Merijn Tol

If Merijn Tol isn’t eating and cooking her way through Mediterranean cities throughout Lebanon, Morocco or Italy, she’s probably writing about her experiences, often while reconnecting with her home base in Amsterdam. Thanks to a growth spurt in Amsterdam’s food options, eating there is just as exciting to Tol as anywhere else in Europe. “There are so many great places in Amsterdam right now that no matter how many of them I try, there will still be so many more to discover,” she says. “What makes Amsterdam a food destination today is the diversity of the cultures that live here and make up its gastronomic identity.”

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Amsterdam’s Dining Out Scene Today

The options for eating and drinking out in Amsterdam are much more varied than they used to be. There are more chefs following their personal missions, really putting their own stamp on their food and using more local produce. Most of them know each other, share common beliefs and are serious about what they’re doing. Lots of foreigners are shifting stuff here too. I think what’s nice about Amsterdam is that you can really sample different cuisines: the real thing has become much more valued over the years, without having to adapt to local tastes. The list of exciting places to go to is big and is constantly growing. 

Dutch Bistronomy

The trend in Amsterdam right now is what they used to call “bistronomy” in Paris, with a clear Nordic influence, and each chef does it their own way. Entrepot is one of my favourites and is run by a really nice, creative young chef. When the blast happened in Beirut, I asked multiple restaurants in Amsterdam to make their version of the Lebanese dish moujaddara (mashed and strained lentil and rice) to raise funds and awareness for Beirut, and I have to say, he made an amazing interpretation of it with Dutch grain and Nordic flavours. Entrepot is in a big, former industrial loft space: it’s an aesthetic that has become a lot more common in Amsterdam’s dining scene. 

An Underrated Crowd-Pleaser

I love places like Choux and would definitely take anyone visiting Amsterdam there. The chef is also called Merijn. He’s quite an underrated chef and is very innovative and leads an extremely creative team. They do a lot of fermentation, use beautiful wild ingredients and also have their own garden, but they really have a unique style of doing things. The place is always full and people love it. The venue itself is amazing: it’s next to Central Station, but you feel like you’re in an industrial area off the beaten track.  

“When You Go In There, You Just Don’t Want To Leave”

I no longer go out to bars that don’t serve good food. When you get older and have a child, the evenings that you can go out for a drink, you prefer to pair with food. There’s a little bar in Jordaan that I absolutely love called Bar Parry. It has a Mediterranean kind of cuisine with little shared plates and snacks plus beautiful wines. The staff have excellent taste in everything. The place is very nicely designed with a beautiful mural and wood cladding. It’s so cosy: when you go in there, you just don’t want to leave. I love sitting at the little bar or hiding in my own corner. 

Meet the Parents

Bar Parry’s parents have been running Balthazar’s Keuken for more than 20 years. It was one of the first restaurants to serve creative Mediterranean food and it still innovates to this day. It’s a great example of how restaurants with heart and soul stand the test of time. I like its roasted leek with tofu and hay; monkfish with saffron risotto, smoked capers, shellfish and cress; and the cranberry semifreddo with PX sherry and almonds.

More Bars With Great Food 

I love places such as Bambino that are somewhere between a bar and a restaurant. Bambino is a creative bar with beautiful natural wines and great sharing dishes influenced by Mediterranean and Nordic flavours, done in a very logical way. It does very simple things that are so good and always produce-oriented. I’ve had great quality anchovies there, with lemon rinds, parsley, butter and really good sourdough bread. I’ve also had an adaptation of arroz negro that was amazing. Bambino is an offshoot of BAK restaurant which is an upscale restaurant with seasonal dishes like sourdough toast with mussels, clams and fermented gooseberry; and barbecued chicken thighs with black salsify, green apple and chestnut mushroom. Café Binnenvisser (Dutch for “inland fisherman”) is another lovely venue that’s also between a bar and a restaurant. It’s frequented by a very low-key young crowd and serves a very creative cuisine using beautiful ingredients. I remember having really nice croquettes with celeriac and aged cheese there. 

New Food and Wine and Old Architecture to Appreciate

Scheepskameel is close to the harbour in an old building in the former marina. I really like it when the interior of a restaurant and the atmosphere it provides adds to the whole dining experience. The cuisine is very fresh and elegant: somewhere between French and Nordic. It serves roasts, raw fish dishes and artisanal cheeses that go perfectly with German wines which are all that is offered because it pairs so well with the food. Café de Parel recently opened in place of a beautiful old cafe that was also called De Parel which had gorgeous wall tiles from the 1700s. You can dine in this relaxed atmosphere, where you can enjoy a great glass of natural wine or an entire meal, that’s clean, again produce-driven, but with entirely new flavours. They’ll make things like scallop in almond mole with rose syrup and prepare the dishes behind the bar in front of you. 

Unique Dutch Ingredients and Woodfire Cooking

The star of Amsterdam chef Joris Bijdendijk is on the rise. He does really interesting things, is part of the Slow Food movement and his restaurants Wils and Rijks are just amazing. Rijks is his famous one next to the Rijks museum and is very focused on Dutch ingredients and uses things like local “bread soy” sauce and Anna Dutch caviar. He does a lot of collaborations with international chefs in Rijks. Wils is his newer restaurant focused on fire pit cooking, named after architect Jan Wils who designed the Olympic stadium and surrounding buildings that the restaurant overlooks. The restaurant bakes its sourdough bread in woodfired ovens and will soon have its own bakery cafe. 

Introducing Some of Amsterdam’s High-Profile Chefs and Restaurants

De Juwelier is the more relaxed restaurant of famous chef Richard van Oostenbrugge from 212. When you’re in De Juwelier, you feel that you’re somewhere in Paris, but a long time ago. The atmosphere is very authentic and the dishes are classic and beautiful. I remember having a very tiny cup of potato salad, warm smoked eel (which is very Dutch) and Perle Imperial caviar on top. It was very decadent but so good. 4850 is a beautiful place with Asian- and European-inspired dishes that are simply elegant, served alongside an unpredictable 400-bottle wine list. Breda is an all-day dining restaurant that offers a three- or five-course menu with Dutch and French inspiration. The people behind Breda own a group of restaurants and are very famous in the Dutch restaurant scene. 

Two Specialist Shops To Buy Meat From

There are loads of great specialty shops in Amsterdam. De Pasteibakkerij is fantastic and a labour of love run by former food writer Diny Schouten and her partner Floris Brester. They make their own paté, rillettes and great charcuterie. They also sell things like lemon beans from a specific village in the Netherlands. The shop is in a former butcher shop that’s really beautiful. Slagerij de Leeeuw is the jeweller of butchers. You pay in gold for it too, but it’s great stuff and the people who run it are absolutely adorable. 

The Best Producers at the Zuidermarkt and Beyond

Every Saturday, I go to the organic market, Zuidermarkt. There’s an excellent stall there that sells biodynamic vegetables that are sourced mostly from the Netherlands. There are also two butchers with great meat: De Hoenderspecialist Paul de Wit which is where I always buy blue foot chicken, and Lindenhoff which is where I buy my black-legged chicken. Lindenhoff supplies restaurants as well and has a farm just outside Amsterdam that is worth visiting. Its products are quite expensive, but the quality of the meats and everything else is amazing. There’s an excellent Dutch cheese producer at Zuidermarkt called Treur Kaas that I buy my goat cheese from. He ripens the goat cheese in a very old barn at a specific temperature, sometimes with appelstroop (Dutch apple molasses) around the skin. The cheese picks up so much flavour and the skin becomes dark from the apple molasses. There is a bakery called Bakkerij Mama at the market too, with another shop in Zwanenburg just outside Amsterdam, that’s also beautiful to see.

The Two Best Appeltaarts in Amsterdam

Noordermarkt is Amsterdam’s oldest organic farmers market and takes place every Saturday. Near the market you will find the two best appeltaarts in Amsterdam. One is at Winkel 43 which is next to the market. The appeltaart here is rough, chunky, super delicious and served warm out of the oven. Otherwise, it’s the appeltaart at Papeneiland, one of Amsterdam’s oldest cafes. It’s also the place to sample other Dutch cafe delicacies like ossenworst (smoked raw sausage), leverworst (liver sausage) and bitterballen (Dutch meatballs) with a cold Ijwit or Zatte beer from local brewery Brouwerij ‘t IJ. There are also a lot of little charming vintage shops and flee markets around. 

An Introduction to Dutch Cheese

There are so many beautiful cheeses in the Netherlands. They’re nothing like the stuff that gets exported and you can only experience them here in person. Places such as Fromagerie Abraham Kef and Fromagerie L’Amuse are where you need to go to learn about Dutch cheeses. Kef has two cheese shops and sells beautiful artisanal cheese from the Netherlands. L’Amuse is another beautiful, famous cheese shop where you find very specific Dutch cheeses. Most of our farmers’ cheeses are really good. There’s one I really love from Friesland that has cloves in it. Dikhoeve – a farm near Amsterdam that you can visit – makes delicious soft, white cheese and other dairy products.

Sausages, Kombucha and Pickles

Brandt & Levie is a famous sausage maker that makes Italian-style sausages using meat from Lindenhoff. It has also started making its own kombucha. You can buy these products at supermarkets like Marqt but can also get them from the butchery which is open to the public on Saturdays. Thull’s Deli does great catering: Simone van Thull, one of the owners, sells her magic Thulls pickles there.

Farms to Visit Just Outside of Amsterdam  

Fruittuin van West just outside of Amsterdam is really nice to visit. It’s a huge pear and apple orchard where children can play and chickens roam around freely. There’s an organic supermarket on-site selling eggs, chicken and beef from the property and all of it is great. I got my organic Christmas tree last year from there and it’s now back in the ground. I also love Ridammerhoeve goat farm in Amsterdamse Bos, a forest adjacent to Amsterdam. It’s a nice place to go with children because they can run around and feed milk to the goats. You can also buy beautiful goat products such as goat ribs, minced goat, goat’s milk yoghurt, goat’s milk cheeses and goat butter which isn’t easy to find. 

Sourdough, Kouign-Amann and the Best Croissant in the City

There are great bakeries in Amsterdam such as Levain et le Vin. It’s run by this really nice baker called Florence Gramende who makes beautiful sourdough breads and sells natural wines. Rise Bakery close to my place is run by two guys and a girl from Italy, Brazil and South Africa respectively. It bakes using ancient grains and buckwheat and I really love its bread. Grammes is another bakery that’s not too far from me: it’s amazing what these guys do. Its croissants are out-of-this-world and it does a great kouign-amann, the Brittany specialty. Gebroeders Niemeijer is a beautiful bakery that serves lunch and was one of the first to make sourdough bread in Amsterdam. In my opinion, it still has the best croissants in the city and the people behind the bakery have written a book on bread.

“Don’t Get me Started on Coffee Places in Amsterdam”

Don’t get me started on coffee places in Amsterdam: there are lists and lists. Coffee & Coconuts is a hip one next to my house that serves really good breakfast and lunch. Badeta is another nice coffee place close to my house. It’s very small, but I like the people there and they roast their own beans. 

Where I Buy My Beer and Wine 

I really like the saisons and spicy Thai Thai Triple at Oedipus Brewing, a brewery and cafe in Amsterdam-Noord. I also like Gebrouwen door Vrouwen, Dutch for “brewed by women”. It has an elderflower-ey brew called Bloesem Blond (Blossom Blonde) that I love and the brewery also opened a taproom on Jan Pieter Heijestraat in Oud West. Bierbaum is also a super nice beer shop in my hood De Pijp and only sells beer, cider and kombucha. Vleck Wijnen is my favourite natural wine shop. Owner Michiel was the first to introduce natural wines to the city 15 years ago and he gets all of his wines direct from farmers and winemakers in France, Italy and beyond. Wijnkoperij Au Paradis is another place I buy wine from: owner Deborah used to work as sommelier at Restaurant As.

Friends Doing Great Things

I enjoy taking people to VRR, a new restaurant by my friend Sandro who used to run Restaurant As. He serves a Nordic kind of menu that’s very interesting and bright using local ingredients. As was the case in Sandro’s former restaurant, VRR is in a beautiful old industrial building and took over the space that was Rosa & Rita. The restaurant’s name is an acronym for “Former Rosa & Rita” in Dutch. 

The Italian Community in Amsterdam 

There have always been a lot of Italians in Amsterdam. There’s a great Italian community that left Italy to find work in Amsterdam, because there’s always a high demand for Italian chefs here and they’re really welcomed. Some of the Italian delis and shops we have here are just amazing. Casa del Gusto and Terre Lente are perfect examples. They sell Slow Food Presidia products from the best of the best of small producers. Terre Lente is more focused on the south (Puglia, Sicily, etc.) and Casa del Gusto covers the whole of Italy. You can find fresh produce and everything else you may need in both.

“If I Ever Leave the Netherlands, Toscanini is What I Would Come Back For”

Good old Toscanini, my favourite restaurant is nothing like any of the places I’ve mentioned. It’s an Italian restaurant that was the start of my career in food, so I have very fond memories of it. When I started to be interested in cooking, I wanted to learn how to cook in an authentic restaurant that shared the same ideas about food as me. At the time, there wasn’t a real restaurant scene in Amsterdam like there is now. Toscanini was the place that hit the spot for me. I asked the chef, Leonardo, if I could intern in his kitchen every Friday, and he agreed, so I did that for many months. It was amazing and had a huge impact on my career. It was a restaurant that literally made everything from scratch, and still does. There was a lady from Azerbaijan that made all the pasta, sweets and bread, like focaccia Genovese. Leonardo cooked whole pigs with their heads on and used every bit of the pig. He is so passionate and is all about produce and doing something genuine. He would walk in with a truckload of mushrooms he found somewhere in Croatia. To this day, when I compare eating there to eating out in Italy, I still place Toscanini in a very high position. I even put it in an Italian restaurant guide once, because I really believed Italians should go there to eat. Toscanini has influences from different regions of Italy but manages to keep things very traditional and extremely Italian. The restaurant’s interior never changed. It’s where you go to celebrate something. It’s where you go in your dirty clothes when you’ve just finished painting your house. The mix of people that go there is unique. There will be a table full of young people. There will be a table with a family of different generations. There’s a great wine list. If I ever leave the Netherlands, Toscanini is what I would come back for.

Toscanini’s Deli

Chef Leonardo started doing takeaway ravioli in his sort of ravioli factory when COVID hit. He ended up opening a Toscanini deli and it’s so genuine like everything that he does. It serves great home-cooked Italian food and sells fresh cannoli, fresh homemade pasta, superb capers, anchovy paste, bottles of great quality tomato sauce, fish conserves, olive oil, panettone, torrone (Italian nougat) and a great choice of Italian wines. 

More Italian Favourites

Tweede Tuindwarsstraat around the corner from Toscanini has many small Italian restaurants that are very nice. My favourites include La Fiorita and La Perla Pizzeria, La Trattoria di Donna Sofia and La Maschera Lillo Tatini. In my neighbourhood, Fa. Pekelhaaring is a longtime favourite. It’s a nice place you go to for down-to-earth Italian food. It’s real Italian food that’s very produce-driven with very high flavour profiles. Domenica is another one of my favourite Italian restaurants. Chef Flavio Ghignoni Carestia is from Rome and is a fantastic guy who used to cook in Toscanini before. Domenica is also a great place that does classic Italian in a bit of a modern style and the chef’s influence is very present in the dishes. 

My Favourite Gelato

Massimo Gelato is really fantastic. It’s by an Italian guy who is on the board of Slow Food trying to change things in Italy and uses the best produce in his ice cream. Things such as the best pistachio from Bronte [a town in Sicily]. The ice cream is amazing. It just melts in your mouth. He doesn’t serve it too cold or with a mountain of toppings, so the cone is only just covered which is usually a good sign. He has regular Italian flavours such as ricotta with figs and zabaglione, but also new flavours that are not so common. There’s a big vegan range, which includes dark chocolate, pistachio and fruit sorbets. 

“Amsterdam Loves Pizza”

There are quite a few good pizza places in Amsterdam. Amsterdam loves pizza. I love Nnea Pizza which was opened by a Napolitan guy and a Dutch lady who used to work in film and in the NGO field. He has a new way of looking at pizza: not only by using sourdough, but also by developing new ways of fermenting his dough. He adds non-traditional toppings to his pizza, like octopus and beetroot, but in a very clever way. You still feel like you’re eating pizza. 

Modern Peruvian

In Amsterdam, there’s huge appreciation for specific cuisines from specific cultures. The upside of having such a mixed city is that you will find places run by people who are rooted in these cultures. Nazka, for example, does really beautiful modern Peruvian cuisine. It reminds me of a Gastón Acurio kind of place, and serves things like an ají panca [a Peruvian chilli] rice dish with cinnamon, roasted turnips, wild garlic and peas. Close to me is another favourite called Sjefietshe, which in Dutch is pronounced like “ceviche”. It’s a mix between cafe, bar and restaurant, with a relaxing setting. Although the ceviche isn’t authentic, it’s still really nice. 

Amsterdam’s Latin American Options

There are plenty of Latin American run places, especially those serving Mexican food. I like Coba Taqueria. One of the chefs that was there now has Bacalar, another great Mexican restaurant also in the north of Amsterdam. The chefs there are really innovative with their cuisine, but it’s still very much Mexican. There are many good empenadarias as well, like Baires Empanadas, from which I often take out. La Reinita also has great empanadas. 

Cuisines and Dishes From All Around the World

Silk Road Kabob House is a simple eatery run by Uyghurs that do amazing food and adventurous things like cow feet. The Madras Diaries is an Indian restaurant that cooks the food of the eastern part of India. Its menu is huge, and you’ll find a lot of amazing, very authentic things to eat. During the lockdown we sampled a lot of things from there, as well as food from an Iranian restaurant called Daarbaand. There’s also an old Lebanese guy who sells shawarma and falafel at Ten Katemarkt. I don’t even think that his stand has a name, but he’s there on Saturdays. A Lebanese friend lives right across the street and buys sandwiches from him. Although they look like shit, they’re actually amazing. 

An Under-The-Radar Thai Restaurant

Thai Thai Poppetje (Dutch for “Thai Thai puppets”) does authentic Thai street food with a modern approach. It was opened by a girl who’s half-Swiss and half-Thai but grew up in the Netherlands, and her Italian boyfriend. It’s a really cool place to discover that’s still under the radar. It’s in a typical Amsterdam house, but what’s nice is that it’s where they grow their vegetables. 

Favourite Japanese Addresses

We have great Japanese places like Oshima, run by a chef that’s in his 70s and his wife. He used to work at the famous Okura Hotel, which is close to my house and has another branch in Tokyo. The hotel has the most amazing sushi. Oshima is also a cool place to visit and makes beautiful food. I recently went to an omakase called Ken Sushi in another beautiful hotel called the Olympic. It’s run by a young Japanese chef who uses a lot of local fish to make his sushi. Kit is a Thai chef who is also doing amazing sushi in an omakase called Undercover, which actually is really still quite undercover. He was an exchange student here and was cooking from his dorm for four or five people at a time and would always be booked out. Now he has a real restaurant that I haven’t yet tried, but is apparently super good. 

Run by French 

The French family behind French bistro Café Caron opened Cantine de Caron in an old industrial building in a beautiful spot of Westerpark: a nice area with a lot of these types of buildings. The guy is a TV personality who has lived in Amsterdam for a long time but still speaks Dutch with a very French accent, which everyone loves. Cantine de Caron is a canteen that serves really good, classic French bistro food. Leave your Sword in Amsterdam Noord is by my dear friend Nicolas, an extremely talented French guy who makes kombucha as you would wine and it is out of this world. He also makes Pierre Hermé-style French pastries and has plans to open a cafe/patisserie with kombucha very soon in the centre.

Lose the Packaging

There’s a nice looking shop called Wild Sage Foods which just opened around the corner from my house. It sells pulses, grains and spices like oregano flowers without using any packaging which is great because you avoid all this useless waste. 

Moroccan Influences on Javastraat

If you go to Albert Heijn [supermarket] you can buy things like great pomegranate molasses from Lebanon from my product line Souq, which I run with my Dutch-Moroccan partner, Nadia Zerouali. We’re very happy to be bringing such a good range of products to a regular supermarket and trying to change things from within while helping all these cooperatives in Palestine and Lebanon. We also produce some of it here in the Netherlands. We have a spice range now and are always working on making it more transparent and growing it in a sustainable way. We are in the process of finding a good labneh producer. Nadia also has a Moroccan couscous takeaway business called Couscousbar which has two shops: one in Kinkerstraat and another in Javastraat. 

Turkish, Iraqi and Moroccan Shops 

There are great Moroccan, Turkish, Middle Eastern shops and hip restaurants around Javastraat. Genco in Van Woustraat is one of my favourites. Owner Mehmet is from Gaziantep and knows a lot about food. Tigris and Eufraat in Javastraat is another. It sells all things Middle Eastern from maamoul (stuffed Middle Eastern shortbreads) moulds to mulukhiyah (jute mallow) and Afghani dried fruits. Owners Ali and Ahram are from Iraq and are super sweet. They always call me “Rummana” (Arabic for pomegranate) because I love pomegranate so much. My favourite Moroccan shop is Zagora Butchery, close to Albert Cuyp. Hassan and his team are great butchers and the sweetest. He always gives us Moroccan tea and offers a date to my daughter Anaroz. He also has lovely veggies such as cardoon (artichoke thistle) when it’s in season. 

Hidden Gems of Turkey

Antep Sofrasi in Borneostraat is my hidden Turkish gem restaurant. It’s unassuming, but chef Mehmet is amazing and uses excellent meat for his kebab, which he grills on charcoal in front of you. His mezze is out of this world: the best quality I’ve had after Beirut and he has a great collection of raki [anise-distilled grape spirit]. There are many Turkish spots in the deep western part of the city, Şerifoğlu is big and famous, but sells Istanbul-quality baklava, Turkish breakfast and great kebab.

Great Asian Food from China to Korea

There’s a huge Chinese boat restaurant called Sea Palace next to Amsterdam Centraal. When you look at it you think, “what is this tourist trap?” but it actually has super nice food. It’s an amazing lunch spot on a Sunday and you’ll be surrounded by Chinese families enjoying a huge meal with dim sum and everything. Zeedijk is really the Asian corner of the city with many great places, but if you want good Korean, go a little out of the centre to Hwa Won or Restaurant Korea that are very close to each other. 

The Restaurant I Want to Open

I want to open my own place soon, that will be a continuation of my work on Mediterranean cuisine, adding my own touch to things and reminding the world that the Mediterranean is also Gaza City and Beirut. I really like doing business with like-minded women. I got to know a restaurateur who owns businesses in Amsterdam and Rotterdam and I really like her way of doing business, so I’m hoping that something fruitful will come out of it soon. I would love to bring in a lot of the people whom I met and worked with along the way that I now call friends, like Salma who’s from Gaza and cooks beautiful Gazan cuisine.

Don’t Leave Without the Best Local Apple Molasses and Peanut Butter

There are some classic things that are a must-take-home from Amsterdam, like Kaaskoekjes van Strien biscuits, drop Dutch liquorice, and appelstroop [apple syrup], the best being from a brand called J. Canisius that does traditional appelstroop in beautiful packaging. You can find it all in a regular supermarket. Pindakaas is a must too. It’s our version of peanut butter and is nothing like the commercial, sweet and sticky American one. It’s real crunchy, nutty, salty peanut butter, and is delicious. I like a local brand called Mr. Kitchen and an international one called Whole Earth which does great pindakaas. There’s a peanut butter shop called De Pindakaaswinkel that does a great job too.

What I Crave When I Leave Home

Though Lebanese zaatar manouche with labne is more what I crave for wherever I go, I do miss salty, fatty herring with onions when I’m away. I would definitely add sumac to it though, since it’s salty fish, you want to have something that cuts through it and you have the raw onions for that and the sumac makes all the flavours go round. I buy my herring from a fish shop called Vishandel Albert Cuyp (Albert Cuyp is an everyday open air market). My favourite guy for fresh fish is Schilder who sells it out of an aluminium stand at the market.

Photography credit: Oof Verschuren

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