Where to eat in Amsterdam

Amsterdam was never on my must-see list when I was travelling in my early twenties. Perhaps I was put off by my friends returning with vivid tales of hazy coffeehouses, and my own visions of stepping over strung-out hippies outside Centraal Station. How wrong you can be.

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I visited Amsterdam for the first time this year in mid-March and loved every minute of it. Firstly, it’s stunning. Beautiful crooked buildings, weaving canals, beautiful eternally youthful people zipping past on bikes – it’s the actual dream. Secondly, it’s one of those European cities where it pays not to be staying in the actual centre. By avoiding the red light district you also avoid the inevitable accompaniments to heavy tourism – McDonalds, tacky souvenirs, Irish bars, to name a few. We stayed in the west, just outside the city centre, in an apartment overlooking the canal. There were dozens of cafes and bars on our doorstep, and it was easy biking distance to everywhere we wanted to go. Thirdly – with travellers flocking from around the globe, expecting much more than accessible marijuana, Amsterdam has massively upped its food game. Here’s a few favourites:

Breakfast at The Breakfast Club

There are several Breakfasts Clubs around Amsterdam, and we had one bang in our neighbourhood. It’s super busy on weekends, but worth waiting if you’re not in a rush. It’s very New York breakfast vibe, with pancake variations, Mexican eggs, or the full fried affair with organic juices and herbal teas. Delicious, and a great way to fuel up for a day of biking and site seeing!

Tapas at De Hallen

One of our friends now lives in Amsterdam, and took us to this bursting-at-the-seams Foodhallen at Amsterdam Oud-West. On a Saturday night it had an amazing vibe – loud music, cold gin, and at least two dozen street food stalls with everything from sushi to steak. The system is, order your food, get a ticket and wait to be called when it’s ready, weave back to the bar to order drinks, and stake out a table or cargo crate to occupy for the night.

Brunch at Bagels & Beans

If you’re planning a visit to the Van Gogh Museum, or the Rijks, the best plan is definitely to arrive at 9am. We did this for both, and happily missed the much-moaned-about queues. At Van Gogh we queued for a total of two minutes – the early starts were worth it! Bagels & Beans is just opposite the museums quarter, and is a great spot for post-culture sustenance. So many bagel options, so many options! I had prosciutto, mozzarella, sundries and pesto on seeded which was amazing. They also do takeaway breakfast bagels so if you do end up waiting in the queue, at least your stomach will be happy.

Stroopwafel – to immediately eat, and to take home

The best stroopwafels I ate in the ‘dam were from a slightly grumpy old man who had a vendor stall at a market near Rembrant’s house. We had been biking and stopped for a wander around. He was making them up fresh on his hot griddle, slapping syrup between two wafers the size of my face, and letting them hiss. He wasn’t up for too much chat, he just held out his money pouch on a cane for you to drop your coins in and kept going.

The market wasn’t on on our last day, but we found amazing, if slightly more expensive stroopwafels at a small cafe/bakery called Lanskroon. You could buy them in fresh boxes of four or seven.

Pizza and prosecco at De Pizzabakkers

De Pizzabakkers was such a good find. It had everything I wanted out of a late-night dinner. Small tables, candles, cosy setting, Aperol Spritz as the recommended aperitif and wood oven pizzas on offer. I loved the design of many Amsterdam eateries, with a petite downstairs, and open-viewed upstairs, like the section of a dolls house. Everywhere seemed extra-intimate and original, and Pizzabakkers was no exception. Highly recommended for excellent pizza and vegetarian options.

Have you been to Amsterdam? Share your recommendations, I’ll be going back!

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Festival-ing

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This month has already seen my bank balance plummet beyond recognition, my eyes reject contact lenses, and my throat crackle and flare into full-blown broken glass feeling…why is all this? It could only be the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. That special time of year when Edinburgh is overrun with actors, street performers, flyer distributors, tourists, and of course all-night beer gardens, bars, street food, and pop-up venues.

I do absolutely love the Fringe, but usually half way through (i.e. now) my body tends to break down and plead with me to have a few nights off the gin, and eat some food that hasn’t  been purchased at 11pm from a street vendor.

With this in mind, I’ve had time to have a think about some of the best grab-on-the-go food spots I’ve experienced over the last two weeks around festival venues:

The Baked Potato Shop: Open later over August, this spud shack boasts a wide range of vegetarian fillings (favorites are avocado with cheese, and homemade coleslaw) to complement their huge double-baked tatties.

Hula: If you’re hanging around the Cowgate Underbelly, walking a little further along to the Grassmarket to meet with Hula, a quirky late-night cafe situated lower Victoria Street. As well as the usual toasted sandwiches, there’s also an evening hot dish to take away (I had an amazing vegetarian chilli, served with rice and topped with toasted nuts) for around £4.

The Mosque Kitchen: This is a no-frills spot, ideal for either lunch or dinner – their fantastic range of curries are served fresh, without fuss, and for a pocket-friendly £4 -£5. Note that for daytime visits, the kitchen is closed briefly for prayer, before the lunchtime.

Palmyra: Conveniently located on Nicolson Street, Palmyra has been keeping the student population well-fed with late-night stodge for many years. However, this isn’t a stereotypical greasy kebab shop – their falafel wraps are freshly made and packed with salad and veg.

The Bonnie Burrito: These lads are parked near the art school on Lauriston Place, and specialise in serving up quick and delicious Tex Mex. Normally their hours are early morning (breakfast burritos, anyone?!) till mid-afternoon, but I’m pretty sure I’ve spotted them working later into the evening during the festival period.

Hopefully that’s a few ideas for any on-the-go munching between now and August 31 (without having to risk scurvy)! #EdFringe

Glamping in St Ives

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All this week I’ve been in the beautiful Cornish seaside town of St Ives, soaking up the sun and paddling the waves. We stayed in a gorgeous bell tent (complete with a candle chandelier, wood-burning stove, and double bed) courtesy of our lovely Airbnb host, Jayce, at his family’s farm up on the hillside. If you are planning a visit to St Ives, I would hugely recommend Jayce’s accommodation over any hotel or bed and breakfast. As well as our bell tent, he also has a range of converted shepherd huts available, all with stunning views over the sea.

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St Ives is filled with excellent cafes and restaurants, offering everything from fresh seafood, to cream teas, to stone-baked pizzas. However, we were so lucky with the weather, that the first few nights we opted to cook on our barbeque outside our tent (my entire holiday wardrobe thus carried a smoky aroma for the entire trip), making baked potatoes, sausages, and salads.

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The long summer evenings meant we (and everyone else in town) were keen to find lots of nice places to go for alfresco drinks, and we were spoiled for choice. The Sloop Inn became one of our favourites, with local ales and cider, plus stunning views over the waterfront. We also checked out the Rum and Crab Shack, which although didn’t have outdoor seating, had huge open windows offering the same sea view.

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Towards the end of the week, we visited the Harbour View Restaurant off the main high street, and had a gorgeous Cornish tapas feast, plus prosecco.  There was loads of fresh fish options (I went for sole goujons), but there were also plenty of veggie treats, including mint pea risotto, a gorgeous spinachy walnut salad, pimento de padron, and of course, some good chunky chips.

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For cream teas, by far the best one we had was actually on the way to St Ives. On a recommendation, we stopped off at Buckfast Abbey and had amazing mammoth scones with oodles of thick cream and home-made jams. There are also plenty of beautiful cafes and tearooms all around St Ives, but we didn’t find one that could quite match it – recommendations for next time are welcome!

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Also, another highlight of the trip was a visit to the stunning outdoor theatre – the Minack. Jutting over the sea, the views are utterly stunning, and makes for a hugely atmospheric performance. We saw A Woman of Little Sense, which was a funny rom-com, but I can’t imagine how amazing it would be to see something like Hamlet, or Rebecca performed over the clifftops.

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Stereo

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I’m not usually someone who salivates at the idea of vegan food, BUT, eating at Glasgow hangout Stereo has been a bit of a game changer for me! I often steer closer to the vegetarian line of cooking, but I rarely step over the line into veganism, mainly due to my love of cheese. However, those guys at Stereo really know how to do this. No tired risottos, or dry stuffed mushrooms in sight, instead Stereo favours fresh, innovative combos sticking by their aim to be creative, consistent and memorable.

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Their gorgeous tapas menu was where it was at for me, and I ordered patatas bravas, falafel on a bed of leaves with tahini, and an incredible smokey chickpea and pepper salad. Carl chose one of the main meals – a shamuchan, which is a sort of wrap with spicy haggis and pickled cabbage. This was loads to share between us both, which was lucky, ’cause we were both stealing constantly from each others plates! The food is so fresh, and delicious, plus you get that boost of feeling super healthy and well-fed. I noticed that Stereo have vegan cheese on their menu (yay!), and incredible-looking nachos and quesadillas, which we’ll definitely be back to try!

Jamie-inspired brunches

I’ve recently become a convert of Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube channel, especially for different weekend breakfast ideas. Jamie’s channel is packed with quick, delicious recipes, always using something a little different, which makes for great food inspiration!

Last weekend I was checking out his recipe for Mexican-inspired huevos rancheros, which looked incredible, but as we were lacking sufficient tomatoes, we created a delicious alternative with chilli scrambled eggs, mashed up hash browns, grilled tomatoes and a squeeze of fresh lime. It was a beautiful blue-sky day, and therefore an ideal breakfast to wrap and take outside to the Meadows to enjoy in the sunshine. These have reminded me that I’m dying to check out Bonnie Burrito VERY SOON and will be back with a full report!

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A previous Saturday, I’d been pining for the kind of breakfasts we used to love in Australia, where they make corn fritters ridiculously well. We followed an incredibly easy Nigel Slater recipe to make our batter, and lightly fried up these beauties before layering them with sliced avocado, a poached egg and squeeze of lime. These completely remind me of eating breakfast in Manly Beach, where everyone seems to walk around permanently in surf wear, drinking acai berry smoothies and being utterly relaxed.

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Where to eat in Barcelona…

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Early on Saturday morning, we were awake and on a plane to Barcelona El Prat airport, for a little holiday in the Spanish sunshine. I love Barcelona, even being pick-pocketed on my first visit two years ago hasn’t put me off. I love the beautiful weather, the gorgeous street art culture, the friendly atmosphere, the relaxed eating and drinking hours, and the free-poured gin and tonics!

I hugely enjoy trying different Spanish tapas, but as Carl is a vegetarian, in the past he’s been limited to patatas bravas, and pan con tomate. Luckily, Barcelona is now full of brilliant vegetarian tapas bars, many of which we checked out during our stay.

Our first night, we met up with a friend of ours who now works in Barcelona, and she took us to the Mercat Princesa. This was essentially a tapas market, where we could grab a bottle of wine, then order bites from different stalls. It was a great way to try lots of different tapas, from croquettas to mini pizzas.

The next day, we were at the beach until around 3pm, then made our way back into the Gothic quarter for a late lunch at Rasoterra. This is a gorgeous vegetarian restaurant, which we found on our last visit. It’s not expensive, and has a brilliant menu. We ordered an amazing mozzarella tomato toasted bread dish (which was like an oozy rich cheese toasty!), artichoke with mint and green peas, patatas bravas, plus we ended up getting a free dish by accident – a kind of chestnut dumpling which was delicious!

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Later at night, after siestas, we happened upon a really nice health food restaurant near our apartment, Flax and Kale. It specialised in serving dishes focusing on vegetarian options, or oily fish, so it seemed a good one to try out. I really enjoyed my grilled sardines on flatbread, and superfood salad, but it could have all done with a bit more seasoning. I guess they are advertised as a very health-conscious restaurant though, and it’s a great one to note if you are traveling with anyone gluten-free or lactose intolerant.

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The next day we had planned a street art bike tour with an amazing American guy called Mike. Mike led us on a walking street art tour during our last trip, and I would highly recommend his tours for an alternative view of Barcelona. He sorted out a couple of green bikes for us, and took us around and out of the city centre for a few hours, to see some of the oldest, and latest street art developments. Mike also recommended a sandwich bar beloved by locals called Bo de B, so we checked that out after our tour. The queue out the door said it all – THIS was the place to get lunch on the go! That night we went to a couple of different tapas bars on El Ravel. The first one, I can’t remember the name, but it was opposite the next one we tried, which was called Carmelita. They were both great, and very inexpensive. We ordered lots of white wine, patatas bravas, smoked vegetables, mediterranean salad, and a kind of courgette cannelloni tapas.

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On our last day we had what was probably our favourite meal. Teresa Carles is a sister restaurant of Flax and Kale, but is much looser on the super healthy approach. It is simply a very good vegetarian restaurant, with loads of choice on the menu. We had had a long morning exploring Sagrada Familia, followed by shopping, so we decided to have a chilled, long lunch with wine. There were so many tempting options, but we ended up sharing a ‘healthy’ nachos with pimientos de Padron, escalivada (a kind of vegetable stack with pesto and goats cheese) and an Italian-style salad, full of sun dried tomatoes, avocado, artichokes and pine nuts.

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It was such a gorgeous lunch, and I would highly recommend Teresa Carles to anyone looking for amazing food in Barcelona, including committed carnivores! Also, if you are like me, and like recreating dishes at home, check out La Caixa de Fang for stunning and inexpensive tapas ceramics. I’ll be attempting to create my own bravas sauce, and tortillas in the next few weeks…

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Home-made pizza heaven

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I’ve never attempted to make my own pizza, until a couple of weeks ago. I’ve always been put off by the thought of off-the-wall ingredients like yeast (?!) and the idea of having to leave dough rising in the airing cupboard that I don’t have. However, after watching Lorraine Pascale effortlessly throw a pizza together one weekday E4 night, my flatmates and I were newly inspired and determined to give this a go.

We made two delicious pizzas a fortnight ago, and so puffed up were we by our efforts, that we casually made them again just last night. Lorraine’s recipe is incredibly easy, and the only out-of-the-ordinary ingredient was the yeast (it was not nearly as intimidating to use as I anticipated!) Although she recommends leaving the dough to rise in a warm place, we just covered the bowls with clingfilm and left them on our kitchen floor by the oven for half and hour, giving us time to have our first glass of wine. We don’t even have a pizza tray, we just fashioned two out of some sturdy tinfoil. I’ve added Lorraine’s recipes below, and for her step-by-step method, just check out the BBC Food website. Have a go yourself!

Ingredients
For the basic dough
250g/9oz strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp salt
½ tsp fast-action dried yeast
125–145ml/4½–5fl oz warm water
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling and drizzling

For the pizza topping
1 tube good-quality tomato purée
250g/9oz mozzarella cheese, sliced
8 slices prosciutto, ripped up into bite-sized pieces
5 figs, quartered (N.B. we omitted the figs, and added sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and pesto instead. We’re a bit out of control like that.)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh basil