Eating in Amsterdam

Long weekend in Amsterdam. A very much needed break. Leading up to it everyone around me talked of how beautiful it is. Nobody talked about how great the food is. Having already been to Amsterdam several times, I didn’t have great hopes or expectations. Fortunately there were moments where I was pleasantly surprised.

Day one brunch (well borderline lunch) actually wasn’t bad. We’d gone wandering in search of a pancake house my boyfriend has apparently consistently managed to stumble upon ever time he’s been here. Instead we stumbled on Dwaze Zaken, Boer’n Breakfast. There was a good range if options. Nothing fancy, just good solid choices. We were there long enough to see the lunch menu as well, which looked to have a great range of sandwiches. I actually wished I’d waited a little longer and ordered from this menu.

My boyfriend chose the farmers omelette and I opted for the French breakfast. I’m not really an egg eater, so eating out for breakfast tends to be tricky. When our meal was served I was left wishing I ate eggs. The omelette was filled with big chunks of ham, lots of sliced mushrooms and of course cheese, and it was served on a thick wedge of fresh, crusty artesian style bread with a small but refreshing looking side salad. My French breakfast consisted of artesian bread, nut bread, a croissant, cheese, butter and blackberry marmalade. Now I am of the opinion that it is impossible to obtain a proper croissant outside of france and this breakfast did nothing to change my position on this subject (having said this, I’m dying to try and make these myself). However, the nut bread was divine! There was a mix of pistachios, walnuts and sultanas, with a hint of cinnamon. Definitely one of the culinary highlights of the trip.

Having eaten breakfast so late we skipped lunch, but shared a hot dog snack from one of the little vans that can be found dotted around the streets. I mention this more because it was an interesting experience, not because of the quality of the food per se. Having said that, it was a good hot dog. There were a range of condiments available on the exterior of the stall. We started with sauces and despite dating a Chicagoan, I was allowed to add ketchup alongside the mustard. Apparently it’s ok as long as your not in Chicago. We moved on to the relishes and found that it was so cold that all of them were frozen! I knew that coming to Amsterdam in winter was a little odd but this showed me just what a ridiculous situation we were in.

When we’d arrived we’d spotted a place called “Cau”, which looked to be a Gaucho rip-off. It was close to the hotel, and therefore required us to spend minimal time in the freezing cold getting there so we decided to give it a try. We went for out traditional Gaucho order: 300gm rib-eye cooked medium with triple cooked chunky chips and bernaise sauce. Even if certain expectations hadn’t been in my mind because of the intentional associations, I would gave been disappointed. The steak was well cooked and pleasant, but lack the robustness of flavour of a good Argentinian steak. The same could be said of the bernaise sauce. The chips were the real low point. Triple cooked to me means a really crispy exterior and light, fluffy interior. These weren’t. There was hardly any crunch to them at all. I suspect the third cooking happened when they were reheated having been cooked earlier that day.

I do actually have a basis for suggesting this. While eating our dessert – we shared a chocolate cake which was nice an moist without being excessively rich – I watched one of the chefs prepare the pancake desserts for another table. He pulled out a stack of what had to be at least 40 pre-made pancakes and reheated the quantity he needed at that point. he proceeded to fill them with dulce de leche…spooned directly from a store bought jar. He then surrounded them with the worst constructed quenelles of cream I have ever seen in a restaurant, then tried to do the same with the pre-fab dulce de leche, but just ended up dolloping it on the plate instead. There must have been an increasingly intense look of horror on my face because we left rather quickly after this.

Yes I sound like a complete snob and if this had happened in one of the other dodgy looking Argentinian grills that populate Amsterdam in abundance I wouldn’t have been at all disturbed. But seriously, if you’re going to rip off Gaucho at least try to hit the same standards!

Day two we ended up at B&B Lunchroom, a sandwich bar chain, for brunch. We’d popped into another for coffee the previous day and had liked the look of the menu. They take an individual smorgasbord approach to breakfast serving croissant and mini rolls with different plates of fillings. They looked incredibly appealing but after my croissant the day before I suspected this element would ruin the meal for me. Instead I had a smoked chicken, avocado, bacon and tomato sandwich with cheese. It was served in a delicious brown bread roll which made me once again yearn for the UK to get to grips with the concept of good bread. I suspect I’ll be experimenting in that field again in the near future.

Hot dog snack (with frozen condiments, naturally) saw us through to dinner again. We ended up eating in the restaurant because quite frankly it was just too cold to go exploring for somewhere to eat. There are several restaurants within the Hotel Krasnapolsky. We elected to eat at Restaurant Reflet. Despite my concerns about all the bad food I’d been eating we somehow agreed to try the 10 course tasting menu with accompanying wine. The meal was as follows:
• soufflé with black truffle, and pecorino
• smoked salmon salad with rocket, yellow beets and horseradish dressing
• potato soup with black truffles
• tuna tartare in a toasted sourdough bread basket topped with a fried quails egg with fried capers and anchovy sauce
• pan fried scallop on cauliflower purée with lobster foam
• pan fried sweetbread with roasted seasonal vegetables
• halibut on risotto
• cheese selection
• trio of coffee desserts
• trio of chocolate desserts

This is clearly a restaurant with Michelin star aspirations. But it’s not quite there yet. It was strange to be served a menu with no meat course, something I think definitely needs to be reconsidered. Certain aspects were under-seasoned. In particular the tuna tartare was bland and totally overwhelmed by the other flavours on the plate, although these were delicious, particularly the fried capers. And while I love black truffle, it didn’t quite work with the potato soup, although as separate elements both were incredibly enjoyable. Also, two trios of desserts was too much. However I really liked the sweetbread, particularly the way the vegetables had maintained their crunchiness, creating a lovely contrast in texture. The halibut and risotto were both well cooked with the rice maintaining just a touch of firmness. However the star of the show was the scallop. I would have married that dish! Beautifully presented, flavours harmonious and all elements combined in just the right amount. Stunning!

Day 3 and we finally achieved our pancake breakfast! A quick search of the internet identified Pancakes! as the nominated number one pancake house in Amsterdam. It’s very small and there was a queue when we arrived. Fortunately we were only required to wait about 15 minutes to be seated. The menu has a diverse range of toppings/fillings. There’s also different styles of pancake, so whether you prefer that flat European pancake or voluminous American form, you’re going to be happy. It was a difficult decision, but in the end I opted for the smoked salmon with creme fraiche, guacamole and pine nuts. The goats cheese with spinach was another strong contender and when I saw this arrive on the neighbouring table I almost regretted my decision. Fortunately, my pancake looked equally appetising and tasted delicious. I was surprised that it was served flat like a pizza base rather than rolled around the filling. This might have been because in some cases the pancakes were cooked omelette-style, with some of the fillings cooked into the batter. As well as pine nuts there were other mixed seeds sprinkled on top. I was really pleased with the amount of topping. Lots of chunks of smoked salmon and big dollops of guacamole and creme fraiche. The meal ended on a strange note though. We were served a small glass of lemon schnapps with our bill. I completely appreciate that this was the Dutch version of the limoncello digestif, but at one o’clock in the afternoon this felt a little aggressive. Still, it was a great meal and I would definitely recommend Pancakes!, especially given that it was the only one I could find that opened before 12pm.

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