After a glorious trip to Paris and some fine dining there, Amsterdam had a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, it didn’t get off to the best start when we went for our first meal at TerraZen. This place didn’t have a firm place on our eating itinerary due to some poor online reviews which described it as dirty and squat-like and the service as rude and slow. On arrival, our hopes were restored: it didn’t look dirty at all. However, seating was an issue. It’s not that small inside, but the space isn’t really maximised: there’s one large table that 3 couples were sitting at, and a small table for four. All seats were occupied at 7:15, so we asked the sole waitress if we could make a reservation to come back. She invited us to choose a time, and confirmed that 8pm was fine.
At 7:55, the tables were still full. Nobody was eating still – a few people were waiting for their plates to be cleared, and others had already been cleared away so the customers were just sitting and enjoying the atmosphere. We went up to the waitress and she said unapologetically, “It’s not 8pm yet.” We waited outside, then came back indoors and lurked for 20 minutes until someone left (during this time the waitress made no attempt to speak to us, ask if we’d like a drink, or offer anyone else the bill). As we took our seats, we ordered our food. “You could have ordered while you waited,” she told us, simpering like we were simpletons. “You could have told us that,” I replied, as politely as possible.
Fortunately the food was faster than the wait. We both ordered the combination plate (it’s an all vegan restaurant), and I really enjoyed it. We had some nicely flavoured rice, a nice fresh salad, and some beautifully cooked and seasoned broccoli, cauliflower and beetroot. My favourite element was the deep fried fake chicken which was well bread-crumbed and tasted so good.
Like everyone else, we had to go to enquire about desserts – she didn’t offer them when she collected the plates. I was told there was just one dessert, a coconut cheesecake. However, when other people asked later they were given two options. Fears that she had it in for us were confirmed when we got the scrawniest slice of cheesecake imaginable, with half of the base missing, and the outer edge still almost frozen. Another negative (as if I needed another) was that there were no prices listed anywhere, so she could essentially have charged us whatever she wanted. We paid 33.50, which was quite a lot for what it is, and for the shoddiness of the service. It’s a shame, because getting the food right should be the difficult part – they had that, and it was just the rudeness of the server that dragged it down.
The next evening was more successful. During our daytime exploration we passed an Ethiopian restaurant with a ‘vegan friendly’ sticker in the window, and resolved to come back later. There’s an amazing Ethiopian restaurant here in Manchester which has really given us the taste for the cuisine, so any excuse for it has to be seized. We went back to Addis Ababa in the evening and enquired about vegan dishes. As we’d expected, all the dishes from the vegetarian section were also vegan, with the exception of one which clearly listed cottage cheese in the ingredients. I tried to order just one of the dishes, but our very persuasive waitress convinced us that it was better to order the combination plate with a bit of everything. While we waited, we were given this tasty, warm homemade bread with a spicy sauce.
And then the main event arrived! You can see the cottage cheese is clearly segregated over on Mr HH’s side: everything else was identical. And delicious! There was salad in the middle, and the hot dishes were a combination of lentil dhal-type dishes, some good chickpeas, spinach and various root vegetable combinations. Everything was so well seasoned and tasty, and we had two injera each on the side before scooping up the one below. It was 13.50 each, and felt like a bargain compared to the previous night: the food was more plentiful, the atmosphere was nice and the service actually came with a smile! I’d definitely go back for more.
On our last night in Amsterdam we pushed the boat out and had a real feast at Betty’s Vegetarian Restaurant. It’s another quite small restaurant, but it’s the opposite of TerraZen in every way possible. They don’t have a menu, but every day they provided three courses, decided on the day. Obviously this means you have to give them a heads up if you’re vegan – we booked via the website a few weeks in advance and let them know that we wanted vegan food, and they were very happy to provide it. The starter and main were tweaks on the vegetarian meals, but dessert…well, we’ll get to that. There is only one seating of guests per night, so only one service for the staff (the husband and wife who own it) – this meant that we were settled in for the evening and it was a lovely relaxed, unhurried affair with plenty of time between courses to prepare for the next feast.
We had a sharing plate to start: not pictured were two slices each of homemade walnut bread with oil and salt for dipping. The bread was warm from the oven and had a lovely crust, it was just perfect. There was a leafy salad with rocket and pomegranate seeds, then a mixture of red quinoa, cannelini beans and pecans with a lemony dressing. The asparagus was served with toasted farro, and there were some dates roasted in oil and sea salt, which were really addictive thanks to that sweet and salty balance. And something crispy: hurray! It was a samosa filling in the style of some kind of Turkish cigarillo. Whatever it was, it was the highlight of a very good plate.
Obviously this increased our excitement for the main event. On the main plate we had rice with lentils and ras el hanout seasoning, alongside a cinnamon and cumin spiced soy yoghurt and some tofu baked in sweet ketchup, ginger and sesame seeds. To share, we were given some roasted parsnips and carrots (both orange and purple) with mustard seeds, cabbage with coconut and turmeric and an aubergine and tamarind chutney. We also got a bowl of roasted carrot, cashew, coconut and green bean soup. It was very thick and tasty. Our advice from the host was to combine everything, so we obeyed and it was great – all the components complemented each other beautifully. The tofu was the highlight though, it was excellent.
And so, dessert. The vegetarians in the restaurant could choose one slice of cake from the selection on display. We, on the other hand, were brought a plate each containing THREE slices of cake. Yes, you read that correctly. Three desserts! Suffice it to say, this is my favourite restaurant of all time. At the front of the picture is a rich chocolate brownie cake with bitter marmalade – it was really decadent and intense. In the middle was my favourite, a pastry tart with a delicious chocolate and avocado mousse filling, topped with caramelised hazelnuts. It was so rich and tasty! And at the back, a slice of carrot cake which was really moist and had a great texture, but just needed a bit more spice. After three puds, we were full to the brim and as happy as could be. I’m so glad I booked this for the last night of the holiday because it really was the perfect finish. As always, I was thrilled to find a place that really excels at vegan cuisine.
Amsterdam was perhaps my favourite destination in this trip. It had the charm of Ghent, but had a bit more going on. It was more compact than Paris, and a bit less crowded. That said, we did have some pretty huge queues to contend with. There were no online tickets for the Anne Frank House available, so we decided to brave it on the day and just turn up an hour before closing and hope for the best. Alas, the queue was still too long. We also stood in a pretty long line outside the Rijksmuseum, which I didn’t really feel was worth it – it was quite a dark, oppressive museum, and the main attractions (Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’, mostly) didn’t really dazzle me.
The nearby Van Gogh museum was much better, and we’d actually booked our tickets online so got to waltz right in. As I’ve said, I’m a bit of a philistine when it comes to art, but I like Van Gogh, and the information about his mental health problems provided a nice context to the exhibitions. (No photos allowed in this museum, so I’ve stolen this one from Paris.)
We also enjoyed FOAM, the photography museum. There were some really interesting exhibitions, including one about meteorites which was also about story-telling and memory, and one about how Kodak film was accused of being better at photographing white skin than dark. Besides that, we indulged in the obligatory canal cruise and spent some time in vintage shops and basking in the sun in Westerpark. Amsterdam is a place I am keen to return to – chiefly for another trip to Koffie ende Koeck and Betty’s!