Sunday, November 16, 2008

Amsterdam Restaurants 2008

Our choice of places to eat and drink in Amsterdam come from past experience, “nosing out”, and the advice of locals. Here are some, in haphazard order.

The most amusing place where we had a drink (one was enough) was outside a bar on the Singel Canal, not far from Centraal Station.

In front of us was a pissoire with perforated ironwork at the occupant’s eye level. It was so popular that one man would often be waiting for another to finish. Next to our bar was a glass-fronted, red and blue lit basement for two ladies – one dressed skimpily and the other in part leather gear. The latter offered, via a notice in the window, S&M services.

Hardly a pedestrian walked by without a glance or two at the ladies. And from the pissoire it was possible to penetrate the perforations with the eye for a good view of the goods on offer. What entertainment it was. Theatre for free.

To really eat a “Dutch “ lunch, you could hardly beat enjoying a raw herring, or shared one, standing at the raw herring stall on the bridge at the start of the Singel Canal near to Centraal Station, and then to cross the road to the Kobalt Cafe. Inside this old warehouse (where presumably they once stored cobalt) are huge and impressive floor-supporting beams that rest upon granite feet. The wooden beams were hued for industrial support rather than for visual finesse.

To choose uitsmijter from the menu would be right and proper. Its fried eggs rest on ham, which rests on slices of plain bread, and all covered with a cheese sauce. Drink beer.

In the Haarlemmerstraat, close by, are two places we would recommend. Stout, on the left, is modern, with modern food, and with fashionable diners.

Beyond Stout on the other side of the road, stands Dulac. Should you think that the interiors of Dutch houses are small, this will surprise you with its large size and minimum use of it. A pink cloth pool table is the focal point. This is surrounded by a theatrical collection of strange structures and objects. Separated at a distance from one another are tables for clients. We dined well off four tapas dishes and a bottle of South African red wine from Franschhoek.

The above places are on the edge of the Jordaan district, which is now smart and fashionable. But when I worked on coasters some 60 years ago it was a slum area where lived the family of the stuurman of our vessel. I remember that we sat on the stairs to peel the skin off smoked eels and to eat the flesh from the bone like sweet corn. We slept on the floor, possibly listening to Johnny Jordaan, who was the popular singer in those days. Times have changed somewhat.

A bar that is light, and where one might read the newspaper, is the aforementioned Kobalt Café. Another is farther away in Spui (pronounced Spow) Centraal. It is Café Hoppe. This ancient bar, that purveyed jenever and much else, is divided into two. You could drink and possibly have a snack under cover outside (bitterballen here is good), or enter the atmospheric darkness inside (the corner one especially) to experience a Holland of the past.

Move to the red-light district, to the left as you leave the Centraal Station, to see a vibrant, exciting and architecturally delightful part of old Amsterdam.

Warmoesstraat runs through its heart and is the most popular, we hear, with gays. But all around are ladies for short rent in gaudily lit windows. They display much of what they have to offer, and might tap on the window to beckon you in.

On the street is an entrance to the “new” Heffer bar. It is an object lesson in clever bar design – colour, lighting and decoration. And to move customers on, it is uncomfortable.

In the same street, at the station end, is a very Dutch restaurant whose chefs specialise in cheese fondue. You can choose from several blends of cheese. The place is called Karbeel, and an excellent and civilised place for lunch or dinner it is, set among some rather seedy establishments.

Returning to central Amsterdam and the Damrak (main street), you will pass the other (old) Heffer bar, just behind the “new” one. This is housed within a defunct customs building. It is not as theatrical as its compatriot nearby, but more comfortable and more “established”. It is a good place for food. But be careful. You might be propositioned by a lady, house relation, who will try to tell you your fortune by numbers. She is persistent. I think I frightened her.

Behind Centraal Station are the landing stages for ferries to the other side of the wide IJ (pronounced Eye) river. And on that other side are two fine places in which to eat – after a nice river crossing – and the ferry crossings are for free.

Take the one that will state on the back of the ferry and on the illuminated sign in front of the landing – NDSM Werf. The trip down river toward the North Sea Canal will pass docks, ships loading and unloading, possibly a liner, a disused submarine and lots of shipping going about its business. This will give you an appetite for a meal or snack at the Kantine, a spacious, light and happy place, at the bottom of what looks like a dull block of flats. You can eat and drink there, watching shipping on the river through high and wide windows. You might well take sunglasses on a sunny day.

When taking the ferry back to the Centraal Station dock, choose the modern variety. There is an older, smaller ferry that simply crosses back and forth across the river, finally depositing you back by the Kantine, from where you set off.

If you take the IJ Plein ferry to cross the river, turn right immediately after disembarking to walk along the riverbank until coming to an orange-coloured building that is the Wilhelmina Dok restaurant. It perches out over the river, putting you right among the shipping. Have your drinks and food outside in summer and inside in winter. It is our favourite restaurant in Amsterdam.

Above are the places where we have enjoyed food and drink. There are not many, but we recommend them.