It’s a piece of cake to find Ciao Bella. Go to the Utrechtsestraat, focus and follow the scent of garlic and rosemary. The oven-roasted potatoes of this new deli are just around the corner. I bet the charming Venice-born owner and his cute daughter are waiting for you behind the counter – big smiles, sparkling eyes, ready to serve. Their Italian classics on display will certainly make you drool: lasagne with ricotta and spinach, melanzana alla parmigiana (an eggplant dish), tiramisú, torta della nonna (lemon tart). Order some portions to take home. Or feed yourself right now on the huge table in the back. This place has great sandwiches too – thumbs up for the one with veal and tuna mayonnaise. Pure home-made Italian food, a modern, warm interior, good vibes in abundance. Like! For a comfy ambience at home some portions of polpette (beef balls with tomato sauce) will do. These tasty balls are based on a secret family recipe – basil and stalks of celery being some of the ingredients. Serve these redheads with a red Montepulciano.
Polpette, one portion, €4.00
Prinsengracht 1055/H, City Centre
+31 (0) 6 41 70 94 17
Opening hours: Monday-Sunday 11am-9pm
Once I stayed on the Vietnamese isle of Phu Quoc. I slept in a so-so resort owned by German hippies. The next day I decided to check the place next door: Bo Resort. I was amazed. Everything was much better on the – equally prized – other side. The beach, the huts, the food, even the guests were cuter. They were more relaxed too; they knew they had found the right spot. The moment I had dinner at Ô Mai I felt just as comfortable as them. I knew this restaurant was IT. The fact that the mother of owner Luan Nguyen popped in to check if everything was fine, made me feel even more at ease. She smiled. Understandably, the food was excellent. Spring rolls filled with chicken, taro and prawns, raw beef marinated in lemon juice, honeycomb cake with caramel. The crispy pancake, bánh xéo, was another winner. This rice flour-coconut milk-turmeric pancake was definitely out to pamper me with the freshest prawns, pork, herbs and home-made sauces. Well, mission accomplished.
Bánh xéo, one, €12.00
Utrechtsestraat 12, City Centre
+31 (0) 6 43 59 87 40
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday noon-midnight, kitchen closes at 10pm
Lovely Audrey serves pieces of Paris on a dessert plate. This French lady is a graduate of the Ecole de Boulangerie et de Pâtisserie and a former employee of La Grande Epicerie de Paris. She left Paris for Amsterdam and started working at Petit Gâteau in the western part of town. Some months ago Audrey opened her own place: My Little Patisserie, a bakery/coffee spot filled with creamy home-made pastries of superior ingredients (Valrhona). Each one with looks that knock you off your feet. Check the millefeuilles, éclairs and the Rêve en Chocolat, chocolate mousse with raspberry panna cotta. My Little Fleur is another chérie. It’s a kind of cake – a pistachio financier biscuit, to be precisely – with two ‘toppings’: a crème with an intense pistachio flavour ‘wrapped’ in a raspberry mousse of cream and an egg white-sugar blend, meringue italienne. Love the way Audrey pronounces that. I wish I was French too.
My Little Patisserie
My Little Fleur, one, €4.10
Eerste van der Helststraat 63, South (De Pijp)
+31 (0) 20 470 69 49
Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday 9am-6pm
Admit it. You would love to devour these fish bonbons, don’t you? The soft salmon cuties you’re staring at are one of the many treasures of Amsterdam’s one and only fish boutique: Vis op Zuid. All of the fishes on display here come straight from the fish auction of IJmuiden, a village near Amsterdam. If you have guests and you really want to spoil them, I suggest you to make a platter of fish bonbons, the sparkling trout-champagne salad and some grams of the magnificent King Crab’s salad. Add some thin crackers, open a bottle of champagne, Chardonnay, Chablis or Riesling et voilá: your aperitif deluxe is ready to roll. Want to serve your friends a delicious three-course dinner? Start with fish bonbons. End with a dessert of white chocolate. Serve a green salad with John’s quiche in between. The salmon-broccoli-zucchini pie created by this super friendly employee is definitely a winner.
Vis op Zuid
Box of fish bonbons, €7.95
Maasstraat 27a, South (Rivierenbuurt)
+31 (0) 20 767 04 64
Opening hours: Monday-Tuesday 11am-7pm, Wednesday-Thursday 10am-7pm, Friday 9.30am-7pm, Saturday 9.30am-5pm