As a Londoner, I wouldn’t dream of eating anywhere that has views of Leicester Square (except for a recent visit to Le Bun, which proved my suspicions entirely correct – it’s not a happy experience). There is so much I love about this crazy busy dynamic city, but let’s face it – this caricature artist-choked crossroads of doom (the last straw was the opening of the M&Ms World store) doesn’t do it any favours. If Amsterdam had an equivalent downside, it would be located close to the maze of tram tracks outside Centraal Station – just over the body of water that in no way resembles the picturesque canals that encircle the city – this place is called Prins Hendrikkade.
However, while I struggle to think of exceptions in London, Dwaze Zaken (Prins Hendrikkade 50), is really pretty good. Look for the rather austere – although bizarre bright – signage proclaiming: God Roept U (Jesus Loves You) and you have got the right building. Inside, the spiritual feels continue with a huge stained window but rest assured, the only service here is of the breakfast, lunch and dinner variety. This place will get you wined and dined on the cheap, and it’s a great spot to head to on your way to and from the airport thanks to its train station location. Try one of Holland’s national dishes while there – bitterballen – basically meat paste in a crispy casing, like a low-rent croquette. The inside can look at bit gungy and grey, but you’ll be surprised how fast you get through them after a few beers.
And, just around the corner, De Ooievaar was built in 1782 and serves simple but very sinful plates of Gouda alongside local beer Texels – a great crowd-pleasing pilsner. Oh, and there is a squirty bottle of mustard for dipping your cheese. What else do you need?
Having searched high and low for the perfect pizza, I never imagined I would stumble on it in Amsterdam – but that’s exactly what happened at La Perla (2e Tuindwarsstraat 53) – a no frills, family-friendly place with the kitchen on one side of the street and the dining room and bar on the other. Why was it so good? Well for starters, prices start at 9,50 euro for a margherita, and for me it was the base that nailed it. So completely crunchy – even in the middle – without being dry. This isn’t dough as I know it – there was a crispbread quality to it, and I simply can’t stop thinking about it. Tomato base, mozzarella and basil were all great quality – and I am sure the other toppings are too. But seriously, it’s the base what makes it. Throw in a Dutch IPA for 4,50 from Amsterdam brewery Brouwerj’t ij and that makes me pretty happy.
For a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, it has to be Black Gold (Korte Koningsstraat 13), a cute little cafe that has a kind of Scandi-meets-Osaka vibe going on and twins great beans with great vinyl. Order takeaway at your peril, this is a great spot to sit back and enjoy some tunes – coffee is awesome.
And then as night falls, sample some of the city’s most celebrated cocktails at Tales & Spirits (Lijnbaanssteeg 5-7), there is a food menu, but the focus here really should be on the quirkily named liquid offerings – from the Fallen Lady (‘in honour of the hard-working, honest women of the neighborhood’) to the Shut the F#$k up George! and The Girl Next Door. Located off a tiny alleyway, you might miss it, so keep your eyes peeled for the wooden sign hanging high above the door.
Amsterdam’s little sister deserves a look-in, if only for a day, and there are regular trains from the city centre to Utrecht and it only takes around 45 mins. Describing itself as a ‘lunchroom’, Keek (Twijnstraat 23) serves a delicious all-day menu with many of the dishes featuring bread from their organic bakery down the road – think scones, pies and sandwiches – and served in the cute surrounds of their canalside café. The coffee is decent, too.
And for evening libations and a lively atmosphere, walk or cycle along the main canal away from the imposing church and you will be rewarded for your efforts at Zies (Twijnstraat 58). It’s open all day but at night this modern European bistro really comes into its own – serving a fantastic international wine list and some interesting, predominantly seafood-based, dishes. Pick your shells – razors, clams, vongole (I always thought clams and vongole were the same thing – oops) or the shell of the week, and then opt to have them prepared in Pernod cream with garlic tarragon or tomato, basil, garlic and chillies. Starters are more tapas-style than anything else, and delicious mains such as Lebanese chicken, skate wing and Black Angus steak don’t break the 20 mark.