Lately life has featured a great deal of business mixed with a whole lot of pleasure. And the book launch for ‘Chez Rachel’ in Amsterdam was no exception.
Kosmos, my wonderful Dutch publishers, put Frankie and I up in some seriously sweet digs, namely, The College Hotel, a boutique hotel in the south of Amsterdam known for its cool clientele and friendly (if a little slow) service by operated by students of hospitality from the neighbouring school.
Between interviews with journalists and doing two cookery workshops, we still managed to find some time to explore the city and discovered, thanks to tips from friends and foodies, some excellent places to fill up on apple pie, purchase vintage plates for styling the workshop, and experience an edible greenhouse.
Here are some of the highlights of the visit for anyone heading to the home of tulips, clogs and bicycles…
Props & Shops
Sourcing props was top of the agenda for the vintage tea party we wanted to create for The Little Paris Kitchen gathering I was hosting after the cookery workshop. Joyce de Lange was sweet enough to divulge all of her favourite addresses in the city and took us on prop hunt around De 9 Straatjes, a cluster of cute streets dotted around the canals filled with an array of florists, clothes stores, tile shops, chocolate shops and bakeries.
It didn’t take long before we found our bonheur at Juffrouw Splinter, where we filled our bags with tea stands, cake plates, tea cups and saucers – perfect for hosting a vintage tea party. But there couldn’t be a true afternoon tea without cute napkins and a fancy tablecloth, which is where Laura Dols came into its own.
This is one of Amsterdam’s ultimate vintage clothing stores as it turns out, featuring room after room of clutch bags, dresses, linen napkins, girly vintage aprons and the perfect tablecloth for the festivities. I was tempted by a frilly blue prom dress number for Downing Street visit, but thought it might be a bit risque for my first encounter with the Camerons!
De Weldaad was another such treasure trove of styling props, with two locations, one next to the De Winkel (see below) and one along De 9 Straatjes. The Noordermarkt branch is larger, with lots of larger furniture items including nice antique French garden furnishings, but it is also perfect for little bits of glassware (we bought pretty glass vases), cake stands and amazing Dutch tiles and door knobs.
We also stumbled across 360 Volt, the place to go for industrial lamps, which judging from the peering through the windows into people’s homes along the canals, seem to be popular in the high-ceilinged Dutch townhouses. Oddly enough, we discovered that the display in the store had been the inspiration for Nuno’s Corner Room installation at the Town Hall Hotel.
Also on Prinsengracht, we discovered Frozen Fountain, a concept store featuring the work of some top Dutch designers. This is a really good place to pick up some high end crockery, so worth a visit if you are looking to invest in some nice pieces.
Food To Go
I may live in France, the land of cheese, but there is definitely something to be said for Dutch Gouda. We discovered it in all its variations at Kaas, one of the city’s most famous cheese purveyors. Smoked, speckled with nettles, flecked with cumin seeds, dotted with truffles, you name it, they have it.
If it is a taster of French bread and viennoisseries you are after, Gebroeders Niemeijer is a little gem of a bakery in an otherwise unappealing part of town near the central station. You can watch the bakery in action from the cafe; apparently the bakers are Cordon Bleu trained!
Thanks to some top tips from the Dutch journos, on Saturday morning we headed to the Noordermarkt, one of the city’s best produce markets, wedged between the canal and a majestic church in the Jordaan district – the bobo part of the city.
There was plenty of great stuff to pick up here; beautiful rainbow chard, a great selection of potted herbs (including cool things like shiso), wurst and some pretty ceramics. It was definitely worth a visit if you have a Saturday in the city. A funny band contributed to the lively atmosphere.
One address that kept cropping up as the best place in town to eat an authentic apple pie was De Winkel, conveniently located right next to the market, and boasting a reassuringly long queue.
But don’t be deterred by the crowds, we were propped up at the bar in no time, with two massive wedges of apple cake with giant splodge of whipped cream, a strong black coffee and a hot chocolate. Our eyes were slightly bigger than our appetites… and it did somewhat spoil our lunch. But it was worth it.
Time was limited, but we did have the chance to discover two delightfully different restaurants. The first night we headed to Marius with a friend who had recommended this tucked away restaurant heaving with happy locals. They had recently opened up a casual bar next door, called Wurst, a great place for a light bite with a glass of wine or a pre-dinner aperitif if you are heading to the restaurant next door.
We grabbed a glass of fancy cider as an aperitif before heading next door to Marius for their set market menu, which featured an intriguing dish of Lobster Wurst with pickled beetroot and a take on brandade (pictured above) which we washed down with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet.
Our next dinner excursion was to the aptly named Restaurant de Kas, meaning glasshouse. On the outskirts of town, the restaurant is housed in a converted greenhouse dating back to 1926 which was set to be demolished before they transformed it into an elegant restaurant with an active greenhouse. Much of the menu is designed around the produce grown in greenhouse and in the fertile land surrounding the building.
In the evenings the restaurant produces a set menu inspired by the seasonal fare, beginning with a trio of dishes brought to the table to share, a really cool concept that was greatly appreciated after a long day in the kitchen.
After supper, we snuck into the kitchen to chat with the chef and explore the space a little deeper. We were treated to a guided tour of the garden and saw where the produce was grown that had been delivered to our table.
These were some of our favourite places that we came across, but please leave a comment below if you have any other great tips. As hopefully, it won’t be too long before I am back for another helping!