Where the chefs go
In a city that is fast spreading its culinary wings, discover which restaurant trends are taking off and where some of the city’s leading chefs go to land a good meal.
There’s been a revolution on Amsterdam’s restaurant scene in recent years. Hipster cafés sit shoulder-to-shoulder with slick New Asian hotspots and butcher-inspired burger bars next to vegan-slanted salad shops and chic hotel restaurants. Meanwhile, the low-key bistronomie movement seems tailor-made for easy-going Amsterdam, with many of the city’s best new restaurants fitting that mould.
A host of new five-star hotels took Amsterdam’s fine dining scene to the next level by inviting reputed Michelin-starred chefs to their restaurants. In their wake, a new generation of chefs with irreverent and novel ideas entered the scene.
Dishing it out
“There’s so much good stuff happening now. Amsterdam is not even remotely similar to the place I moved to 13 years ago,” says American barbeque pitmaster Brandon Woodruff of Pendergast Smokehouse. The financial crisis helped separate the wheat from the chaff. “As the market started to pressurise and prioritise quality, the places that weren’t hacking it closed and it created space for new people to try new things.”
Executive Chef Schilo van Coevorden of posh nouveau-Asian eatery Taiko at the Conservatorium Hotel, explains how we got here: “During the 90’s, the new chefs coming in were often freestyle cooks who didn’t finish their education, because they thought all the establishment chefs did the same kind of food.” They were innovative, but, says Van Coevorden, “inconsistent because they never mastered the basics.” Fast-forward to recent years and “the younger generation now have the proper education – they know how to cook – and that’s why you get the creativity and the style.” Looking forward, he’s hopeful. “We have a history of being creative in many areas – art, design, trade – the only area we have left to step up is the culinary one. Dutch food can become hip if we start creating our own heritage, our own Dutch food culture, to leave behind for the next generation. If the Danes can do it, so can we.”
A taste of Asia
Like all the high-end chefs we recently interviewed, Van Coevorden loves low-end eateries, especially Asian ones, citing Oriental City as having the ‘best Chinese food and dim sum in Amsterdam’. Woodruff also loves their dim sum, adding ‘don’t miss the sticky rice with black mushrooms and pork steamed in a lotus leaf, with tonnes of tea to wash it all down.’ Patron cuisinier at BAK, Benny Blisto, lists his favourite lunch address as New King for its excellent ‘sui kau (shrimp dumplings in chicken broth), and tips Leidseplein’s Taste of Culture as ‘a good place for late night Chinese’, saying it’s ‘a kind of chef’s hangout, well known for its Peking duck with pancakes and hoisin.’
For special occasions chef Nadia Frisina of 5&33 sticks with Amsterdam’s most famous Japanese restaurant, Michelin-starred Yamazato at the Okura hotel in De Pijp for “the hands of the chef, top ingredients, authentic style and simple yet so elegant atmosphere.” Meanwhile, Sidney Schutte, executive chef at 2-Michelin star Librije’s Zusje likes to visit low-key Ramen–Ya by himself, whenever he “feels like a quick bowl of noodles. They are the best in town, with fresh noodles in perfectly made, very tasty, bouillon.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who cooks so much meat, Woodruff likes fish and rice on his days off, and for the best Japanese food, he goes to EN, where “the sake list alone makes it worth a visit,” adding “we usually stick with traditional dishes, which remind us of visits to Japan, with flavours like burdock root and other tsukemono pickles, shiso and fresh, fatty fish served at the perfect temperature.”
Chef Agus Hermawan of Ron Gastrobar Oriental reverts to his roots with Sie-Joe, a cosy restaurant in the centre, where you can lunch on ‘simple nasi or bami goreng that is always tasty and brings back memories of Indonesia’. Woodruff also favours the fries topped with rendang (a coconutty beef stew from Indonesia) at Dum Dum Palace, which he calls “kind of trashy, but absolutely delicious” – and trendsetting.
Breakfast recommendations were harder to come by, but considering the long – and late – hours worked by chefs, Blisto favours “loads of coffee” instead at Pussy Galore, with good coffee from local roastery Stadsbranderij Noord, and Bakhuys, as a “nice place for coffee and sourdough bread.” Hermawan likes the “cosy vibe, fresh food and superlative coffee” at Anne&Max. And, Frisina says the cappuccino at Espressamente Illy is ‘amazing and truly Italian-style’.
Both Hermawan and Van Berlo cited croquettes from Patisserie Holtkamp as the “best local speciality,” while Frisina listed “fish from Volendam, such as smoked mackerel and eel.” Woodruff’s won over by the “broodje bal with mayo and mustard” (a Dutch meatball sandwich) at JWO Lekkernijen and the fries at Doardi, which is first rate in terms of quality and consistency: twice-fried in fresh oil, soft and almost creamy on the inside, crisp on the outside, with the right amount of salt. Add the samurai sauce (fiery Belgian sambal mayo) and you’ve arrived.” Yes, it’s easier than ever to enjoy a good meal in every price category these days. “This is an exciting time to go to Amsterdam restaurants,” says Van Coevorden, “and it’s only going to get better.” Hear hear.
Text: Karin Engelbrecht for A-Mag Amsterdam Magazine March – April 2017