No visit to any European city is complete without tasting the local delicacies; and Amsterdam is of course no different. When you go for one or two (or three drinks) and the 8% Belgian beers begin to take their toll, bitterballen is the answer. Tourists are not exactly sure what is in them. You’re told that the traditional Dutch pub snack is a deep fried meatball, but just don’t ask any questions and wolf them down; you’ll thank yourself in the morning!
On a Saturday, you might like to stroll around the many food markets that are situated around Amsterdam; my favourite is in the Jordaan. While there, have a taste of a Hollandse nieuwe haring (or raw herring) if you dare! There’s a certain technique – put your head back, hold the fish by the tail and dunk it whole into your mouth, follow the locals lead and you’ll get the hang of it, and make sure you have a Stroopwafel to hand, you’ll need it after!
I lived in Holland for a year, and although I lived in Leiden, I visited Amsterdam a lot. The city is as famous for its restaurant and bar scene as it is for it’s local delicacies. I’ve set out my favourites below, to help you cut through the noise before visiting the city.
Brunch need not be only be a weekend activity in Amsterdam, you’ll find that the Dutch are so chilled they’re happy to sit back and have a coffee mid morning, any day of the week. Follow their lead, put your feet up and go with the flow in the fantastic brunch option provided below.
This bar/café is right in the centre of De 9 Straatjes (The 9 Streets), and so offers a perfect spot for some serious people watching while you sip on your cappuccino and BLT. Also known as the place with no name; the address is in the title. You can expect the usual brunch favourites – eggs benedict and omelettes until midday, accompanied by delicious fresh OJ or a serious Bloody Mary to kickstart your day after a night (and early morning) of dancing in the Jordaan. Lunch is served in the afternoon and their truffle mayo (included in the Chicken sandwich) or Asian Duck Salad are to die for; give them a try!
SLA, Ceintuurbaan 149 and Westerstraat 34
For those looking for a healthy but scrumptious lunch option, you couldn’t go far wrong with “Sla.” This trendy establishment is great for vegans or for those seeking out gluten free options; you’ll find healthy salads galore, delicious fresh juices and other light dishes to choose from.
I only lived in Holland for a year, but every week it seemed like there was another great eatery popping up. With so many to choose from, it can be difficult to pick a winner but you’re guaranteed a great meal and brilliant atmosphere in any of the options below.
Restaurant RED, Keizersgracht 954
If a bit of luxury is what you’re after, this is place for you; the only menu options are steak or lobster (or both if you’re eyes are bigger than your belly)! Expect white table clothes, silver service and a trendy (ironically, green) interior! Make sure to book well in advance, this is a popular choice.
Daadler, Lindengracht 90
I absolutely loved this restaurant, it’s a top-notch, modern fine dining experience in a casual atmosphere; but the food is far from it. Granted the interior might not be to everyone’s taste; it’s an old style café bar type establishment but with the only choice that you have to make being whether you want a 4, 5, 6 or 7 course tasting menu, I can assure you that you won’t leave feeling disappointed (or hungry)!
Guts & Glory, Utrechtsestraat 6
Much the same concept as Daalder, Guts and Glory is a very new addition to the Amsterdam restaurant scene, and is also a fantastic option. Each month, the menu is themed, for example in May the theme is “Vegetables,” and for April it was “Pork.” There’s nothing stuffy about this place, the interior is cool and modern, if you ask for a seat downstairs you’ll be able to watch the chefs at work, and the tables are well spaced out allowing you to have a chat in private. The tasting menu offerings are creative and are paired with a stellar wine list.
Spaghetteria, van Woustraat 123 and Jan Hanzenstraat 32
Spaghetteria has two locations – one situated in Amsterdam West on Jan Hazenstraat and the other in Amsterdam East on van Woustraat. I much prefer the restaurant at Amsterdam West, its larger and has a much livelier atmosphere but both are great and if its something more intimate you’re after, the restaurant in Amsterdam East is for you. Be aware that in both locations you share one large dining room style table with other diners, but it won’t stop you having a private chat.
The menu is simple – five pasta dishes, but they are so well done and the ingredients are of the highest quality, house wines are of a very high standard and the desserts are to die for (the best tiramisu I have ever tasted, and that’s saying something)! It is much more casual than any of the other options, but won’t break the bank!
The service is also absolute top class and the waiters are up for a good laugh with diners! It became one of my favourite places to visit in Amsterdam, while it’s slightly out of town, and so you would need to jump on a tram, if you’re looking for a relaxed bite to eat this is a place you need to visit. It’s not possible to reserve a table, so just turn up, wait for 10-15 minutes with a glass of wine and enjoy the experience.
From traditional “brown cafes” to upmarket cocktail bars, there’s something to tickle everyone’s fancy in Amsterdam. Make sure to check out a few of the places below during your trip!
The Hoxton, Herengracht 255
You might have already been lucky enough to visit the sister hotel, also “The Hoxton” named after the East London area in which its based. This is one heck of a swanky and very trendy hotel and its bar area won’t let you down. It’s a great location to relax and have a pre-dinner cocktail or G&T or to visit later in the evening when you can dance to whatever beats are being blared from the speakers. The cocktails are top quality (particularly the espresso martinis) and the house wines are also great; the malbec on offer is my favourite! Make sure to visit the bathrooms during your visit – they’re rather cool!
Bar Oldenhof, Elandsgracht 84
This cool establishment is set right in the middle of the trendy Jordaan district and is a world away from the average brown café. It’s a speakeasy that’s like a small slice of the past, so ring the doorbell (wait for five minutes or so) and feel like you’ve gone back to the Jazz Age. The low-lit bar is furnished with smart leather armchairs, a fireplace, acres of velvet and wood, and of course a piano (it wouldn’t be a jazz bar without it). Service is similarly sophisticated and cocktails are top notch (you’d like to think so, with some costing up to 20 Euros), but it’s worth it. Bar Oldenhoff is a place of sanctuary and calm and after a busy day of wandering the streets of Amsterdam there’s no better place to relax.
Café Papeneiland, Prinsengracht 2
Papeneiland is by far my favourite brown café in all of Amsterdam. It’s a tiny corner bar in the centre of the Jordaan district. In the winter the friendly staff will make you a stellar Irish coffee which you can enjoy sitting in the romantic surroundings under the fairy lights or enjoy a Belgian beer on their small terrace during the scorching summer months. Whatever the weather, you can be sure on a Saturday afternoon that this place will be filled with locals and absolutely hopping!
Having spent a period working in the communications industry, Lewis is now a lawyer by trade. His work and travels have seen him visit and live in many far flung locations – Washington, Paris and London to name a few. Lewis has spent the last year wandering the streets of Leiden and Amsterdam, where he was studying for a masters degree and where he enjoyed trying out some of the local delicacies (raw herring wasn’t one of them)! In his down time, Lewis enjoys “caravaning” in County Fermanagh, fine dining in the cities that he’s visited and getting out and about with friends.