call it, what’s your favourite wine bar in Amsterdam for an early-evening drink and a snack? Let me know in the comments!