Tag Archives: coffee

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: Fika (Shoreditch, London)

Fika means a Swedish coffee break, usually involving a little snack. I know this, because I used to live there. I loved living in Stockholm – lovely coffee bars, and great cakes and snacks. When looking for a place to meet my friend K a couple of days ago, I discovered Fika, a Swedish café/bar/grill with a roof terrace on Brick Lane. While we didn’t make it there in the end, I decided that I really did have to go. Yesterday, I did just that.

Book in hand and with a vague appointment to meet a friend there if she was able to come, I jumped on the tube and headed over to Fika. How would it be? Could I look forward to tucking into a range of Nordic goodies? On the way over, I had ideas kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) and dillpotatis (potato salad with dill) in my mind.

Fika has a pretty slick website, with a philosophy based around simple, fresh food. So far, so good. I turned up, and the place looked promising. The owners have gone for the pared-down Scandinavian shabby-chic minimalist look, with a few ironic twists (reindeer skulls decked out with pearls, astroturf cut into the shape of a reindeer). I checked my watch – it was 3.30pm, so time for coffee and a much-anticipated cinnamon bun.

Except…they didn’t have any cinnamon buns.

I was almost ready to turn around and walk out. What is the point in a Swedish cafe without cinnamon buns? I ordered my coffee and settled for what was euphemistically called a summer berry tart (in May – why?). This might have been alright if it had been cooked properly, but the middle was borderline raw and unpleasantly doughy. It had been heated slightly, I suspect in part to hide the fact it probably wasn’t quite cooked. This cake was not difficult or elaborate, so it pretty bad to flunk on something so simple. This place would last about five minutes on the streets of Södermalm in its current form.

Would I go back? No. Perhaps the mains and savoury dishes are better, perhaps it’s the coolest place on Earth when it gets busy, but frankly, I don’t really care. It’s cute enough as a place for a drink, but from what I had, there are other places on Brick Lane serving great coffee and (in my view) better food, so it’s not as if you need to settle.

Fika, 161a Brick Lane, London E1 6SB. Tel: 020 7613 2013. Tube: Shoreditch High Street.

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Food trends and coffee walnut cakes

I remember the “old days” (i.e. the 1980s) when there did not seem to be food trends. The same cakes appeared in shops and cafes up and down the land, year in, year out.

Fast forward 20 years, and I’ve notice in the last two weeks that coffee and walnut cake seems to be everywhere. I think this is an interesting response to the recession/depression/armageddon we are in the middle of, but Britain is seeking comfort in old favourites, but with a new “old favourite” popping up every few weeks.

I remember my mother used to make these cakes when I was young, so this is my attempt. The eagle-eyed of you out there (I am assuming that someone, somewhere is actually reading all of this…) will notice that I’m not talking about “cupcakes”. To me, this difference matters. American cupcakes are huge.  Actually, they are too much for one person to eat, and I know that very often you would share one, but I have issues with the idea that one of these things is intended as a snack for one person. In Britain, we use the rather marvellous term “fairy cakes”. Small, light, whimsical and traditionally small sponge cakes with butter icing and covered in lurid hundreds and thousands. Fun! The point is that they are about a quarter of the size of their US cousins, so they really can be a little treat that you don’t feel so bad about. The coffee/walnut combination makes them more mature, with the walnuts providing some interest alongside the coffee.

For 12 cakes:

• 100g light brown sugar
• 100g butter
• 2 eggs
• 50g walnuts, chopped
• 100g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 50ml very strong espresso, cold (or strong instant coffee if you are in a hurry)

Set the oven to 180°C.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and a spoonful of the flour, and mix well. Add the cold coffee and the chopped walnuts, stir well, then add the rest of the flour and the baking powder.

Divide the mixture between 12 fairycake cases (make sure these are the small ones – if you use the larger muffin-sized cases, they won’t be full). Bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.

For the icing:

• 100g butter
• 200g icing sugar
• 50ml very strong espresso, cold

Combine the butter and icing sugar in a bowl and mix by hand until combined. Now add the coffee, the use an electric beater (or hand whisk if you prefer) to get the mixture really fluffy. Use it to top the cakes, and press a walnut half onto each cake. Voila!

Would I make it again? Well, that’s a bit of a cheat as this is my recollection of a childhood favourite. I love them, but be careful with the coffee – if you do use instant, it is easy to go crazy. Remember, we want a taste of coffee, not the feeling of sucking on coffee grounds!

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On location: Tina, We Salute You (Dalston, London)

All cooking and no socialising makes LondonEats a very dull person indeed.

So today we present the first “on location” post from LondonEats! Rather than a full-on food review, I’m going to ease myself into covering unfamiliar territory by starting with a friendly local coffee house.

While the coffee chains might appear to reign supreme in London, there is a healthy independent scene. Cue Tina, We Salute You in up-and-coming Dalston. This area was hailed as “the coolest place in Britain” by Vogue Italia, but take that with a pinch of salt – there are hipsters in abundance here, but it still has more “grit” than your average fashionista is probably comfortable dealing with.

Anyway, wrapped up for the cold and leaving my valuables at home, I headed out. It’s a fun little place, black and white decor with colourful, glitter decoupage on the walls. Coffee is great (good, strong, pronounced flavour which can be a relief after weeks of Starbucks) and the food it good. Just a simply bagel with melted cheddar was a great snack, so a big thumbs up that they are doing the basics well. There is also a selection of jams and various other goodies on the table to slather on your toast if you dig the communal vibe.

This is a chilled, friendly neighbourhood coffee place and a welcome addition to Dalston. The tube will be arriving in a couple of months, so it will be interesting to see how it changes and whether Tina will adapt. In the meantime, I’m quite happy to salute.

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