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When I was five or six, my parents took me to London to see the musical Cats. It was quite possibly the first time I’d ever been to the theatre, and it was a magical experience that has stayed with me ever since. I could still remember my anguish as the faded Glamour Cat poured her heart into Memory, and my sheer joy at the energy of Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat. I must have gone on about it a lot, even in my 30s, because for Christmas Mr Foodie gave me two tickets to the production currently playing at the RAI Theatre in Amsterdam. It’s the original English version that was performed in the West End for over 20 years – and it’s in Amsterdam for just three weeks. I was, as you can imagine, beside myself with joy.
To make the most of our theatre evening, we decided to catch an early dinner at The Roast Room – a spaciously grand grill restaurant at the northern end of the RAI complex. Downstairs, you can order bar food and the night we were there it was packed – the RAI evidently provides a constant crowd of theatre goers and conference visitors. But upstairs, you can make a reservation at the rotisserie – it was significantly calmer, so I was thankful we had.
The Butcher’s Platter at The Roast Room, Amsterdam RAI
The menu is predominated by steaks, but you can also order various other meat and fish options – The Roast Room is catering to a wide audience. We, however, decided to go classic and order the Butcher’s Platter – a selection of ribeye, flank steak and sirloin. I’d heard good things about The Roast Room a few months ago when I’d been doing research for an article about steakhouses, so I had high hopes. And the flank steak (on the left in the picture) lived up to them: flavoursome, juicy, and tender to the teeth. The other two, however, were disappointing – the ribeye in particular was tough and tasteless, while it was the cut I’d usually expect to like the most.
As sides, we tried the fries with tarragon mayonnaise, which were good but could’ve done with being fluffier in the centre (there is such a thing as being too crispy). Meanwhile, the roasted pumpkin with Brussels sprouts and bacon was fine, but why use sliced bacon instead of crunchy lardons?
We only had one glass of wine each (although admittedly it was a Californian Pinot Noir and the second most expensive red by the glass) and dinner came to €50 each including a tip. For one course, with one glass of wine. I don’t remember when Amsterdam got this expensive, but I can understand why some of the Dutch feel they’re being forced out of the city. Fortunately, Rum Tum Tugger, Magical Mr Mistoffelees and their Jellicle friends made me forget all about it… Cats, you bring back memories – in every sense.
I’d venture to say that most British people over the age of 30 grew up on Maris Piper potatoes. During my childhood in the Berkshire ‘burbs, we ate potatoes at least five nights a week – baked, roasted, but mostly boiled. Pasta and rice were exotic ingredients in the ‘80s – potatoes were the staple of families headed up by the baby boomer generation. And Maris Piper was the default variety.
So it was with a mixture of surprise and familiarity that I discovered a restaurant by the same name in Amsterdam. I mentioned it to some Dutch colleagues, and they’d never heard of the potato variety so I’m fairly sure that Maris Piper doesn’t have the same history in Holland that it does in the UK. I was intrigued… Not only about the name, but also because the brains behind this restaurant are the same as those behind Breda – one of my long-time favourites in Amsterdam. And while I hadn’t been quite as enamoured with their second venture, Guts & Glory, I was curious to give another of their restaurants a try.
First, the location: Maris Piper is on a doomed corner along Frans Halsstraat – “doomed” because I’ve seen half a dozen different restaurants come and go from the same spot over the last decade. None of them have lasted. It’s hard to understand why – de Pijp is full of locals and tourists at any time of year, and the building looks designed to be a brasserie. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work, but many businesses have tried and failed. Maris Piper, too, has stuck to the traditional brasserie layout and décor in its restaurant – and it certainly looks the part.
The menu also reads like a French brasserie card: A3 format with boxes featuring an abundant choice of classics like oysters, steak tartar, Caesar salad and poussin, as well as Dutch influences like herring and smoked eel. The wine list is extensive – and expensive. We ordered a €35 bottle of Brachetto and it was the cheapest on the list of reds. But I’m ok with that if the overall experience delivers on value.
Octopus and (Maris Piper?) potatoes
We ordered two dishes to share as starters: octopus and burrata. The octopus came grilled, and served with discs of potato (presumably of the Maris Piper variety) and a dressing made of the octopus’ ink plus a few unidentifiable crunchy bits. It tasted fine, but the portion size was small and the octopus itself not as tender and flavoursome as it could’ve been. Meanwhile, the burrata was nothing special either: I missed that buffalo flavour, and it came swimming in a watery dressing laced with basil oil, plus a few chopped tomatoes and olives for good measure. Again, there was nothing wrong with it, but for the price (€14.50 for the burrata, €17.50 for the octopus), I’d have expected more – either more food or more oomph.
I’d ordered the Zeeuwse spek as a main course, which was succulent braised pork belly served with a little parcel of sauerkraut wrapped in savoy cabbage. Flavour-wise, this was probably the best dish – there just wasn’t much of it. To make up for it, we got three side dishes to share: Maris Piper chips, baby broccoli and barbecued cabbage. The latter tasted like it had been cooked in advance and reheated – the cabbage leaves had a slightly stale quality to them, although it was masked to some extent by the beurre blanc. The broccoli were primped with pine nuts, but were let down by an overly vinegary dressing.
Maris Piper’s Zeeuwse spek
After that, we cut our losses and got the bill, which came to €150 for three of us. I have no problem paying €50 for dinner, but this felt like too much given the portion sizes and the fact that we only shared two starters and one bottle of wine between us. I’d have expected more bang for my euro-buck. And while it’s easy to end up over-paying for food in Amsterdam, I was especially disappointed given the restaurant team’s Breda pedigree. Perhaps that location really is doomed after all…
I arrived at the Harbour Club in Zeeburg in typical Amsterdam style: by bike, no heels, very little make-up and pretty unsexy clothing. You know, just an average dinner out in a city where image isn’t really a thing. I realised my mistake as soon as my ballet-pump-clad feet hit the red carpet and I laid eyes on the woman who would escort us to the bar. She had heels like the Matterhorn and a cleavage like sugar-loaf mountains. It’s not often that I’m out of my element in restaurants, but on this occasion I’d seriously misjudged the situation.
Still, crashing on, we downed a gin & tonic for Dutch courage and made our way over to our booth. It was slightly elevated and looked out over the rest of the enormous red-lit restaurant – which was just as well since it was full of guests dressed much like the hostess, and afforded a perfect opportunity for people watching. The waiting staff were every bit as glamorous as the guests (I can only assume it’s one of the Harbour Club’s hiring criteria), which was great for as long as I could forget how woefully underdressed I was.
The Harbour Club Amsterdam East on a Saturday night…
But ok, the food! The Harbour Club’s menu concept should probably be described as “fusion sharing”. There’s a strong Japanese component, mixed in with various European notes, and the quality of the ingredients was pretty impeccable. Then again, you’d expect that for the price tag. We started with beef tataki and tuna tacos. The beef was perfectly seared, had a heavy hit of yuzu and plenty of crunchy daikon – fresh, clean and flavoursome. The tacos were a big win, too – a limey, creamy sauce but with more yuzu flavour rather than the kimchi advertised on the menu.
The Harbour Club’s tuna tacos
Next up came a small but exquisite sushi plate, featuring three types of ultra-fresh sashimi; a maki roll topped with foie gras and a tiny pipette of something umami and delicious; and seared salmon nigiri with teriyaki sauce.
Moving away from the Asian theme, the following dishes included mushroom risotto (hard to judge when you don’t eat mushrooms), veal sweetbreads (which were meltingly tender), and a fish dish served in black rice with a smooth beurre blanc sauce that was very well executed.
A punchy plate of beef tataki
Dessert was impossible to photograph (the lighting was pure red light district by this point) but the clue was in the title: “The Chocolate Dream”. Brownies, ice creams, chocolate sauce, truffles and cones of pure dark chocolate… a gazillion calories all presented on a long wooden board that was oozing with so much chocolate indulgence that the waiter had to put a tea towel underneath it to catch the drips. I couldn’t help but think that not a single one of the Kardashian lookalikes in the restaurant would ever eat that many calories in a week – let alone the half hour it took us to decimate it. (Then again, no one trusts a skinny foodie.)
I’d been invited as a guest of The Harbour Club so we didn’t pay for our meal, but I totted up what we ate afterwards based on the menu on their website and it would’ve come to over €200 for the two of us. The food was certainly good quality, but the service wasn’t what I’d expect for that amount of money – I had the feeling the waiters would rather gaze at each other than notice what their customers might be needing. With that being said, the music was good (the Harbour Club employs its own DJ) and the atmosphere fun if you fancy a glammed-up girls night out. Just don’t forget to take a taxi and channel your inner Kardashian…
An Iranian blogger friend of mine (DishTales – you might know his fabulous food photography) told me long ago about the best Iranian restaurant in Amsterdam (or at any rate, his favourite): De Aardige Pers. He warned me that it wasn’t much to look at, and I remember him saying I should wear my baggy pants and fast for several hours beforehand since there was no way I was getting out of there anything other than food-baby full.
My first mistake was stopping at Razmataz for a glass of wine and a hapje with a friend beforehand. The lesson here: do not eat for at least four hours (more if you can manage it – I can’t) before stepping foot inside De Aardige Pers. My second mistake was not having done any research at all about Iranian food – and with a long menu, I didn’t know where to start. This, however, was easily rectifiable: a kindly waiter (who might have been the owner) took pity on us and recommended various dishes that would give us a good introduction to Iranian food.
The three starters at De Aardige Pers were already a meal in themselves…
First came a house selection of three starters: two involved aubergine, but one was a sort of tomato/egg scramble, and the other involved crispy fried onions and two secret sauces: a fragrant, herbal-tasting one and a creamy/yoghurty one. In the middle was a sort of spinach frittata. I wish I could tell you the names of any of this stuff, but just trust me and ask for the trio of dishes at the bottom of the first page of the menu. They are all served with olives, a selection of fresh herbs, Iranian cheese and pillowy-soft flatbreads with which to mop everything up.
Next came a mixed grill that was heavy on lamb (there were both lamb kofte kebabs and succulent slices of lamb loin) plus chicken that tasted like it had been cooked in lemon and saffron. The meat (which was enough to feed a small army) came with simple but perfectly cooked rice and roasted tomatoes. We only managed to finish half of it, but our earlier saviour boxed up the rest and let me take it home. I still haven’t finished all the leftovers, and I even ended up freezing some. Mr DishTales had clearly been right – and I can’t exactly claim he didn’t warn me…
For the meat lovers: mixed grill of lamb and chicken
The whole meal, washed down with half a litre of perfectly drinkable Shiraz, set us back just over €30 per person. Which is possibly the best value I’ve experienced in Amsterdam in quite some time. Couple that with the friendly service (I have no idea if De Aardige Pers is family-run, but it feels like it is) and you’ve got a winning combination. The only kicker? I lived about a kilometre from this place for over a decade and never knew it was there… Now I live on the other side of the city – gutted.