Amsterdam City Blog restaurants, shops, people and life in Amsterdam


Restaurantweek 2014: I ENVY me

Every year in March and September, it's restaurantweek in the Netherlands. You pay 27,50 EURO for the pleasure of dining. Some restaurants try to make off easy, by making a 'middle of the road' three course menu that will please 'most people'. After having been to about 10 restaurants for restaurantweek, I've seen it more than once. But ENVY does it differently: this chef chooses to showcase his talent and takes on the restaurantweek challenge to shine. My tastebuds are still in awe.

Pork belly lacquered with hoi sin sauce at ENVY, on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam
The food was creative, gourgeous and delicious. A feast for the eye, an adventure of textures and tastes. There were five courses (amuse bouche, hamachi with lime, pork belly lacquered with hoi sin sauce, a Bloody Mary 2.0 and a Donkey Kong dessert to finish) and I fully understand why ENVY has made it to the number 1 or 2 favourite restaurantweek menu the past years.

The ambiance is a little dark, with spots for dramatic lighting. But it fits, because it's different and ENVY does things differently. And then there's the service. We were served (among others) by a lovely girl with a very long pony tail and fiery red lips: friendly and passionate about the food she served. The young man who came to explain to us what was on our plates before each course was very knowledgable, knew all the dishes and their many elements by heart and presented the dishes to us with a talkshow host flair that we found amusing.

Margerita 2.0 at ENVY in AmsterdamTo sum it all up: it was the best restaurantweek experience to date. It was my birthday yesterday and I envy me for having had dinner here. In fact, I would like to go to ENVY on my birthday every year!

Prinsengracht 381
1016 HL Amsterdam
+31 20 344 64 07


Favourite places in West

After well over a year of living in Amsterdam West, I've just realised that I haven't written a whole lot about the places I like to go here. That needs rectification! Because there are a lot of hip, new and happening places to go in West. Here's a list of favourites:

Cafe Zurich
Smack-dab on the edge of Mercatorplein. The exterior looks decidedly odd, it always makes me think of half a heart, complete with short bits of artery sticking out the top. But don't let that fool you. Inside it's lovely and homey, with a huge fireplace in the centre of the round space.

The staff is friendly, and the food is good (eventhough having dinner here is somewhat pricey). In the summer there's an enormous outside seating area. Also serves excellent lunch, with sandwiches and such for around 5 euro (affordable!).

Coffee and the menu at Bar Spek, Baarsjes, Amsterdam
Bar Spek
This is a new place on the Admiraal de Ruijterweg (right next to the bridge). There used to be another restaurant here (called 'In de Baars'), that we never got around to going to. But Bar Spek is fantastic. Levi and I have had dinner here and were welcomed in in the most friendly fashion.

The food is affordable and ok, if not overly fantastic. The pizzas are good though! Styling is fun and quirky, with a pig on the business cards ('Spek' meaning bacon) and the business ends of a few streetlanterns mounted on the wall.

This is a place a little bit off the beaten path. If you take the Vespuccistraat off the Jan Evertsenstraat, then take the first left. Cook is on the first corner, with a big outside seating area on both sides of the street. The inside has recently been enlarged. It used to be tiny, but now it's more than twice the size.

Cafe Cook in De Baarsjes, Amsterdam WestCook's got a great atmosphere, with a livingroom feel. None of the furniture matches, and the overall effect is homey, relaxed, ecclectic and clean. The staff is nice, but I've only ever had drinks here, I really want to go and have dinner here sometime soon!

Bar Baarsch
It's been a while since I've last been to this modern bar on the Jan Evertsenstraat. As a cafe it's incredibly busy on Fridays and Saturdays. I've had lunch and dinner here on occasion and it was good. I like that they have free wifi and games. It makes you feel welcome to feel at home.

Downside is that it can be too busy. I remember wanting to have dinner here on a Tuesday evening once, and not being able to find a place to sit.

So if you're in the neighbourhood: do drop by! There's plenty of good places to have lunch or dinner.

For info, go to their websites:
Café Zurich
Bar Spek
Bar Baarsch


Authentic Italian flavours at Mazzo

Tomorrow I am having my wisdom teeth taken out. It's my first time at the dental surgeon and it scares the living daylights out of me. So, to celebrate my last days of being able to eat solid food, my friend Matt and I had dinner at Mazzo on the Rozengracht in Amsterdam.

Mazzo on the Rozengracht in AmsterdamI've been wanting to go to Mazzo ever since Matt sent me an article on it on The Cool Hunter. It is a huge place, with an industrial and modern look, and yet a very homely feel about it. The enormous Chesterfield on the left wall looks inviting, but I'd advise against choosing to sit there, as it makes eating off of the low table a challenge.

Antipasti misti at Mazzo in AmsterdamWe started with the antipasti misti, which turned out to be a lovely big plate full of bruschette, cuts of meat and salads. We shared everything and enjoyed most of it (I especially loved the bruschette and the small pulpo salad).

Then we both had a pasta. Matt chose the Arabiata, I had the Carbonara. The pastas come in two sizes: small for around E9,- and large for around E13,-. Very tasty and good value too! It's also very Italian: the pasta is not smothered in sauce, like the Dutch tend to make their pastas.

Mazzo's signature Pizza MazzoLastly, Matt and I shared a pizza Mazzo. It's the one with buffalo mozzarella, lardo (baconfat), rocket and truffle tapenade. The bottom was thin and crisp, somewhat like the romans like their pizza. The topping was fresh, rich and gorgeous. We had thought to try a few desserts too, but it turned out we were full after the pizza. Next time, Mazzo, next time!

There were so many things on the menu that I'd love to try. A cold pizza Primavera for one, Stuzzichini (fried nibbles, like croquettes and stuffed olives) and the toasted tramezzino from the lunch menu. I definitely need to come back here!

Rozengracht 114
020 3446402



Lovely Lab111

Friday I was researching a LivingSocial deal (something akin to Groupon) for a place called Lab111 when Levi texted me "Shall we go out to dinner tomorrow?" I replied "Good idea! I know just the place!"

Interior of Lab111 in AmsterdamLab111 is housed in a former pathological lab (Pathologisch Anatomisch Laboratorium, like it says over the main entrance of the place). The strange lamps over the big table opposite the bar remind visitors of the space's history. The rest of the interior is fabulous. The black walls with fluorescent stripes look modern and fresh. The restaurant is spacious, with lots of room between the tables. Bench seating lines the walls. We get a table in the corner, overlooking the entire space.

The waiter is sincerely friendly and hospitable. He greets us when we come in. We get fresh bread with a wonderful olive oil. Then drinks. And then, after he's given us time to acclimatise, we get a menu. I love it.

I opt for the thinly sliced beef with chicory, green beans and sage mayonaise. Levi gets the soup of the day (sweet potato and tomato). For my main course I choose the steak with string beans, but I ask our friendly waiter if I can get it with the homemade fries instead of gratin, and he allows me to do so. Levi orders the fish of the day: redfish with opperdoezer potatoes and roasted fennel.

Steak with string beans at Lab111 in AmsterdamThe starter of thinly sliced beef is very tasty, but what blows me away is my main course of steak. Cutting it is surprisingly easy and it just melts in my mouth. Delicious. The jus could have been a little more concentrated, but its flavour is lovely. And the homemade fries are just like I'd imagined: crunchy and golden. Levi is a little less rapturous about his redfish, but he deems it a good dish.

Lab111 in Amsterdam at nightThe place it quite full by now. All the tables are taken. There are a few people having drinks at the bar, waiting for a table.

Levi and I share a dessert: rhubarb cheesecake. We're both big fans of cheesecake. We've had good and we've had extremely bad cheesecake. But this. Is. Good. Cheesecake. It is soft, almost creamy, and amply speckled with vanilla. The bottom is fresh and crunchy and the rhubarb topping is tart. The whole thing is well balanced and possibly the best cheesecake we've had so far.

Aside from the food, the thing that makes or breaks an evening is the service. Our friendly bald waiter (he turned out to be the owner, which bodes well for Lab111) made our evening a pleasure. Levi's parents are coming over for a visit in September. We're still looking for a nice place to take them to eat, that will live up to their standards. Lab111 is a definite contender!

Arie Biemondstraat 111
1054PD Amsterdam



Four reasons to go to Fyra in Amsterdam

It was our anniversay today. Levi took me out for a surprise dinner. The surprise was not in that we went to dinner, it was the place he took me to. He was so pleased with himself for having found it, quite by accident, it made me really curious! He took me to Fyra, in the Noorderstraat in Amsterdam.

Fyra means 'four'. It's worth wandering off the beaten path for. First of all, it's not so very far from the beaten path. The location is a short walk away from the Muntplein. It's a quiet sidestreet off the Vijzelgracht. Second of all, the interior looks great. Classy, but not pretentious. A comfortable chic. The art on the walls may or may not be to your taste, but it's colourful and adds to the atmosphere.

interior of restaurant Fyra in the Noorderstraat, AmsterdamAnd the people, third of all, are so very nice, they make you feel at home. Truly. I can't really explain it. It was just the way they treated you as a real person, with sincere interest and hospitality. It's actually quite unusual in Amsterdam, where disinterested staff is the norm.

Last but not least: the food. It's not the kind of fare I usually have. As it turns out, duck liver parfait is not my thing. But the catch of the day was a sort of sandwich of a white fish (I forgot its name!) with a filling of tasty little shrimps and a beurre blanc sauce. Wow.

Then there was  a course which consisted solely of meat. Our hostess called it "succade", which is a piece of the bovine that is not often used in restaurants I think It can be tough, but this was cooked slowly and lovingly for probably hours. It was soft and the red wine sauce very tasty.

The main course turned out to be a barbequed piece of American Black Angus steak, which was so tender it hardly needed chewing at all. Double wow. There were seasonal vegetables and a tiny sliver of gratin to accompany it. Dessert was a tiny warm chocolate pie with a melted center, accompanied by vanilla ice cream and a dribble of passionfruit sauce. Tripple wow.

So there. Four reasons to go Fyra. Johannes van Dam, probably the most famous restaurant reviewer in the Netherlands, gave this place a 10-, which is about as close to perfect as you can get. I'm not sure I would rate it that high, but I did very much love the whole experience.

Sidenote: Fyra is a ways above the pricerange I normally visit. A 3-course (set) menu is 32 euro, 4 courses 38 euro. The chef's menu (5 surprise courses, which may or may not include duck liver parfait) is E49,50.

Open 6 days a week, from 6 until 10 pm. Closed on Tuesdays.

Noorderstraat 19-23
1017TR Amsterdam (only in Dutch)


Best burger in Amsterdam: Nassau at the Wittenkade

One of the best places to have a great burger and a nice evening out in Amsterdam is Nassau at the Wittenkade in the Westerpark neighbourhood.

Nassau calls itself a café-slash-restaurant ('eetcafé') and this describes exactly what it is. It's a café, where you can meet with friends or business acquaintances and have a drink. In the evening you can also have a bite to eat.

The staff is friendly and relaxed and the interior design is comfortably hip, livingroom style. There's lots of wood and beige leather seating. Opposite the peninsular bar is a small fake fireplace and check out the funky lighting in the ceiling. The art on the walls is changed regularly.

The fare is homey and down-to-earth, but with a classy twist. Like the burgers, which are made from wagyu beef. This breed of Japanese bovines is renowned for its flavour, tenderness, and fatty well-marbled meat.

And -oh my!- this makes for excellent burgers. They are moist and tender and chockfull of flavour. A bun covered in sesameseeds, pickles, fried onions and beets accompanies my burger. It comes with crisp golden fries and a mayonaise that, according to the menu, is flavoured with wasabi (but in reality does not burn at all).

Ok, so the New York cheesecake we ordered for desert is awful (the cheesecake I make myself is about 12 times better, I swear), but I will (I am one hundred percent sure of this) come back for that incredible wagyu burger!

De Wittenkade 105 A
1052 AG Amsterdam
no website, but the telephonenumber is:  +31 (0)20 6843562


Tons of atmosphere: restaurant In de Waag at the Nieuwmarkt

Restaurant In de Waag is smack-dab in the centre of Amsterdam, a few minutes' walk from the Central Station, on the Nieuwmarkt at the end of the famous Zeedijk. Last weekend I made my boyfriend Levi take me there.

I'm not spoiled. I can cook. Actually, I can cook up a storm and all the world can go quiet around me (or is it just in my head where it finally goes quiet?). But there's nothing like going out to eat. Tasting the atmosphere of a place and enjoying well-prepared food and not having to lift a finger, except in the end, to pay the bill.

The thing is, I do this often with friends. But for some reason, I rarely go out to dinner with Levi. We do go out, we like to have lunch in the weekends and discover nice new places that serve good coffee and great pie. We go to festivals and go shopping and do so many more things... Just nearly never have dinner at a proper restaurant. So on Sunday we dressed up and went to In de Waag.

A restaurant lit by only candles
This monumental structure has seen many uses and many occupants over the centuries. Now, among other things, it houses an excellent restaurant. The interior is large, but has a very inviting and intimate atmosphere. Part of the reason why is the fact that the entire restaurant is lit almost solely by candles. Hundreds of them.

The menu includes starters like a tarte tatin of red onion and a pasta dish with horse mushrooms prepared in vieux. Mains include dishes like an entrecôte for two, or baked gravad lachs. Prices vary from E7-E12 for the starters to E19-E25 for the mains. The daily menu is a good deal at E34.

I chose the salad with homemade smoked salmon and the tenderloin beef for a main. Leev opted for the daily menu which consisted of a salad with smoked turkeyfilet, followed by beef with mushrooms and a coffee parfait for desert.

Attentive staff
The waiter was funny, a little flirty even, and attentive. It's funny how good staff can make or break your evening. At least as much as the quality of the food can. My starter was excellent. The homesmoked salmon was mild and silty, not salty. And everything on my plate went together beautifully, from the avocadomousse to the cherry tomatoes, to the green asparagus and even the big, fleshy, green olives. Leev was equally impressed with his smoked turkey salad.

Levi's main dish was huge. His plate seemed heaped to the point of nearly spilling. Oddly though, his steak was red (whereas he'd ordered it medium) and my tenderloin was medium (which I had requested rare). We had a bite of our own, then of eachother's and decided to swap. This is one of the reasons why I love this man.

My veggies had been in the oven too long and were overly salty and dry. Levi had enough for two, so he donated some of his. What was to die for though, was not the big chunk of meat, not the dry, salty veggies, but the mayonaise that accompanied my six Belgian-style fries (yes, only six, but because of the size of them, that was truly enough). Truffle mayonaise. Fingerlicking good. I want to kidnap the souschef who made that and make him make that for me ever single day.

We shared Levi's desert (our waiter brought us two sets of desert forks and spoons, a sweet touch), and eventhough Leev doesn't like icecream very much and I'm generally no fan of coffee-flavoured things, we finished the whole thing. Enough said.

Good for a revisit
So the food was excellent (starter), ok (main) and excellent (desert), but the gorgeous candlelit atmosphere, the great waiting staff and the good location make In de Waag one of those places I'd like to revisit.

The pricerange is well over the budget of most tourists (the bill came to E75,75, which includes two drinks and a pitcher of water). Most of the clientele is over 40.

Restaurant In de Waag
Nieuwmarkt 4
1012CR Amsterdam