Monday, 9 January 2012

Restaurants in Amsterdam

Toilets in Amsterdam: they're weird. I think they well encapsulate the weird vibe about the whole city. Especially the ones in the 'sexmuseum' on Damrak. Not in the way that you'd think though. The whole place is like the room of requirement in city form. As soon as you think of something, it appears as if from nowhere. You find yourself sitting down to look at a map without turning and fortuitously end up on a bench. You ask for doubles in backgammon and get 6s. On top of that, there are all of the canals and tall, narrow houses with spiral staircases ensuring that you never quite feel that you have your bearings. Oh, and I guess all the weed doesn't help. The first time I ever played Articulate my answer to one of the clues ('Where you always want to go') was 'tulip place.' Obviously the actual answer to the clue was Amsterdam. In the song 'Calculation Theme' by Metric, there's a bit where Emily's all 'I wish we were farmers/I wish we knew how/To grow sweet potatoes/And milk cows.' Whenever I want to escape, I think of that line and wish to go to the place where that line exists. So that's where the concept of 'tulip place' comes from. Which indicates that subconsciously I always connected 'escape to a happy place' with Amsterdam despite having never been. Anyway, Amsterdam IS tulip place. There are lots of tulips there but also it correlates exactly with my El-Dorado-esque vision of the place I want to escape to when my first world, white-wine problems are getting me down. I loved it there. Somehow the combination of confused and relaxed led to the most carefree I've felt in aaages. And everything was objectively really pretty/interesting/fun/whatever it was supposed to be. Including the food.
Heffer Cafe, Red Light District, Amsterdam
On our first night, we stumbled upon this quite mainstream looking bar near where we lived. Oh, also there were no women in there. When more women came, we left. Coincidence? I hope so. Anyway, as I went up to order, I spied some bar snacks which looked like arancini. I made the mistake of asking the waitress what they were. They're a dutch specialty and very hard to describe and her English wasn't great. So she enlisted the help of the creepy guys next to us to explain. He insisted we try a ball each (ha) and also order a beer from Jupon. He proceeded to bore us with an account of how this beer was called 'Impossible Thomas' and the brewery was near him and how they called it silent death because it was so strong but he could still manage six in a night (lad). All of this would have been very interesting had it not been for the fact that I have little to no interest in beer and he was clearly on number four of his six. But that was the only downer. I had wrongly assumed this place would be a super-expensive tourist trap where the quality was poor. But everything (pork chop, chips, a dressed salad and these bitterballen) was perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned. A pleasing surprise.
Breakfast from some breakfast/cafe place next door to St Christopher on Warmoesstraat, Red Light District, Amsterdam
I failed to get the name of this breakfast place. I also failed to get a photo of the Grasshopper all lit up in green at night and a photo of the trippy spiral stairs in one of the Bulldog cafes. But on the first morning, we ate here. I had a chai latte and a madeleine.
Then, as I raised to my lips a spoonful of the cake...a shudder ran through my whole body and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. JUST KIDDING. But it was a good madeleine. The latte could've done with a little more chai than latte but was still enjoyable. And cheap!
Festiva Lente, Jordaan, Amsterdam
That day we lunched at a quaint little cafe in the Jordaan district. It had lots of books and board games and even though there are lots of places in the UK which are similar, this place seemed somehow more real. Holiday brain? Probably. The food was again incredibly good value, I had the pasta puttanesca and my friend had one of their bread platters with cheese and sun-dried tomato tapenade and salad. And beers. And coffee. All for just over €20. Everything was bursting with flavour but, like everything else in Amsterdam, being very casual about it. So we tried to fit in by playing backgammon. This is when I needed doubles on the die.
Carne Argentina, Red Light District, Amsterdam
Having ditched the clingy man from Bahrain from the night before, that evening we ate with B, a (gossip) girl from our hostel and some Italian guy. We ended up in an Argentinian restaurant just because everyone kept remarking that there were lots about and also because we were very hungry by this point. Like on the first night, I wasn't expecting much from this restaurant. Again, pleasantly surprised. We all had the daily special - steak and chips. Nothing earth shattering. This was my first steak since the one I had at Gaucho which made me decide to avoid steak in future. Not because Gaucho's steak wasn't good but because despite the acclaim, I still felt more fondly towards the little side dishes. The chips at Carne Argentina weren't very good. They were fine but could've done with being a little crisper. But the steak I remember as being better than at Gaucho's. This was the point at which I started feeling like an unreliable narrator whose senses may have been somewhat deadened.
Bagels & Beans, Oud-Zuid, just beyond Vondelpark, Amsterdam
That feeling didn't continue to lunch the next day. Apparently this Bagel & Beans place is a chain all over Holland. I once read an article that the thing which 'foodies' (do I count as one?) everywhere all hold in contempt is the chain restaurant. They need to eat at Bagel & Beans. We both ordered the BLT. I have not eaten many bagels in my life but I find it hard to imagine one which could beat this one. Crisp, slightly sweet bacon with fresh tomatoes which almost tasted as though they'd been grown locally but that local was Italy/Croatia. The salad leaves were perfectly cut (it annoys me so much when salad leaves are too big to eat efficiently) and added taste and texture rather than just being a bit of green to make it look pretty. And they added pine nuts for more texture which added another level of savoury which went so well with the meat and the tartness of the (probably home made) mayonnaise-y dressing.
Lion Noir, Reguliersdwarsstraat, Amsterdam
This meal was both the priciest and least good of the lot, in my mind. We were taken here by the boy who I started talking to at the airport because he was well dressed, reading a Penguin classic and listening to good music. Shallow? Yes. But it's OK because he was lots of fun despite being nothing like I'd imagined. (I didn't see the Justin Bieber at the airport.) Lion Noir was recommended because it has some link to the denim company he works for. An aside: they're also planning on sending the first ever pair of jeans into space. I had the pheasant. It was lovely to look at and all of the trimmings were very tasty (particularly the little fondant potatoes) but the sauerkraut totally overpowered the pheasant. Also the pheasant was ever so slightly over-seasoned. I wouldn't point it out if it weren't for the fact that this was the only over-seasoned anything I had in Amsterdam. Also one little bit of it tasted as though it hadn't been gutted properly which made me lose my appetite somewhat. Airport Boy ordered the steak which was very, very good even despite having been charred to a medium/well-done so perhaps I just ordered wrongly. 
De Bruine Boon, Leiden
Our last meal took place in Leiden just before a quick look at the National Geographic photograph exhibition at Volkenkunde Museum. I hate the word 'hanging' but that's what I was. That morning I had found myself in the Hague with the mission of having to get back to Amsterdam in time to check out. As much as I will tell this story as if I was tricked into it, if I am honest it was two parts trickery and three parts stupidity/inebriation on my part. I kept thinking 'Den Haag' meant some suburb not a whole different city. Anyway, it was confusing. And after three days of no rest and general disorientation, I was in a bad way. Getting to Leiden proved troublesome as well. Again, two parts trickery/three disorientation. But the 12 o'clock fried egg, croquette, bread and onion soup really, really helped. Thank you. The egg was somehow almost crispy yet with a sunny yolk. The croquette had a lovely crumb exposing a gooey cheese and bacon treat where the mellowness of the cheese complimented the salty bacon perfectly. The soup was nourishing and 'deeply savoury.' I've used that Nigel Slater emulating term before as a joke since my friend insisted but this actually was deeply savoury. There's no other phrase for it.
As I write this, I am unsure whether I am in a haze from not sleeping, a hangover or perhaps I'm even not yet sober so I'll have to look over this before publishing. And all the unreliable narrator stuff again means I can't be sure that my accounts are accurate because I was in such a zen, calm, uncritical mood the whole time. But for now, the conclusion is that Amsterdam = very, very good for food. I'm now going to sleep until I feel something approaching normal again.

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