Tag Archives: cafe

Eye Bar (Noord, Amsterdam)

I’m just back from a few days in Amsterdam, and of course that meant I had the pleasure of wandering along picturesque tree-lined canals and peering across the water at pretty, tall houses. But sometimes, it is also interesting to find yourself in a part of town that might not be on the list of tourist hotspots, but which is changing and which brings with it a distinct buzz. In my case, I went to the “new” northern quarter of Amsterdam.

Noord is a corner of the city that is clearly about to change. Years ago, a trip to Amsterdam involved arriving at the main station, and heading south towards the charming old buildings and leafy canals as soon as you could. North? Oh no. The mighty river IJ (pronounced “eye”) marked the end of the city and beyond was terra incognita as far as the visitor was concerned, most probably unexciting territory won from the water. In short – not promising territory for those more interested in Dutch Masters and vintage flea markets.

But the times are changing. The city is building a new metro line to connect this quarter with the rest of the city. I’m sure it’s quite a feat as they have to deal with all those canals. As part of the renovation project, a new film museum has already opened on the north of the river. It gleams like a sleek yacht belonging to an unknown millionaire and has a cladding that is something of a nod to Dutch artist MC Escher, made from tessellating trapeziums (isosceles trapezoids, if you’re keen on geometry…I think).

But there is no need to wait years for the metro to be finished – just jump on the (currently free) boat behind the main station (which leaves every 5 minutes) and you’re on the other side of the IJ in, well, the blink of an eye. So what does this place offer the visitor? Besides some rather grand architecture of the building itself, there is a rather fantastic little cafe and restaurant, the Eye Bar-Restaurant.

I have to confess that it took me a moment to work out the clever name – it’s a play on the fact that it’s a cinema, and it’s on the River IJ, so the whole complex is called the Eye. In my case, it clicked after about 10 minutes. I like it.

The decor is wood and lots of black and white (a nod to the history of film) and the Eye has large glass windows offering vistas of Amsterdam. Now, let’s be honest, Amsterdam seen from here is not exactly picturesque. However, you do get to enjoy big skies and lots of sun dancing on the water. It’s actually all really rather lovely.

I didn’t arrive at the Eye at the right time for lunch, but I can recommend it as a place for coffee and cake. During my visit, they had only three sweet options on offer, which might seem a little bit thin. Just apple, lemon and chocolate.

However, what there might have been lacking in quantity was more than made up for in quality. The lemon and chocolate cakes came from Patisserie Holtkamp, and the apple tart (appelgebak) was from Patisserie Kuyt. A promising start!

Now, I need to confess that my picture really does not do this applegebak justice at all. It’s very much a tart – a buttery, crumbly base with generous amount of apple slices, currants, flaked almonds and cinnamon. Absolutely delicious.

I wondered if this was a healthy apple tart? Probably it was getting there, apart from some sugar and the rather heroic swirl of whipped cream along the side of the tart. But to have had it without the cream? Well, it probably would not have been the same experience. If you arrived flagging and ate a slice of that with your coffee, you’d leave happy and ready to take in more of the city.

Would I go back? Most certainly. The service was good, the coffee and cake excellent, and the Eye Bar has a spectacular terrace that allows you to make the most of a sunny day, or large windows to let in lots of light while protecting you from the elements. It’s also an area that is sure to change in the near future, so I’m sure I’ll pop back in if I’m in the neighbourhood.

Eye Bar-Restaurant, IJpromenade 1, 1031 KT Amsterdam. Tel: +31 (0)20 589 1402.

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On Location: Kipferl (Angel, London)

Everyone like a bit of Austro-Hungarian grandeur now and then, and I was really rather excited when I learned that one of the nicest little streets around Angel has acquired Kipferl. If you know your baked goods, this should be saying “Austrian” right now, and this little café brings a little hint of Viennese life to the area. It’s located on Camden Passage, a lovely little pedestrian lane just off of busy Upper Street, with a great mix of independent antique shops, art stores, jewellers (think original 1930s art deco a la Wallis Simpson) and vintage clothing stores, so it’s a welcome addition.

A friend had mentioned this place to me, and I went there one Monday in January. I had a free day, and fancied that something noodle-focussed with cheese, a piece of chocolate-and-apricot-jam-rich Sachertorte and a cup of Wiener Melange would be in order against the cold weather.

Too bad – it’s shut on Mondays. Firmly shut. Ho-hum.

Well, finally, finally I manage to get myself together and go there for dinner, and I’m very happy to have discovered that it’s really a rather lovely little place. Given this is a short bus ride up the hill from my place of work, all in all this works out rather well.

The style is what I recall from my visits to Austria as “new Viennese” – white walls, lots of wood, and veering towards the Nordic (but there are nods to history – can you spot Mozart up on the wall?), and everything in a modern, functional font. It’s a clean look that does work rather well in a café, as I have a bit of a fear that lots of dried flowers and ruffles probably hide nightmares made of dust.

So, all things equal, if you’re looking for chintz, baroque and lots of Empress Sissi, this probably isn’t the place to come. Of course, you’ve got a riot of purple and decadence across the street in the Paul A Young chocolate shop, and I’ve no doubt that their sweet treats would have made the French (but in reality Austrian) Queen Marie Antoinette really rather happy. Would she have tried the Marmite flavour? Doubtful, but she would have love the salted caramels and truffles.

However, I digress. Back to Kipferl. The name is German for croissant, and it offers a simple, modern take on Austrian food. I’ve got a soft spot for this cuisine and the Austrian people after spending a few holidays in Styria in the south of the country, where the local specialities are white wines and pumpkin oil (of which more below), both consumed on terraces in the middle of small vineyards that cling to the sides of steep valleys. In Vienna, I’ve been to excellent chic restaurants that served traditional food prepared simply but well – memories of fried Spätzle noodles with cheese still linger.

It’s fair to say that this is all good, solid fare for people who would be doing a lot of walking up mountains. Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp children might have enjoyed singing up the side of a mountain, but I would wager that it was a plate of Kaiserschmarrn or Spätzle that powered them up there and helped them recover after the hike back down.

During my visit, we tried a goat cheese and lentil salad, spinach dumplings and the classic – cheese Spätzle noodles!

The first two were delicious, but the latter – oh my! The picture doesn’t really do the dish justice, but it was delicious – substantial, with lots of cheese and a side of fried, golden-brown onions. I wolfed this lot, then picked the pan clean.

After all that hearty food for a main dish, you might think there was no room for a dessert, and you would be right.

Except…those Austrians have a knack for cakes and sweets. Think about it – Danes don’t eat Danish pastries, they call it wienerbrød (Viennese bread). The French nibble on Viennoiseries (“thing from Vienna”). And at Kipferl there is a decent selection of bakes to have with coffee as well as a choice of traditional goodies – rich Sachertorte cake, Kaiserschmarrn chopped pancakes with fruit compote and apple Strudel. With a beaming waitress egging you on, it is sort of difficult to say no…

Both desserts were delicious. On balance, I have to plump for the Kaiserschmarrn which were rich, lightly sweet and came with a dark cherry compote and fresh berries. It was a calorific way to round off a meal, but very pleasant.

Just room left for the coffee, and I loved how the different options – from very milky to black – are explained with this little colour chart. Rather nifty!

After dinner, I had a little wander over to their display shelves, where you can pick up Austrian wine and pumpkin oil. It’s the latter that I was delighted to see – it’s made from pumpkin kernels, which give up a thick, dark green oil that has a rich, nutty flavour. It works wonderfully on simple green salads, drizzled over noodles, stirred into risotto or mixed into thick natural yoghurt for a dip. It tends to be on the pricey side, but if you do happen to see some, it’s well worth picking up a bottle.

So…would I go back? Most certainly. This place has a nice, relaxed feel to it, and it’s just that little bit hidden away so as to stay special. In particular the staff were very charming – I suspect they were Austrians, and could not have been more polite or helpful, yet maintaining a distance when you were mid-meal. You might not be able to work out how to solve a problem like Maria, but you know that you would at least be able to have a heart-to-heart with her over a decent Wiener Melange in London town.

Kipferl, 20 Camden Passage, London, N1 8ED. Tel: 0207 704 1555. Tube: Angel.

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On Location: The Lido Cafe (Brockwell Park, London)

“South London” and “Miami Beach” are not terms that you would usually expect to find in the same sentence. However, there are times where you can get the feeling of being in the latter while actually being in the former, and one of those times is when you’re at the Lido Cafe in the lovely Brockwell Park on a warm, sunny day.

No, really! Sitting next to a 1930s-style building next to a bright blue pool, the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, a table laden with healthy brunch items and fresh fruit juices, you can just about imagine you’re lazing somewhere on South Beach. This is how we enjoyed it during the summer when we had a few warm weekends.

Anyway, that was all six months ago…I was there again yesterday, and let’s be honest – when it’s three degrees in London and you’re wrapped up in a thermal jacket, scarf and gloves, that Miami-vibe is not quite as obvious. But fret not – it might not feel like SoBe, but the cafe is thankfully still pretty darned good.

First things first is the building, which alone is worth a mention. At its heart is the lido itself – a large open-air swimming pool, which is great for a dip in summer. The structure is a 1930s construction (I lean towards calling it art deco in my naivety, but I get the feeling I might not be right on this). This all means the cafe is a large, airy space with lots of windows to allow light to flood in. It’s bright during the day and all summer, and as the sun does set, you catch glimpses of the sunset over Brockwell Park. As you can see, the look is quite simple and stylish, and very relaxed.

On previous occasions, we’ve enjoyed breakfast here, and it’s pretty good – delicious pancakes, mushrooms on sourdough toast, exotic fruit juices (and – bonus – they serve Marmite with the toast if you want it!). However, on a chilly January day, following a long and bracing walk in the park (which offers some great views towards central London), we veered towards coffee and cake. We plumped for a slice of the tasty, lightly spicy carrot cake with a generous spread of cream cheese frosting, and a slice of orange, almond and polenta cake.

We hit the place just before it was time to collect toddlers form the local nursery, so it was pretty much kid central for around an hour. If you appear around 3:30, be quite prepared for a series of small child to appear behind you, to tug your clothes and then ask you questions. All part of the charm. And if you’ve got a couple of small folk in tow, this place is a pretty safe bet to make them happy, especially when the pool is open in the summer. You’ve also got the park outside if the energy from all those cakes needs to be burned off.

Finally, I just want to draw your attention to the funky wallpaper that adorns the back of the cafe. Amazing, isn’t it? I have a vague recollection that we had curtains like this at home when I was growing up. Ah, memories…

So…would I go back? For sure. I love this place – the 30s building, the bright, open space and the delicious food. It’s pretty much kid central, but just sit back and enjoy the ride. In summer, it is fantastic sitting outside by the pool, and there aren’t a lot of places in London where you can do that.

The Lido Cafe, Dulwich Road, Brockwell Lido, London SE24 0PA. Tel: 020 7737 8183. Brixton Tube or Herne Hill Rail.

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On Location: Fred & Fran (Stoke Newington, London)

I had three months off last summer when I changed jobs. Much of that time was spent hanging out in London, mostly in the park, reading the papers every lay and lazing around in the sunshine. And there was the frequent mooching around in the cafes and coffee shops of Stoke Newington Church Street. All good.

But I am now also a little annoyed, as Fred & Fran have chosen to open their new cafe now, rather than last summer when it would have suited me. Because this is just the sort of place I could have seen myself wandering over to every day for coffee and a snack to accompany a little light reading.

Fred & Fran is a great little place serving great food and excellent coffee. It’s a couple of streets back from Stoke Newington Church Street, so it’s a little quieter and, in my experience, this means you stand a sporting chance of getting a table when you turn up. Not that the place is not busy, but for the time being (and until the world finds out about this place) they’re getting it right.

As you can see from the pictures, there are quite a few rather charming retro touches. Tea pots come with knitted cosies around them, and the teacups are fancy old-fashioned flowery variety. Water is served in old milk bottles, and in my case it was a bit of a blast from the past to see a bottle carrying an advert for Balisto chocolate bars. A quick search on Google suggests they are about to be re-launched in the UK. What goes around comes around, eh?

When you come in, you’re face to face with a large selection of very tempting cakes, which were driving several children into a bit of a frenzy.

But it’s not all cake, and I was seriously impressed with the savoury dishes on offer. It was a flip between the spinach and nutmeg soup or an open sandwich, but in the end I went for bruschetta with cannellini bean spread, feta and roasted peppers, and a roasted aubergine, lemon and goat cheese affair. Both were delicious – lots of bold flavours and very satisfying. The latter also had a good shot of garlic in there. This is veggie food that is very far from being dull.

After my satisfying lunch, the debate was around whether it was time for cake. I concluded that it was.

While I was a little full, but it seemed wrong not to finish off my pot of Earl Grey without a slice of something sweet. And what a choice! Lemon tart, pear and yoghurt cake, mini fruit loaves, almond tarts…all looked great. And on previous visits, I’ve seen lovely croissants, Chelsea buns and a fab ginger and stout cake. But what stood out as the jewel in the crown was the carrot and walnut cake. It had to be that one.

Now, I can promise you that this one tastes as good as it looks. Nice and spicy, moist and with generous chunks of walnut. There was also a good cream cheese frosting to cake ratio. I loved it. In face, I probably ate too much of it. But I would happily go back there again, and again, and again. Also a perfect place to pop into for a fortifying cup of coffee and a snack before going off on a long walk down towards the river or through the back streets of East London.

Fred & Fran – good to have you here and welcome to the neighbourhood!

Fred & Fran, 55 Kynaston Road, London N16 0EB. Tel: 07788 158 742. Bus: 73, 393 or 476  (stop: Bouverie Road).

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On Location: Hive (Brixton, London)

Buzzzzzzzzz…let’s head South of the River. After making honeycomb, let’s go to Hive.

If you don’t live in London, the whole issue about whether something is north or south of the Thames might be a little surprising/irrelevant, but there is still a hard-core of people who are staunchly in favour of one or the other, and those souls will just point blank refuse to cross a bridge unless really, really forced to do so.

Lucky, then, that I am not one of those people. I was in Oxford Street to buy a new camera, and got chatting to a friend who suggested lunch in Brixton. After too much travel between London and Brussels, she was tired and did not want to come into town, so I headed down to her neck of the woods. A bit of umming and aaahing and we headed to Hive for a late brunch/lunch affair. More laziness than anything, as we do have a tendency to go there quite a bit when I’m in Brixton.

I have to say, I quite like it here. The atmosphere is relaxed, testified by the tables of mums with a kid in tow (one kid per mother, both engaged with each other, rather than just wall-to-wall screaming), or people sitting on their own reading the weekend papers over a late brunch. The decor is great too – the bee motif is picked up throughout the venue, and there is a lot of character from the shabby-chic details.

Now, the bad news: if you are a strict vegetarian, there is not a huge amount of choice. Typically one starter and one main, plus some options on the sides(*). However, while the choice can be limited, what I have eaten here has always been tasty.

This time, I had gnocchi with tomato sauce and pesto on a bed of roasted squash and aubergine. Simple, but just perfect. The gnocchi were cooked perfectly, still plump but a little chewy, and fried just enough to provide the merest whisper of a crisp coating, but without been oily or too heavy. The sauces were both good – the tomato was fresh, fruity and juicy, and the pesto was nice and fresh (so easy to get wrong, so extra credit for getting this right!). All of this on top of well-cooked aubergine and squash, which fell apart nicely on the plate. It was a nice, simple combination of flavours and textures which I thought really worked well.

In contrast, if (unlike me) you are a fan of eggs, then there is a decent brunch selection to choose from. My lunch companion chirpily informed me that these dishes were tasty, and I have to admit that they certainly looked and smelled pretty good. I might not eat them, but I can appreciate when they look good on the plate. Fortunately, there is also a nice choice in desserts and cakes – I plumped for a slice of orange and carrot cake, which was moist, soft and beautifully spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon.

So would I go back? In all honesty, I would not come all the way to Brixton just to visit Hive. However, this is nothing really against Hive, and when I am in this part of town, I think it has a sufficiently relaxed atmosphere with reliably good food and friendly staff(**) that it is a great place to potter about, read the papers and while away a lazy Saturday afternoon.

(*) In terms of sides, the chips are pretty darn good – and come in a rather nifty little container with a paper collar, à la the newspaper from the chippy in days gone by.

(**) Really, they are always super-friendly. Chatty when you are in the mood for that, but leave you in peace if that’s what you want too. Keep it up!

Hive, 11-13 Brixton Station Road, London SW9 8PA. Tel: 020 7274 8383. Tube: Brixton

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