Amsterdam 2013 – We go Dutch at De Roode Leeuw

Having sampled some traditional Dutch snack food at Cafe Hoppe for a late Sunday lunch and an Indonesian rice table meal on Saturday night, we decided to try and find somewhere that offered traditional Dutch food on Sunday evening. This turned out to be more difficult that we anticipated as, like in many other northern European cities, there are plenty of restaurants offering overseas menus, everything from Chinese to Uruguayan, although Argentine seemed to be the most popular.

Undaunted we got a recommendation from the hotel receptionist and set off for a place called the King William steakhouse. I think we must have misunderstood the directions as when we arrived in Rembrandtsplein all we could find were pubs full of celebrating Ajax fans, who had been drinking since lunchtime. We asked a friendly cop, who was most surprised that a group of 50 somethings didn’t have a smart phone between them, for directions and he sent us up to Centraal Station. Passing yet more pissed up Ajax fans we found the restaurant and promptly decided it looked both expensive and not that authentic, with just a couple of pancake dishes tagged onto some international dishes.

The Eleventh Commandment

The Eleventh Commandment

Marginally brassed off we realised that we were pretty close to Het Elfde Gebod at the top of the Red Light District so we dropped in for some Belgian beer, Dutch gin and cheese. While ordering the drinks we got chatting with the  barman and asked him if he knew anywhere where we could get some real Dutch food. He suggested a place called in English the Red Lion or De Roode Leeuw (Damrak 93-94) as he helpfully scribbled on the back of a beer mat.

So setting off down Damrak from Centraal station we passed several groups of Ajax fans, a couple of groups of riot police and the War Memorial, before tracking the place down. to be honest it didn’t look much from outside, but inside we discovered a dark wood panelled interior with crimson and gold upholstery and wooden carvings of carriages hanging from the ceiling, while neatly uniformed waiters flitted between tables laid with crisp white linen.

After going through the ‘have you booked’ routine we were shown to our table and presented with the menu. I chose the herring with beetroot to start and it was lovely, beetroot and herring is a perfect partnership especially when it is served as creatively as it turned up on my plate. However as far as presentation goes that was only a taster. Nick and I had both ordered the hash of beef with black pudding which dully arrived in four separate serving dishes on a trolley pushed by a very attractive young waitress.

Artistry on a plate

Artistry on a plate

As we waited she crafted the mashed potato into perfect quenelles with a pair of spoons then created an appetizing design on the plate with the hashed beef, red cabbage and black pudding.

Perfectly crated hash

Perfectly crafted hash

It tasted as good as it looked, especially the crisp black pud which together with the red cabbage and apple was a match made in heaven. Needless to say our attempts to help ourselves to seconds were not quite as visually appealing, but we wolfed them down nonetheless.

As you can imagine we were all pretty stuffed, but I still found room to polish off some cinnamon ice cream.  If you fancy some good hearty cuisine served with panache De Roode Leeuw is certainly worth searching out and it’s not bad value either . For four we paid €166 for starters, mains, wine and water, plus two desserts and tip.

Amsterdam 2013 – Arrival

It’s been a busy old week for the residents of Amsterdam, what with a round of royal musical chairs, the Dutch remembrance weekend and Ajax playing at home. To cap that we turned up.

Canal boats decked out in royal orange.

Canal boats decked out in royal orange.

When we arrived there on Saturday afternoon there was so much orange bunting around that you could even have concealed someone in an easyJet uniform. We’d booked into the Ibis at Waterlooplein this time rather than take a risk at a booking site as we did last time. You know what you are getting with an Ibis and as soon as I managed to get myself up from the floor (why can’t they put the in room safe at eye level?) we were ready to sink a Head Knock (lager with an Old Jenever chaser) at our favourite Amsterdam pub de Sluyswacht (Jorddennbreestraat 1)

Sunset from the Rear Terrace of De Sluyswacht

Sunset from the Rear Terrace of De Sluyswacht

Like the British as an imperial power the Dutch developed a taste for the cuisines of their overseas colonies and we’d taken the precaution of booking a table at our favourite rice table restaurant Tujah Maret (Utrechtsestraat 73) in advance to give the Powder Monkey her first taste Indonesian food.

The table groans under 25 different dishes at Tujah Maret

The table starts to groan as 25 different dishes arrive at Tujah Maret

I’m glad that we did book, there’s something quite gratifying about seeing other people being turned away as you tuck into 25 different tasty dishes of chicken, beef, fish and veg, all tastefully arranged in degrees of fiery flavour from left to right (unless you were on the other side of the table that is). We even had room to share two deserts between the four of us . With wine, beer and water the bill came to €157 which allowing for the exchange rate is a lot less than you’d pay in London.

The Nightwatch

The Night Watch

So hunger assuaged we headed off into the night for a rendezvous with the Night Watch who are now back on guard in front of the statue of Amsterdam’s most famous painter at Rembrandtpein.

So do I get the job?

So do I get the job?

The bronze figures by Russian artists Mikhail Dronov and Alexander Taratynov returned in 2012 from a trip to New York and Russia, hopefully they are now home for good.


My Old Dutch – London WC1

For as long as I can remember the My Old Dutch Pancake House has been a fixture in High Holborn (132 High Holborn to be precise), but up until this weekend I had never ventured inside the place. I fancied trying somewhere different, but economic on Saturday night when Mab remembered that she used to eat here when she was an impoverished student at the Middlesex Hospital.

An old windmill at My Old Dutch

An old windmill tile at My Old Dutch

So after a few drinks at the Holborn Whippet (a marvelous little boozer in Sicilian Avenue serving craft beers like Adnams Oyester Stout) we decamped to the rustic Dutch splendour of My Old Dutch. The place was absolutely stuffed (mostly with students from London University and UCL, but with a good few tourists as well) so it was just as well that we had made a reservation. The restaurant is on two levels and our table was on the ‘quiet’ ground floor. Downstairs was a bit more rowdy with a bunch of Irish lads celebrating st Patrick’s Day.

We started off with a Dutch sharing platter for two.

Sharing Platter

Sharing Platter

This came with six bitteballen (Dutch meatballs), two slabs of deep-fried cheese, a selection of Edam and gouda cheese and some twists of smoked salmon accompanied with a sour cream and a mustard dip. This high cholesterol treat slipped down a treat even if I did burn the inside of my mouth with a hasty bite of thermonuclear bitteballen. For anyone expecting the mustard dip to be a bland continental affair, think again it’s made with English mustard so expect a bit of a kick.

Then the pancakes arrived.

Good heavens they are massive

Good heavens they are massive

They arrived on massive Delft plates covering them right up to the rim. They looked a bit like pizzas’ only they were on a Dutch pancake rather than a bread base. I had the Hot Dutch,

Hot Dutch

Hot Dutch

a wonderful confection of pepperoni, chorizo, cheese, red chili and tomato. Hot and spicy it reminded me of the Vesuvio pizza that I had enjoyed so much at the El Toro Steakhouse in Salou only with a pancake base that contrary to what I had feared worked really well. I also sample Mab’s ‘build your own’ pancake with chicken, spinach, cheese and chili which was quite nice too. Much to my surprise although the pancake base looks very insubstantial by the time we had munched our way through the main course we were too stuffed to even contemplate a sweet one for dessert!

My Old Dutch has only a very limited wine list, but it does have a good selection of Belgian Beers including Fruli strawberry ale and the draft Heineken at £3.40 a pint is cheaper than most nearby pubs.

So what’s the damage? We paid £97.76 for four people with starters, mains, a potato wedge side, a bottle of Cabernet, two pints and Malteasers shake (just imagine slamming Malteasers in a blender with some ice cream) . Price includes optional service charge.

Would we go back? Yes it has a good ambience, it’s not that expensive and there are lots more things on the menu that I fancy trying. They also do a loyalty card – buy nine pancakes the next one is free!

There are also branches of My Old Dutch at Kensington and Chelsea.

Soho – Coffee, a Shot of Garlic and some Pastis

Having a child free weekend it was off to Soho on Saturday night for a bit of adult time.

After a bit of booze shopping at Gerry’s we had a mooch in the Algerian Coffee Stores (52 Old Comption Street). Established in 1887 this has to be one of the best smelling shops in London with 80 fragrant coffees and 120 different teas on sale. You can even get a coffee to go at a bargain £1 for an espresso, beats Starbucks into a cocked hat in my opinion.

Best Little Coffee Shop in London, the Algerian Coffee Stores

Shopping done it was time for a drink so we went to the French House in search of some pastis. It’s not a big boozer and the downstairs was absolutely rammed, but one of London’s best kept secrets is the new upstairs bar where the restaurant used to be.

View from the top, upstairs at the French House

Just like downstairs you can only have beer in halfs, but you can generally get somewhere to sit down. There are some pretty groovy prints on the purple painted walls, featuring some of the French’s illustrious former patrons, like Aleister Crowley, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, which are available to purchase. We settled down at the bar and spent an hour or so chatting with the barmaid over a couple of Henri Bardouins, while waiting for Mr Wolfe to turn up. The French has an interesting history which you can read here

Our dinner date for the evening was at Garlic and Shots (14 Frith Street).

Garlic and Shots

We hadn’t eaten in Garlic and Shots for ages and some of the reviews I had seen on-line recently were pretty rough, but I suspect they must have been by people who hate heavy rock music and just don’t get the Swedish restaurant’s point. There are 50 shots on the menu and garlic comes with everything! It’s in the beer, the starters, main course and desert (garlic and honey ice cream is surprisingly good) . A round of garlic beers ordered we hit the menu. I ordered a crayfish starter which was delicious followed by the enormous garlic burger.

Garlic Burger

It was heavenly. We shared sides of baked whole heads of garlic and the most gigantic slabs of tasty garlic bread ever. I even forced down some of that legendary garlic ice cream. considering that there were four of us and we had three rounds of garlic beer, starters, mains, sides, water and desert I thought the final reckoning of £200 including service wasn’t bad.

Alfred Hitchcock – Leytonstone’s East End Boy Made Good

He may have been a big noise in Hollywood, but Psycho director Sir Alfred Hitchcock was born in east London’s Leytonstone in 1899. The town has a few memorials to Hitch, including a pub, the Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel (147 Whipps Cross Road) where I met up with my old mate Fran last night for a couple of pints of Fuller’s London Pride. Short of the name I don’t think the pub bears much relation to the director, although it’s my kind of boozer with comfy sofas, a discreet and silent TV for sports fans, no music (don’t get me wrong I love a pub with a stonking great live band too) and well cared for real ale. It was just the place for two middle-aged geezers to catch up on old times, but that’s another story.

Psycho mosaic Leytonstone Tube Station

Back in 2001 a selection of mosaics celebrating Hitchcock and his works wer unveiled at Leytonstone’s tube station and I could not resist taking some snaps with my old Sony compact last night. Not an easy job given the highly reflective nature of the little tiles and the poor light in the tunnel.

Hitchcock in the director’s chair

The works by Steve and Nathan Lobb, Carol Kenna, Claire Notley and Julie Norburn at the Greenwich Mural Workshop were commissioned by Waltham Forest Council, after asking local people to choose the pictures.

Tippi Hedron in The Birds

Hitchcock’s father, William was a greengrocer and poulterer who once sent the young Alfred to the local police station with a note requesting he be locked up for being a naughty boy. no doubt this was a formative moment in his upbringing for the Master of Suspense.

Young Alfred outside his dad’s shop

My favourite of the murals is this one of Cary Grant being chased by cropduster the from North by Northwest.

Cary Grant in North by Northwest

It’s also probably one of my favourite Hitchcock movies, partly because I like Cary Grant anyway, but it also has some great set pieces like the cropduster

and the finale on Mount Rushmore, not to mention a brilliant musical score by Bernard Herrmann.

If you fancy taking a look at the mosaics or raising a glass to England’s greatest film maker at the Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Leytonstone is on the Central Line.

Pre-Raphaelites, Spies and Vin Diesel – Saturday in London

On Saturday we took a trip into London to visit the Pre-Rhaphealites Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition at the Tate Britain. I find the Pre-Raphaelites a very interesting group of artists, who have to my mind been somewhat sidelined by art historians in favour of what was going on over the channel in France during the 19th century. What the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) did was to reject the view that Raphael represented the pinnacle of artistic achievement, they looked back to the bright colours and truth to nature of the Italian art that preceeded him. Mind you the colourful personal lives of Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, Lizzie Siddall, William and Janey Morris were in many ways just as interesting as the PRB’s subversion of the Victorian art establishment.

Having studied the Pre-Raphaelites  for my undergraduate degree I really enjoyed seeing so many of their paintings together. I particularly liked William Holman-Hunt’s The Shadow of Death. This was the first time I had seen this work in person and I was surprised its sheer scale. I suppose being more familiar with Hunt’s smaller paintings like The Awakening conscience or The Light of the World I was expecting something a bit smaller. Yet the thing that struck me most forcefully in this study of Christ in his fathers’ carpentry shop was the detail of the wood shavings on the floor. I was also pleased to see that the decorative arts produced by Morris and Co. got a good showing alongside the paintings. I highly recommend this exhibition.

Having arrived in Pimlico (nearest tube to the Tate) about an hour before our show slot we decided to have a wee drink at the Morpeth Arms first.

The Morpeth Arms

This is a nice traditional boozer selling Young’s Ales right on the Thames riverbank. We carried our drinks upstairs to the Spying Room. I don’t know whether Kim Philby or Anthony Blunt used the Morpeth, (there are pictures of famous spies in the stairwell, including Mata Hari who I know didn’t sink pints of Young’s Special here) but from the upstairs window you do get a great view of the MI5 headquarters on the the opposite side of the Thames.

James Bond’s office London

After leaving the Tate we headed up the Thames embankment for Westminster tube only to discover a whole mess of overturned trucks, smoke and fire engines on Lambeth Bridge,

Mayhem on Lambeth Bridge

‘What all this?’ I wondered, it turned out to be a film set for Fast and Furious 6, not a sign of Vin (the unthinking man’s Jason Statham)  Diesel though.

‘Where’s Vin Diesel?’

Moving on we took a walk through Victoria Tower Gardens where we came upon this rather lovely piece of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture.

Buxton Memorial Fountain, Palace of Westminster in the background

This is the Buxton Memorial Fountain. It was commissioned in 1865 by the MP Charles Buxton to commemorate his father Thomas Fowell Buxton who, along with William Wilberforce and Thomas Babington Macaulay was instrumental in the emancipation of slaves throughout the British Empire in 1834. The fountain was designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon. I’d never seen the fountain before, it’s finding this sort of unexpected thing when you wander around this great city that makes living in it so interesting.

As Big Ben struck five,

Boing (five times)

We descended into the tube station. Our destination was Butler’s Wharf (nearest tube Tower Hill) on the Southbank where we had a table booked at Brown’s. Our good fortune held and we got a table outside overlooking the river as the day drew to a close. I plumped for the Brown’s Burger (about £12) which came with chips and a small dish with gherkins, fried onions and ketchup accompanied by a proper Vespa Martini made with Lillet vermouth and a twist of lime (£7.25). It was the perfect way to end the day as the Sun set over the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.

Canary Wharf after dak

As we walked back to Tower Gateway Station and beheld Tower Bridge lit up in all its glory, I could not help but reflect on what a fantastic city London is. Despite living here for 50 odd years I am constantly discovering new things about the place.

Tower Bridge

The French House Soho

The French House (49 Dean Street, W1) is one of my favourite pubs in London.

The French House

This boozer has a tiny bar and gets very crowded. According to Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant this is his “favourite bar in the world”. During WWII General de Gaulle and the Free French adopted the York Minster (as it was then known), prompting the acquisition of its present name. Officially renamed in 1985, it’s no surprise that it serves more Ricard than any other British outlet.

Oddly enough it was founded by a German fellow by the name of Schmidt in 1910. However in 1914 it was bought by a Belgian Victor Berlemont, when Schmidt was deported as an enemy alien on the outbreak of World War One.

Wall space is crammed with former patron’s memorabilia, including original cartoons by the London Evening Standard’s Jak, complete with printer’s marks. Former guests include painter Francis Bacon, Oliver Reed and Guns and Roses. Don’t order a pint though, beer only comes in halves, save for the year’s first pint, traditionally drawn on 1 April by Madness singer Suggs. It’s a family thing; his mother was a barmaid here.


Upstairs there is a restaurant, must try it one day.


Soho, John Snow and Cholera

In Soho’s Broadwick Street there is a pub called the John Snow.

The John Snow

So who was John Snow?

Well he’s the chap who worked out that cholera was caused by bacteria from water polluted by human waste. You see back in the early 1800’s most physicians believed that diseases were caused by something called miasma or to put it bluntly bad air. So when in 1854 there was an outbreak of cholera in Soho, no one was surprised as there was not only lots of poo going into the River Thames, but also cesspits dug below most of London’s houses and loads of horse shit on the streets all contributing to what was known as ‘the great stink’.

Snow was puzzled by why outbreaks of the disease were concentrated in certain London areas and by a process of elimination that would have done Sherlock Holmes proud, he discovered that most of the Soho cases were concentrated around Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) and that one group of local people were strangely immune. These were the brewery workers and Snow’s research showed that they only drank beer. Putting these facts together Snow worked out that something was contaminating the water at he local pump. He managed to convince the local council to remove the pump’s handle which forced the locals to use a different well for their drinking water and the cholera epidemic was cleared up

Close to the pub this here pump is a memorial to Snow.

Water pump memorial to John Snow

It’s not the original pump, that used to be just outside the pub, where its position is marked on the pavement. Funny thing is Snow never touched a drop for most of his life, still we have him (amongst others) to thank for helping to provide London with decent sanitation, so I will have a drink for him.

The pub got itself a bad reputation when the landlord threw a strop about same-sex couple kissing (c’mon its in mega gay-friendly Soho of all places). From choice I don’t use it because it’s one of those Sam Smith’s boozers that has no real ale and I can’t stand their fizzy keg beers and lagers.

The Hell Hunt – Tallinn

As soon as we’d settled down at our table, I remembered why we’d liked this boozer so much the last time we had visited Tallinn. Delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen, reasonably priced beer and King Crimson’s Moonchild on the stereo. It was a home from home,

Best pub in town, the Hell Hunt (Friendly Wolf)

and given that it is a bit off the established tourist hangouts (Pikk39), the prices aree a lot more reasonable than the joints around the town square, where a pint can cost up to €5. Hell Hunt homebrewed ales come as Hele (lager) and Tume (dark ale) and at €2.90 a pint are pretty good value, there is also quite an awesome assortmant of foreign draughts, but we hadn’t come all this way to sup Newcastle Brown or Belhaven St Andrews Ale.

The bar at the Hell Hunt

The other great advantage of its location is that although it is often busy, it’s rarely visited by the stag parties that plague the centre of Tallinn at the weekend, so it’s a nice relaxed place to enjoy lunch or a few drinks on a night out. The choice of music is pretty cool too: the Beatles, Who, Paul Weller, Oasis, a bit of punk, metal and prog, but never so loud that you could not enjoy a conversation.

The menu is full of interesting dishes like;


Basturma, a kind of air cured beef served with tartare sauce, salted herring or smelt, deep fried cheese, meatballs, pig’s tongue with horseradish, pickled cucumber,

Russian dumplings

fried Russian dumplings with sour cream and spicy tomato sauce and even pickled lampreys. There are filling soups, salads, pasta dishes, spicy sausages and a very decent hamburger, but the star dish for me is the crispy potatoes with mince and cheese. It’s tasty and filling, just the thing for the sub-zero temperatures outside and at under €5 you can’t knock it for a good value lunch. In fact you would be hard pressed to spend over €10 on a lunch at the Hell Hunt without some industrial scale boozing.

I particularly liked the lampshades fashioned from barbed wire.

How do you change a light bulb in the Hell Hunt? With great care!


Shock Horror – The Coach and Horses Goes Veggie

Regular readers will know my favourite Soho boozer is the Coach and Horses in Greek Street.

The Coach and Horses, Soho

The Coach and Horses, Soho

Well strange things are afoot at Private Eye’s local, the kitchen has gone veggie. On Friday I met some pals there for lunch, well more a graze while we chewed the literal fat, but the bar snacks we sampled, courgette chips (£3.50), chips (£3) and Welsh Rarebit £5.20) were excellent. In fact the Welsh Rarebit was the best I have ever had.

The very tasty veggie sausage roll

On Saturday we popped in for a livener, as we were in town before meeting Mr Wolfe for dinner in Fitzrovia. I had just intended to have a swift pint, but down from the kitchen came the chef with a platter of veggie sausage rolls. I just had to have one, and so did Mab and Old Nick. Despite the thermo-nuclear temperature of the filling (aubergine, courgette, peppers,onion etc) they were so good, we devoured them in record time, leaving a small mountain of flaky pastry crumbs on the bar top.

Whether the new menu will find favour with regulars is another thing, and I for one will miss the Scotch eggs,

The late lamented bar snacks of The Coach and Horses

and especially the jumbo pork scratchings.

Pork scratchings

At least the decor hasn’t changed since Jeffrey Barnard propped up the bar and the only banging music is when Betty pounds the ivories for a sing-song.

The magnificent Betty at the Coach and Horses