When I visited the Netherlands earlier this year, I wanted to carefully plan where to eat in Amsterdam. Sometimes I chose by location. Other times, I wanted to satisfy my inner foodie. Not familiar with Dutch cuisine, I had no idea what to expect. On my visit I discovered that while Dutch cuisine, even at a Michelin-starred restaurant, embraces different ingredients and styles than I’m used to, the food can be delicious.
You can’t go wrong with any of the below. From Michelin-starred restaurant to casual bar, each offers quintessentially Dutch ingredients prepared in a style unique to the establishment.
Not surprisingly, the Michelin-starred Rijks ended up my favorite dining experience of the trip. Attached to the Rijksmuseum but also accessed through a separate entrance, Rijks embraces cuisine as art, both for the eye and the tastebuds. The chef features local ingredients and even uses herbs and petals from the garden across the way.
We decided on lunch at Rijks as a break between stints at the Rijksmuseum. Because the day was sunny and warm, the hostess seated us outside under an umbrella on the sunken patio. Surrounded by flower beds humming with bees (if you are allergic, ask to be seated away from them or inside), we settled back with our glasses of white wine to begin our meal.
The Tasting Menu
Because we wanted to sample, we chose the tasting menu. The descriptions sounded ordinary, even lowly; however, each course arrived with gorgeous presentation and an impeccable, often surprising, marrying of flavors.
The amuse-bouche, set in a rustic wooden box on top of decorative new potatoes, served as the perfect introduction to the restaurant. Each course exploded with taste, texture, and visual beauty, elevating humble ingredients to culinary esctasy. The molecular cuisine techniques worked well, unlike in some lesser restaurants where they are employed seemingly just for the sake of using them. Of course, if you’re looking for large portions, go elsewhere.
Service and Ambience
A restaurant cannot earn a Michelin star without having excellent service, and such was the case with Rijks. Our servers spoke perfect English, described each dish anew as it arrived, and remained attentive without hovering. As per usual in Europe, we were not hurried and instead could dine at our own pace.
The outside seating, helped along by a gorgeous day, lent a relaxed atmosphere to our lunch. I imagine that dinner would feel more formal.
When I researched where to eat in Amsterdam, I wanted at least one restaurant close to our hotel, the Hotel Estheréa. D’Vijff Vlieghen popped up, only one block away. I confess that I didn’t have high expectations. The restaurant describes itself as a “culinary museum,” and the premises consist of connected canal houses built in the 17th century. To me, it sounded like a tourist trap. Still, the old Dutch buildings and décor promised an interesting ambience.
While some tourists may go there to see the four original Rembrandt etchings, foodies will delight in the flavors produced by taking traditional Dutch ingredients and transforming them into dishes in line with cosmopolitan contemporary tastes.
Another Tasting Menu
Once again, we selected the chef’s tasting menu, with wine pairings, so that we could sample the restaurant’s cuisine. Again, like Rijk’s tasting menu, this one sounded more pedestrian than it was.
Each course arrived carefully plated, and each bite tasted delicious, from dinner rolls and accompaniments to complimentary truffles with coffee. My least favorite course was the spring onion cream soup, mostly because it was somewhat watery, but the flavor was still excellent.
Service and Ambience
D’Vijff Vlieghen makes you feel like you’re inside an Old Master painting. Each room, because of the connected houses, has a different look. The knickknacks hanging on the walls and displayed on shelves provide their own entertainment as you await your next course.
Service is attentive and friendly. Most of the staff spoke perfect English. They allowed me to wander the dining rooms, and our server even pointed out the Rembrandt etchings in the next room.
De Knijp falls into a completely different category than the above: more casual than fine, more local than tourist-friendly; more efficient than leisurely (though still not rushed.) We needed to book a restaurant close to the Concertgebouw where we could eat early, and De Knijp fit the bill. That evening, many locals patronized De Knijp for the same reasons. Although many arrived about 15 minutes after we did, a good portion of the diners left at the same time.
Whereas dishes in the preceding two restaurants appealed to the eye, De Knijp serves food more like what you’d find prepared by a good home cook. Here, humble descriptions equal humble dishes. We ordered smoked salmon with horseradish sauce to share as a starter and beef filet with bearnaise sauce for our mains. To our surprise, a green salad came with the meal, an unusual inclusion for a European meal. The filet was tender and cooked perfectly to order. The bearnaise sauce was broiled on top, adhering to the beef, something I hadn’t seen before. The dish was served with a square of scalloped potatoes (good) and mixed vegetables (not so good.)
De Knijp is the kind of restaurant you go to when you want good but no-fuss dining. Although one couldn’t call it inexpensive, it certainly cost less than the preceding two restaurants.
Because De Knijp inhabits a typically narrow but tall building, its bar and small dining rooms span three floors. If you have a disability, it would be wise to mention it when reserving. Check out the specials on the chalkboard before settling on a meal.
Service and ambience
De Knijp has the atmosphere of a higher-end pub. In keeping with a more moderately-priced restaurant, the servers seemed a bit harried, especially since tables filled and emptied around the same time. Despite that, our meals arrived without delay and at the appropriate times. We found other diners paid at the register on the second floor, where we ate, so we did the same.
For a Lighter Meal, Try Your Hotel Bar
Sometimes, especially if we’ve eaten a good lunch, we want to eat light for dinner. When you search for suggestions on where to eat in Amsterdam, you won’t find your hotel’s bar listed, but do check it out. You may find traditional (and non-traditional) Dutch snacks that you wouldn’t encounter elsewhere.
At the Hotel Estheréa, we opted for a bar bites dinner on the day we ate lunch at Rijks. We were able to sample traditional Dutch bittenballen as well as chips (fries) and other mostly fried food. The bar also serves a quartet of olives, wasabi peanuts, almonds, and spiced peanuts when you order a cocktail. No, it wasn’t healthy, but we didn’t feel obligated to order a lot.
What to Know About Dining in Amsterdam
The Dutch eat earlier than those in southern European countries. In Amsterdam, peak dinner hours seem to be between 7 pm and 9 pm, although our experience suggested that a crunch occurs between 7:30 and 8 pm. Restaurants open as early as 6 pm.
For lunch, the hours seem similar to what we see in the United States: 12 noon – 2 pm.
As in many European countries, server wages ensure a decent living without tips, although an extra 10% seems to be expected at the better restaurants with more attentive service. Generally, you don’t tip bartenders unless you’re rounding up a tab.
If you’ve visited the Netherlands and want to leave additional tips on where to eat in Amsterdam, please leave your suggestions in the comment section. I would love to hear them and have them included in this blog.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann