There is an almost endless stream of new and often daring ventures in Amsterdam. Gossip is most fevered around places that combine culinary delight with eccentric locations.
De Kas, for example, is in an old greenhouse; Hotel de Goudfazant is in a warehouse; Dauphine is in a former Renault showroom; and Pont 13 is in a retired ferry. Just across the way from the latter, REM Eiland (Haparandadam 45, 688 5501, www.remeiland.com) is perhaps the boldest architectural addition of recent years. A pirate radio broadcasting rig in its former life, this dizzying structure was towed from the waters of the North Sea and now boasts heady views across new and old Amsterdam from atop its helipad.
Restaurant Freud (Spaarndammerstraat 424, 688 5548, www.restaurantfreud.nl), offers ‘insanely tasty food’, prepared and served up by former psychiatric patients, whereas out east, excellent addition Rijsel (Marcusstraat 52b, 463 2142, www.rijsel.com) has made light of the less-than-stellar reputation of Dutch cuisine by setting up shop in the former home of a school for home economics.
The term ‘Dutch cuisine’ once inspired peals of laughter. But well-travelled chefs have returned home to apply their lessons to fresh local and often organic ingredients (you can source your own at Noordermarkt’s Saturday organic markets. Transcending its setting as a land best suited to spuds, cabbages, carrots and cows, the nation is now employing its greenhouses to grow an array of ingredients.
In historic terms, fish, gruel and beer formed the trinity of the medieval diet. But in the Golden Age, the rich indulged in hogs and pheasants, although apparently only after having these table-groaning meals painted for posterity – as the Rijksmuseum attests. With the Napoleonic rule at the dawn of the 19th century, the middle classes were seduced by innovations such as herbs, spices and the radical concept that overcooking is bad. Sadly, a century later it all went terribly wrong. But still, there’s nothing like a hotchpotch of potato, crispy bacon and crunchy greens all swimming in gravy.
The spicy food of Indonesia re-eroticised the Dutch palate after World War II, when the colony was granted independence and the Netherlands took in Indonesian immigrants. Take your pick of cuisine, from the budget Surinamese-Indonesian-Chinese snack bars to purveyors of the rijsttafel (‘rice table’), where every known variety of fish, meat and vegetable combines in a filling extravaganza. Along with fondue – a ‘national’ dish borrowed from the Swiss because its shared pot appealed to the Dutch sense of the democratic – Indonesian is the food of choice for celebratory meals. Other waves of immigrants helped create today’s vortex of culinary diversity.
Go to the Pijp if you crave econo-ethnic food; cruise Haarlemmerstraat, Nieuwmarkt, Utrechtsestraat, the ‘Nine Streets’ area and Reguliersdwarsstraat for something posher; and only visit the Leidseplein if you don’t mind being overcharged for a cardboard steak and pre-packed sushi (that said, we do list some notable exceptions).
Try the fish stalls for quality and budget snack opportunities, such as raw herring and smoked eel. You can buy rolled ‘pizzas’ from Turkish bakeries, Dutch broodjes (sandwiches) from bakers and butchers, and spicy Surinamese broodjes from ‘Suri-Indo-Chin’ snack bars. Visit an Albert Heijn supermarket to get an insight into Dutch eating habits. After all, sometimes you can eat your best meals from the comfort of a scenic bench.
Dining in Amsterdam is a laid-back affair, although the Dutch tend to eat early: many kitchens close by 10pm. If you have special requirements, such as high chairs or disabled access, it’s always best to phone the restaurant before setting out.
All bills should, by law, include 21 per cent tax. Tips-wise, it’s customary to round up between five and ten per cent if the service merits it.
March: Amsterdam Restaurant Week, with its offer of a three-course meal in a top restaurant from just €25, is a rich seam for gourmands on the hunt for a bargain.
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Local foodies check out www.iens.nl for the latest culinary scoops.
While every effort and care has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this guide, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any errors it may contain. Before you go out of your way, we strongly advise you to phone ahead and check the particulars.