Ron Gastrobar – Michelin Quality Without The Formality

Respect, Ron. Great move!

Ron Blaauw is one of the most prolific Dutch chefs and one of the few to be decorated with two Michelin stars in Amsterdam. He maintained those stars for many years, first in picturesque Ouderkerk aan de Amstel just outside the city, then in Amsterdam proper after his move there.

And then he did the unthinkable: He closed [Dutch] down the two Michelin star restaurant, only to re-open the next day at the same location, but with a different, less formal, menu and setting. And it worked beautifully!

We’ve been on the record for preferring smaller, more personal, less formal and possibly more daring restaurants to the Michelin stars, especially those in hotels. So we were very pleased about the news and eager to try out the all new Ron Gastrobar. And we were not disappointed!

ron gastrobar - restaurant and garden

The setting is chic and classy but not formal. The gastrobar takes no reservation, so we just walked in and were welcomed by the young and hip waiting staff. We were quickly shown our table and once seated happy to be greeted by the bartender. He came up with some great suggestions based on our preferences, not settling for safe choices but daring to pitch the unusual and set us up with a “Four More Years”, supposedly invented for Obama’s re-election and nicely combining gin, bubbly egg white and green sencha tea leaves. The cocktail plus the bread in a paper bag with nutty butter and pickles made us feel quite relaxed and inspired.

ron gastrobar - bread in paper bag ron gastrobar - cocktail

Like the setting, the menu is very different from the formal Michelin style. It’s basically two pages of dishes at € 15,= each that you can mix and match any way you want. The dishes are a mix of French classics like oysters or a steak tartare, Asian dishes including sushi and also some fusion plates such as a Wagyu burger or grilled Chinese cabbage with marrow and sage.

We went with two dishes per person, which was sufficient but left room for dessert.

Another thing that we liked much better than at most Michelin star restaurants is the wine list. It’s much more modern with many interesting new world wines rather than pages of Bordeaux wines.

The desserts are a similar mix of French classics and Asian influences, as well as cheese from our favorite cheese store L’Amuse just down the road.

Overall, the food was great, in no way less quality than the Michelin star predecessor. And we loved the casual atmosphere, service with a fun attitude and modern menu. Let’s hope this is a new trend!
Sophialaan 55hs
1075 PB Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 (0)20 49 61 943
Open Monday to Sunday from 5:30pm.
Public transport: Tram 2 to Amstelveenseweg
Cuisine: French International
Neighborhood: South
Vibe: Stylish
Price: €50 to €75 per person

Restaurante Madrid Amsterdam

We have always missed a good tapas restaurant in Amsterdam. Until we heard of Restaurante Madrid in Amsterdam West. Located on the corner of Bellamystraat and Ten Katestraat, not exactly one of the foodie neighborhoods of town, Madrid delivers: A typical Spanish interior with wooden furniture, lots of wine and ham on display and colorful artwork. A friendly Spanish waiting staff that knows and loves Spanish cuisine. A menu that has all the tapas classics as well as some lesser known specialties. And last but not least well executed dishes across the board.

On one of the few pleasant evenings of this summer, we sat outside and eagerly poured over the menu. Making decisions wasn’t easy with too many of the tapas and pinchos sounding appealing. Luckily the waitress was more than happy to help out with recommendations and while doing so also set us up with an incredibly fruity Priorat wine that wasn’t on the wine list. We love restaurants that go the extra mile to make their guests happy and Restaurante Madrid certainly came through!

As for the tapas, we went with a large selection to share and let us sample as many as possible. We especially liked the classics. The Iberico ham was very smooth, the bacalao had great flavor and the patatas bravas a perfect sauce. Of the specials, the marinated pork with white beans and the chorizo in dough hit the spot.

Over a second bottle of the Priorat we started chatting with the next table, a group of Spaniards living in the neighborhood that had discovered Restaurante Madrid recently and quickly became regulars. When leaving, they asked us to keep the secret about this great restaurant as to not spoil a good thing.
Bellamystraat 11
1053BM Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 (0)20 4899375
Public Transport: Trams 7 or 17 to Ten Katestraat
Cuisine: Tapas
Neighborhood: West
Vibe: Tasteful
Price: €50 per person

Madelief Amsterdam – Old-Fashioned Love for Food and Wine

Dutch-Belgian couple Madelief and Jean Michel, the owners, describe Madelief as the slowest restaurant in the Netherlands. They want you to take the time to savor the flavors and enjoy your company. And they do their utmost to make you feel at home for an evening of traditional French dishes and wine.

You might actually need some patience locating Madelief, off the beaten path in a residential street near Vondelpark, and marked only by a small table with a lantern and a chalkboard in the window with the daily specials. The inside is decorated sparsely, with bare brick walls, simple chairs and tables, visible cabling and the sliding mechanism of the bathroom door equipped with a big old jar filled with salt as counterweight. While simple, the decor is welcoming due to a lot of personal touches and eye for detail like your name written on a small chalkboard to hold your reservation. Everything puts you in the mood for slow food, although the chairs felt somewhat uncomfortable at the end of a long dinner.

Having found our table, we were generously welcomed with an aperitif of pear cider and an amuse of very flavorful local North Sea shrimp. The menu is small and distinctly French. And the host was happy to help us navigate between paté and fois gras and suggest the right wines, of which a few special ones were not on the list.

By now we had nicely settled down into slow food mode. And the starters of scallops with a wonderfully creamy saffron risotto and paté with quail and onion confit were well worth the wait. The many distinct flavors came together perfectly. The mains were equally satisfying. A well prepared monkfish with a smooth buttery sauce and, the highlight, quail filled with fois gras and an intense truffle sauce. Only for professionals, the menu had stated, and Madelief certainly had managed to get amazing flavors going in this dish. We loved the food, but would caution vegetarians and people with a distaste for fois gras against Madelief.

Madelief is not for everyone, and that’s exactly how the hosts intend it to be. But if you are a foodie who enjoys traditional cooking and loves to take their time savoring their flavors, you must venture out to Zocherstraat and pay Madelief and Jean Michel a visit. Ask them for recommendations and let them guide you through a slow paced evening of wining and dining.

Madelief (no website)
Zocherstraat 10
1054 LX Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 (0)20 6122000
Public Transport: Tram 1 to Overtoomsesluis
Cuisine: French
Neighbourhood: West
Vibe: Slow
Price: €70 per person

Bistrot Neuf – New Hot Spot with Classic French Menu

Right upon entering, bistrot neuf grabs you with a charming mix of buzz and bottles. There is a very present energy as you enter from busy Haarlemmerstraat, passing by the open kitchen located by the entrance, squeezing past other guests and personnel in the densely furnished dining room. At the same time, there’s a great sense of old fashioned love for food and wine as you find yourself surrounded by endless racks of wine bottles, bare brick walls in earthy colors and the specials of the day written on the blackboard.

bistrot neuf amsterdam - inside

bistrot neuf is all about wine: the restaurant works together closely with wine store Chabrol next door, has a substantial list of close to 100 different wines, of which more than 80 are available by the glass, and makes a specific wine suggestion for each dish on the menu. We decided on sharing a bottle and found the waiter very knowledgeable about all wines and comfortable at making non-standard suggestions. We ended up with a surprisingly multi-faceted Côtes du Rhône that required frequent refills.

In true French brasserie spirit, bistrot neuf works with a fixed price choice menu, which is a great deal at € 29,- for a starter, main and dessert. And the menu is classic French too with starters like onion soup and snails Bourgogne style, mains like Boeuf Bourguignon and Cassoulet, and all time favorites Crème brûlée and Mousse au chocolat for dessert. We loved the homemade pâté with cornichons, which was coarse and fresh. The mussels for main were also great, making us slurp up every last bit. The duck was cooked just right but lacking flavor.

bistrot neuf amsterdam - patebistrot neuf amsterdam - musselsbistrot neuf amsterdam - duck

Service was a little on and off. Our table wasn’t ready when we got there, but it was quickly arranged. We got great advice for the wine, but had to wait quite a while to get menus. Overall staff seemed competent and friendly but also somewhat hurried and at their limit to keep everything running smoothly.

bistrot neuf has quickly become one of the places to be. It has established itself as one of Amsterdam’s hot spots in less than half a year and getting a reservation has already gotten harder. So go there soon and enjoy the wine and liveliness.
Haarlemmerstraat 9
1013 EH Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 (0)20 400 32 10
Open every day 12pm to 11pm
Public Transport: Tram 1, 2, 5, 13, or 17 to Martelaarsgracht
Cuisine: French
Neighbourhood: Jordaan
Vibe: Busy
Price: €35 to €55 per person

A slightly modified version of this article also appeared in the November edition of Amsterdam Magazine – Beyond Windmills, Wooden Shoes and Weed.

Blauw aan de Wal – Great Food, Amsterdam Style

The red light district is certainly one of the main attractions of Amsterdam. It would appear just as certain that it’s the neighborhood to avoid when looking for great food. And that’s the charm of Blauw aan de Wal – amazingly good food and friendly service in the least likely yet most characteristic part of Amsterdam.

Blauw aan de Wal is indeed located right in the heart of the most sinful part of the city. And you will be surprised just how pretty and quaint it is when you finally find Blauw, just across the canal from Casa Rosso and through a graffiti plastered alleyway. The building is centuries old, located behind a tranquil courtyard that makes a great terrace in the summer, and split into a more rugged lower part with bare brick walls and a more modern upstairs dominated by a modern, white chic.

blauw aan de wal amsterdam - red light districtblauw aan de wal amsterdam - upstairs dining room

What we liked best of a great evening was the fantastic service: Highly attentive, extremely knowledgeable, with a good dose of humor and the attitude of a passionate foodie. The tone was set perfectly right from the start when we were asked whether “we had had a chance to inform them about our presence in advance” and were promptly offered an aperitif wine with the “freshness of a glass of Schweppes”. The staff, including owner Bert, magnificently anticipated our every need, be it taking orders, refilling our wine glasses or answering random questions of curious foodies. They knew everything about every dish and wine, took the time to explain all details, and were not afraid to make unusual suggestions. And best of all, the staff seemed to have as great time as the guests!

The formula at Blauw aan de Wal is a three-course choice menu for € 55,=. There’s usually a choice of three starters, two mains and two desserts. The cuisine is an interesting mix of Mediterranean and Asian with a touch of Dutch. The wine list is dominated by French and German wines, including some unusual grapes and smaller, organic vineyards.

blauw aan de wal amsterdam - three course menublauw aan de wal amsterdam - vitello tonato

We absolutely loved our food, starting off with what Bert described as Blauw’s own interpretation of Vitello Tonnato – veal rolled up with sashimi grade tuna and just a bit of tarragon flavored mayonnaise. The mackerel tartar was great, too.

For mains we went with lamb in an herb crust with sweetbread that was very well executed. The lamb was tender and intense. The crust provided freshness and texture. And the sweetbread a prefect, succulent balance. The other main, halibut, was also very good. Blauw aan de Wal tries to provide options, but might not be an easy choice for vegetarians and pescetarians.

The dessert choices were flan with candied fruit and chocolate mousse with amarena cherries. The coffee was good and the free of charge sip of sweet red dessert wine was a nice touch.

blauw aan de wal amsterdam - lamb and sweetbreadblauw aan de wal amsterdam - flan with candied fruit

Overall, dinner was excellent. The location is a unique blend of Amsterdam’s insidious and picturesque sides. The food is very well executed and interesting while maintaining a welcome simplicity. And most notably, the service is stellar, which unfortunately is still unusual in Amsterdam.

The only downside of Blauw aan de Wal is a web site that has been “under construction” for quite a while. It would be nice to know the menu in advance and be able to make reservations on line. But for, don’t be deterred, and just give them a call and they’ll certainly be happy to help.

Blauw aan de Wal
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 99
1012 DD Amsterdam
Tel: +31-20-3302257
Open Tuesday – Saturday 18:00 to 23:30
Trams 4, 9, 16, 24 and 25 to Dam. Or walk from Central Station.

Pizza di Pino Amsterdam

Pino’s wine store near Hoofddorpplein is quickly turning into a complete source of Italian drink, food and lifestyle.

Pino opened his store on Haarlemmermeerstraat about a year ago. He started by offering a great selection of Italian wines, built through many years as a wine supplier to many great Italian restaurants in the Netherlands, and then also made available directly to consumers.

I was very happy when Pino added freshly prepared take-away pasta to his selection, providing quality meals at a very affordable € 5,= per person. Next to good food, there was always a great story to be shared and some excellent wine to be tasted and I quickly became a regular. Little did I know that things would get even better.

Two weeks ago I went for pasta and ended up with an amazing burrata, imported directly from Italy by Pino along with tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and all the other ingredients he needs for his pasta. Since burrata must be fresh, it’s not available every day. But make sure you ask for it when you stop by!

Last Friday, Pino added two pizza ovens to the kitchen and hired a pizzaiolo to work alongside the pasta chef. Which means you can now also enjoy freshly made take away pizza. Starting at € 6,50 there is a number of standard pizzas like margarita and funghi, as well as more interesting varieties like San Daniele with cured ham or Buffalina.

I’m very happy about this and as you can see from the photo, Pino is very proud of his pizza ovens and peel!

pizza di pino amsterdam