I have to be honest Amsterdam has never been on top of the list of places I wanted to visit in Europe. In my eyes the city's main pull was easily reduced down to two things - the legalised weed and cafes it is smoked in and the prostitutes standing in their windows for the world to lurk at in the red light district, a perception only further reinforced by the hordes of British stag and hen do groups regularly invading Amsterdam for the weekend to get pissed and high, making the most of precisely those two things.
I am very happy to report however that I got to discover a VERY different Amsterdam to the one I had anticipated and had thus far avoided when I spent a long weekend there, in fact pretty much instantly falling in love with not only Amsterdam as a city but also it's inhabitants. First things first you may wonder why I ended up going at all considering how precious my holiday time is as well as my very limited funds.. Well as it turned out I actually had a long lost uncle living there who I was fortunate enough to reconnect with and who invited me and one of my dearest and nearest friends, Sean, to get to know him and his city a little better. Fortunately for us he ended up living in a pretty kick ass apartment in a super nice albeit canal free neighbourhood about 20 minutes from the centre, right by the Olympic stadium, which meant we already had a pretty sweet start to the trip (plus I also reconnected with one of the only family members I have left which was an added bonus).
I had of course also done my usual research before embarking on any trip to an unknown city in order to avoid bad food and drinks, using my much beloved googledocs to make sure we weren't going to end up in some awful tourist trap and had also been given some awesome tips by friends who had lived in the city and who sang Amsterdam's highest praises. Indeed as we stepped out of my uncle's apartment, slightly bleary-eyed after a 7am flight from Stansted, I couldn't help but very quickly start to agree with them.
In fact with its beautiful array of old brown brick buildings, maintained impeccably over the centuries, and tree lined streets it instantly reminded me of my favourite West and East village neighbourhoods in New York with added picturesque canals (which makes sense seeing as the Dutch were the first to colonise what was to become New York and of course wanted to keep a piece of their old home alive in the new metropolis they were creating). We ended up wandering around those streets for hours soaking up the stunning surroundings. It all felt a lot more calm and spacious than London and every Dutch person who we crossed paths with proved incredibly friendly and forthcoming.
Yes, there are the nightmarish tourist spots akin to Leicester square with added pungent and to me unpleasant smell of weed but they can easily be avoided, especially with my little guide to hand of where to enjoy the best food, drinks and going out Amsterdam has to offer. I for one will definitely be back even if it may not be for the Amsterdam most will anticipate. Amsterdam you beauty, I am so happy I got to discover you for myself!
THE AREA TO EXPLORE @ DE PIJP
All our favourite foodie discoveries on this trip were in De Pijp or 'the Latin quarter' which used to be a very working class residential area but is now full of a cool cafes, restaurants and bars and instantly reminded me of London's Broadway Market or New York's Bedford Avenue. It's where twenty-something locals hang out and start their weekend with good food, wine and company and I could very easily see myself living here. A little tip - check out the daily Albert Cuyp market which forms the centre of the neighbourhood and is a proper market, not some super fancy all organic affair but full of stalls selling some seriously tasty Dutch treats. We found a little bakery stand there by chance that honest to god sold one of the best white chocolate cookies I have ever had in my whole life! Skip Amsterdam's version of Oxford Street, or as Sean called it "Globalisation Street" with it's monotone branches of Zara, Starbucks and the like and head straight to De Pijp. You won't regret it.
I am pretty hard to please when it comes to brunch and in London have felt very uninspired by the available options available, too manic basic avocado toasts being praised as the best thing since sliced bread and sold at ridiculous prices, lacking any imagination or flair when it comes to creating dishes for my favourite mealtime of the day.
That is definitely not the case at this Australian owned spot. Bang in the middle of De Pijp, Little Collins does not only have a cool vibe, whether you manage to get a coveted seat outside or perch on a stool like we did on their bar inside, but also serves some truly outstanding and creative food, prepared with a real passion for ingredients and knack for unusual flavour combinations that will leave you in awe. I went for the halloumi plum toast- a medley of brioche French toast, topped with fresh plums, creme fraiche, summer fruit jam, basil, mint, hazelnut and yes halloumi. And not any halloumi but probably the best halloumi I have ever had, fried to absolute gooey perfection on the inside yet crispy on the outside. I admit the combo may sound weird but once all the flavours hit my tastebuds it was truly one of the best things I have ever eaten. Full stop.
I had to seriously stop myself from returning the next day to sample one of their other equally fantastic sounding brunch options (kimchi waffle with avocado mayo and fried egg or hot smoked salmon with wasabi cream cheese anyone?!) and that is not to say they only do brunch well here, no they have an equally enticing sounding small plates dinner menu which I am equally as keen to try with dishes like tuna tartar with grapefruit and jalapeno salsa already getting my foodie heart racing. Yes, getting your food may take a while here but with service so charming and a menu so bloody brilliant who minds a little wait?! Now I only need Little Collins to open a London branch..
I am always on the look out for a good cup of coffee and being severely sleep deprived due to our very early flight me and Sean instantly went on a hunt for quality caffeine in Amsterdam Friday morning. Located once again in De Pijp, this place instantly won us over with it's minimal Scandi design, from the wood heavy interior to the modern geometric inspired cups. My cappuccino scored top marks with perfectly roasted beans and a frothy finish. The Scandinavian Embassy is the ideal place for a pitstop to plan your itinerary for a day of exploring Amsterdam. I surely will be back to try one of their in-house baked cinnamon buns which was sadly sold out on this occasion.
PROPER DUTCH FRIES (WITH EVEN BETTER DIPS) @ PAR HASARD
Holland is of course famous for their deep fried foods and in particular their fries served with an array of amazing sauces. Being brought up in Germany I am massive fan of condiments, mayo in particular which English people to my dismay don’t seem to appreciate, so I wanted to find the best fries and dips Amsterdam had to offer, ideally also with a proper place to sit down and enjoy them and not just some dodgy junk food stall.
After a bit of research I stumbled across Par Hasard, you may have guessed it once again located in the heart of De Pijp, which seemed to be consistently ranked as the best place to get your deep fried potato fix. And I am happy to report it didn’t fail to deliver! Starting off with some expertly mixed Aperol Spritz’s we got stuck in to the star of the show here, the fries! We shared a medium portion as an afternoon snack but could have easily demolished a large portion between two. Sauces served on the side were outstanding with our favourite being the Satay peanut sauce and mayo combo (sounds weird but is AMAZING) and the tangy tartar sauce but make sure to order a selection of different dips to make the most of the experience. Obviously it’s not the healthiest food but here it is done well so when in Amsterdam you may as well do fries properly!
Sometimes only some proper comfort food will do to cure a hangover and the pizza that De Pizzabakkers served us up after a rather heavy Friday night did a pretty good job of making us feel semi human again. Another De Pijp dining establishment, this branch of a mini chain similar to Pizza Pilgrims in London, serves some seriously authentic, good value pizza and drinks (the spritz's are only a fiver and a glass of prosecco will cost you under 4 euros), accompanied by friendly and above average service. I am not easy to please when it comes to pizza but this ranks in my top 5 eaten outside Italy. My tip: order one topped with their burrata which is added after the baking process, making the topping extra oozy and fresh!
I didn't really expect to go to Amsterdam and have one of the best plates of pasta in my life and I definitely did not expect to find it at a rather unassuming (though cosy looking) restaurant quite a walk away from the city centre in a more residential and less photogenic area of Amsterdam. I mean it came highly recommended by a friend and Yelp reviews seemed to reaffirm this excellence but I was left feeling rather unsure about how exactly our Sunday dinner here was going to pan out as we sat down at one of their outside tables.
One look at the menu however already revealed that this was not your run of the mill Italian restaurant, serving predictable and boring pasta dishes heavy on the meat and cream, but instead offered exciting twists on classics as well as lots of veggie and pescetarian friendly options that got me super excited (and all pasta can also be ordered gluten free HOORAH!). In the end their take on a Carbonara was too tempting for me to not order, in its original form with bacon a dish that I of course usually have to avoid. What made this one different and none-meat eater friendly? Well Eddy Spaghetti uses mackerel instead of bacon to make a damn delicious Carbonara and finishes it all off with a raw egg yolk, courgette and cooked to perfection parpadelle.
This was on par with the type of pasta I had in Italy and proved to be as close as you can get to happiness in a bowl of pasta for me, a feeling shared by Sean towards his plate of linguine in a prawn bisque with fresh mussels. Eddy Spaghetti is an utter hidden gem that local Amsterdammers (if you call them that?) should be very proud to call their own. Worth escaping the centre for.
I love a good cookie and with one of my friends telling me this had been the best cookie of her life on a previous holiday to Amsterdam I obviously made a trip to Van Stapele Koekmakerjj a top priority upon our arrival. Plus you kind of know a place does a thing very well if they only sell that one thing and indeed here all that is baked and sold all day in their tiny shop, bang in the centre of town, are these little doughy pieces of pure joy. Yes, you may have to queue behind some Japanese tourists as this place is no longer under the radar, but the cookie you'll eventually get your hands on for just under 2 euros is SO worth it. Dark chocolate dough that isn't too sweet with a gooey white chocolate centre, served straight out of the oven and still a little warm as you savour each delicious sweet bite by a canal of your choice. I would probably endure the 35 minute Easyjet flight again for that cookie alone so make it a must-try on your trip, just make sure you escape the tourist trap area once you have secured your cookie.
THE PERFECT SPOT FOR DRINKS IN THE SUN @ WATERKANT
As anyone that knows me will tell you I bloody love a rooftop bar especially when considering the lack of outside space in London, offering one of the only ways to really have a drink outdoors without the pollution and crowds. In Amsterdam it's a bit of a different story. With wide streets and lots of green and open spaces there is much more of an opportunity for al fresco drinking and eating, with most cafes and bars offering it. Case in point is Waterkant, a super hip bar that uses the space at the bottom of a disused carpark right by a canal to serve up cheap and delicious cocktails, best enjoyed on one of the benches just by the water ( similar but different to Frank's in London which has it's bar set at the top of an old carpark to leave the not-so-picturesque Peckham surroundings on the ground level behind).
Waterkant doesn't only look damn cool from the outside but is also a hub for young and fun people to start their night out. If you fancy a drink in Amsterdam and the sun is out make this your watering hole of choice, it embodies to me the effortlessly cool and modern vibe of the city and will see you linger there for a good few hours, sipping on one of their excellent Moscow mules.
THE BEST HIP HOP CLUB VIBES IN A COOL SETTING @ PARADISO
It’s not easy to find a good night out in a foreign place especially if you want to avoid anything too trashy. I am massive fan of a good hip hop night and was thus delighted when one of my Dutch DJ friends recommended local clubbing institution Paradiso to me. Housed in a former church Paradiso doesn't only score with it's unique and atmospheric location but also happens to host some pretty amazing gigs and hip hop nights attended by an easy going and cool crowd. Entry may not have been cheap at 15 Euros but I had one of the best nights out in terms of music and vibe in a long, long time. Highly recommended if you want to party in Amsterdam.
A few things that have made my summer that little bit more special so far to inspire you to do the same!
If you are looking for an affordable way to up your interior design game: JUNIQE
I have been a big fan of Juniqe for a while now and they never fail to get me excited with their super cool and diverse range of bed sheets, pillow cases and framed prints which will liven up even the most boring of dwellings. I am currently obsessed with my new cactus print bed sheets and David Hockney inspired pool print adorning the blank wall behind my sofa, after all it;s good to change things up once in a while and Juniqe is the perfect place to find unique touches for your room that won't cost a fortune and are fun and design driven at the same time!
As anyone following this blog will know I bloody love a good accessory and have a particular weakness not only for ridiculously heavy and over the top earrings, slowly but surely destroying my poor earlobes, but have also amassed a rather big collection of sunglasses over the years which I still manage to expand every summer with a few new extravagant pairs.We do not get the sun here in full force very often so I think why not make a real statement with a pair of sunnies to finish off a look during the few months that we can without look slightly demented!
This year I was lucky enough to stumble across three brands that I particularly love for their distinctive designs and which have quickly become staple additions to my summer wardrobe.
Quay Australia are known for their affordable yet fashion forward sunglasses and this season I am obsessed with their pink and purple ombre effect cat eye style 'All My Love' while Alien Shades' pink and very 90's leaning LA LA design with a hint of Barbie are super fun and dress up even the simplest of summer ensembles. My favourite new pair of the season however have to be Paname Eyewear's super statementy winged sunnies in black and brown (available at Boxpark pop up store Couco in Shoreditch) which add real drama to any outfit especially when combined with an equally statement-worthy pair of earrings. One thing is certain, these wont be the last sunglasses purchased by me this summer but for now they are definitely my new favourites.
I have been a fan of The Bach ever since it opened around the corner from my flat a few months ago, it, more often than not, rescuing me from even the worst of hangovers with a portion of their incredible corn fritters to takeaway, picked up by me to devour in bed in a certain state of disarray and not a smidgen of make up on my face, and always managing to make me feel semi alive again. To my delight they recently also added an evening menu to their repertoire and with that a short and sweet selection of cocktails which on a sunny day can be enjoyed at one of their outside tables overlooking Hoxton street.
To make things even better you can not only book a table here on a Friday night for drinks and actually get one, basically unheard of in London especially when the sun is out, but they also have a rather fantastic happy hour on from 6pm to 8pm where it is buy one get one free for all cocktails on the menu. Offering all the classics, from a stellar margarita to an exceptional espresso martini, these aren't some watered down soft drinks posing as cocktails, no they very much hold their own when compared to the supposedly best cocktail bars in town I have drunk at before. Service was also fantastic and I will be sure to make the most of this spot during sunny eves this summer before the rest of London finds out what a hidden gem this is!
If you want proper Italian pasta delivered to your front door : COZZO PIZZERIA
Maybe it's the lingering memories of my fantastic recent trip to Rome or maybe it's because I have been watching too much Master Of None over the last few weeks (anyone that has watched this brilliant TV show will of course know that Aziz Ansari's character Dev has a slight obsession with all things paaaaaaaaasta) but I have been having a real craving for this fabulous form of carb over the last few weeks, also triggering my recent visit to and review of the fantastic Padella in Borough Market.
However ordering pasta via ubereats or Deliveroo had more often than not left me pretty disappointed in the past, the overcooked and under-flavoured dishes delivered nothing like the amazing pasta I so craved, which is why I was even more surprised how good Cozzo turned out to be. Funnily enough I had walked past the actual restaurant many many times before, it being on my direct walk home from the gym, and had always thought it looked pretty legit yet never actually made it inside to eat.
Now I can't vouch for the service or atmosphere of eating there but my king prawn linguine with chillis and fresh tomatoes was pretty flawless, of course not quite like having it in a tiny roman trattoria but absolutely satisfying, fresh and with a homemade and authentic feel that already has me excited to try more of their pasta option. A new delivery favourite and a restaurant I'd also eventually like to eat at! Let my pasta obsession continue!