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

Altmann Restaurant and Bar – Trendy Fusion

Update: Restaurant Altmann closed doors at the end of November 2010.

Altmann Restaurant and Bar is old school, classy service in cool, dark leathery decor. The 19th century building, accentuated by a round tower overlooking the Amstel river, is representative. And so is the service, welcoming you outside the door, taking your coat and offering you a cocktail at the bar by the entrance.

dutchgrub altmann - outsidedutchgrub altmann - inside

The inside at Altmann is split into several areas, a bar and lounge by the entrance, the main dining room by the windows towards the Amstel and a slightly elevated area towards the back. The color scheme is stylish black and white illuminated by a very warm, indirect light from many small lamps and candles. Altmann is one of the few places in Amsterdam where you won’t be overdressed. The decor, waiters clad in perfect black and elegant guests make for the perfect surroundings to go out in style.

Like the decor, the menu is trendy, luring fancy diners with a mix of French and Asian cuisine with the occasional Dutch treat. Sashimi with hangop, a traditional Dutch clotted yogurt with lime, giant prawn risotto with Thai tom yam sauce, or beef tenderloin with kimchi and bitterballen, Dutch meat croquettes, oriental style, caught our eyes. We liked  the inventive menu and fresh ingredients, but could have done with more flavor. Several dishes were on the bland side and especially lacking spiciness. You can dine à la carte, opt for the set four course chef’s menu, or go all out with a seven course tasting menu.

dutchgrub altmann - softshell crabdutchgrub altmann - tenderloin with bitterballendutchgrub altmann - tomato bavarois

The service was immaculate. Well dressed, present and with attention to detail. We usually prefer more character and humor but could appreciate the precision and orderliness. Staff is clearly well trained and was happy to inquire with the chef or owner to satisfy these foodies’ inquisitive nature. Credit card payments, online reservation and all other amenities required for a successful formal dinner are available.

Altmann Restaurant and Bar won’t disappoint those looking for quiet, stylish dinner put together with care from select ingredients.
Amsteldijk 25
1074 HS Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 (0)20 6627777
Open: Restaurant closed since late November 2010.
Public Transport: Tram 3, 4, or 25 to Ceintuurbaan / van Woustraat
Cuisine: Fusion
Neighbourhood: De Pijp
Vibe: Trendy
Price: €60 to €100 per person

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

Blue Pepper – Sophisticated Indonesian

Blue Pepper is a contemporary Indonesian restaurant that really stands out from the crowd. Its decor is stylish and yet it attracts an older more settled crowd. It serves rijsttafels (or rice tables), the most popular authentic Dutch/Indonesian dish, but served more elegantly as individual dishes rather than the usual family style. And it’s located near the center but distinctly removed from the tourist crowds.

Blue Pepper opened to much critical acclaim almost 10 years ago. A Michelin star past at restaurant Spandershoeve in the 90s, an Indonesian fusion menu and an über-cool blue decor have earned executive chef Sonja Pereira rave reviews from local critics such as Johannes van Dam and foreign food experts, including Mark Brittman of the New York Times. It’s lost some of its edge over the years but still serves great innovative food.

And indeed it’s blue! Inside, the walls and the ceiling are painted solid marine blue. There’s a blue awning above the window, blue decorations, blue business cards, and a blue website. The blue decor is further highlighted by the cold light from dozens of small halogen lamps and the small, tunnel-like space. We quite liked the cool vibe but can imagine that others may find it oppressive.

blue pepper amsterdam - blue inside

The food was great. Blue Pepper works with prix fixe menus ranging from The Sultan and I, which offers 20 individual dishes at €70, to a lighter and cheaper Summer Special at €44. The dishes are Indonesian with a modern twist as well as some unexpected Western ingredients. We loved the amuse-bouche of chicken won tons, with just the right crunchiness in the crust and lots of different flavors. Monkfish with lemon grass, shrimp with jackfruit and a spicy glass-noodle soup with a quail’s egg were other highlights. Blue Pepper is happy to substitute some red meat dishes and also offers a vegetarian menu upon request. The wine list is short but broad, including several New World options that go well with spicy food as well as expensive Bordeaux wines.

blue pepper amsterdam - chicken won tonblue pepper amsterdam - spicy soup with quail eggblue pepper amsterdam - main course

The service was somewhat sluggish as there was only one waitress serving all guests. But overall we enjoyed the slow pace as the individually served dishes of the menu kept us entertained. The option to pay by credit card, free tap water and air conditioning are other plusses that unfortunately are still not standard everywhere in Amsterdam.

In short, Blue Pepper is right for those looking for a sophisticated high-end dinner that stimulates the eye and excites the taste buds.
Nassaukade 366
1054 AB Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 (0)20 4897039
Open 6pm-10pm, closed on Tuesdays
Public Transport: Tram 7 or 10 to Raamplein, or 5 minute walk from Leidesplein
Cuisine: Indonesian
Neighborhood: West
Vibe: Sophisticated modern
Price: €60 to €100 per person

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

Best Amsterdam Restaurants Closed For Vacation

My list of Best Amsterdam Restaurants is quite popular and I regularly get questions and feedback. Over the last couple of weeks the feedback has been that all best restaurants are closed around late July / early August. And not surprisingly the questions are about where to go instead?

And indeed it looks like most of Amsterdam, including my favorite food destinations are headed to the beach.

  • Balthazar’s Keuken is closed until 17 August
  • De Witte Uyl will be on vacation from 25 July to 18 August
  • Marius is closed for renovations – not sure when it will reopen

The fourth restaurant on the list, De Kas, has been slacking as of late. It’s still a brilliant setting, but food has been less than great, and to be on the list, you have to have it all.

So time for some alternatives. And luckily there are three restaurants that are similar in style and that I have enjoyed very much on several occasions. In general, they are more intimate in style and more innovative in cuisine than the Michelin star restaurants in Amsterdam. And they have great food and friendly, knowledgeable service.

  • Blauw aan de Wal: fixed price menu, fusion cuisine, in the middle of the red light district, great service with character.
  • Hotel de Goudfazant: not a hotel at all, but a very hip industrial restaurant, French menu, in Amsterdam Noord reachable only by ferry.
  • Fyra: slightly more formal but very friendly, with a Dutch / French / International menu.

Sorry about being brief. I am considering to add these restaurants to the list of Best Amsterdam Restaurants and will then have a longer writeup. In the meantime, please ask or provide feedback in the comments if you have been there or intend to go.

Aside from closed restaurants and bike repair shops, the summer has been great. Hope the sun stays around for a bit more!

balthazar's keuken closed for vacation