Last year I wasn’t looking forward to my birthday AT ALL so I decided that the only way to cheer myself up would be to take myself to New York. It worked! I had the most fantastic birthday ever. Whilst there, I made the decision that every birthday from now on would be celebrated internationally. So this year, I decided that my friends and I would go to Amsterdam for a long weekend.
I adore Amsterdam. I would move there in a heartbeat if I was able to do my job there. It is the coolest, most stylish, classy, beautiful cities I have ever been to. And luckily for me, its only a 50 minute flight from London.
I knew I wanted to have quite a relaxed, chilled weekend. I’ve been to Amsterdam before so I’d done all the usual touristy things such as visiting Anne Frank’s house, the museums, boat trips etc. This time I just wanted to hang out in Jordaan with my friends, meandering down the canals, popping into any cheese/chocolate shop we happen to pass, and stopping off for a bite to eat, a coffee or glass/bottle of wine and watch the world go by.
As you know, I am somewhat obsessed with food so that was clearly going to be my focal point for this trip. I had decided where I wanted to eat on my actual birthday but still didn’t know where I was going to go on the Friday night. Luckily, a week before I was due to go, I saw an article in the Guardian Weekend Magazine recommending the best city hangouts in Amsterdam. One of them was a restaurant called Lab 111. I asked around a few of my friends who know Amsterdam well and it had some mixed reviews. I decided to test it out for myself.
So on Friday night, my friends and I walked down Kinkerstraat into the Oud-West district of Amsterdam. We turned into Nicolaas Beetsstraat and then onto Arie Biemondstraat. Lab 111 is (very well) hidden within an artist complex called Smart Project Space, a cultural centre offering a continuously changing programme of exhibitions and events. This is very easy to miss! It is a very residential area and there is no way I would have stumbled across it had I not read about it in the Guardian.
We gingerly walked in. It didn’t look at all like a restaurant…more like a school. But as soon as you walk through the doors, you see a large room with a bar to the left and a a big green communal table underneath what looked like medical operating theatre lights.
Housed in a former anatomical pathology laboratory, the room of the restaurant used to be a classroom where medical students cut open corpses back in the old days.
What I especially loved were the walls. They were covered in photographic images of drink bottles on stacked supermarket shelves.
As soon as we sat down we were greeted by our incredibly friendly waiter. As it was our first night in Amsterdam, we ordered a bottle of Prosecco as we looked over the menu. The waiter then poured some outstandingly good olive oil into a saucer in front of us which we dipped our bread into. I asked the waiter where it was from and he gave me a booklet with all the details so I could order it online. It was stunning. Really grassy and full of flavour. I was impressed already.
Looking at the menu, one dish jumped out at everyone… smoked kangaroo with sweet potato, sauerkraut salad and sage-mustard dressing.
I wanted to try it but wasn’t sure I wanted the whole dish so once I was happy that 3 of the girls were going for the kangaroo and I knew I’d get at least one bite of it, I ordered the ravioli with ricotta, artichoke, parmesan and pommodori-tarragon-sauce.
This was very nice but a little heavy on the tarragon for me. I ordered it because I love artichoke but the flavour of the tarragon overpowered everything else unfortunately. It certainly wasn’t unpleasant…the pasta was as light as air, the tomato sauce was delicious, and if I loved tarragon, it would have been a winner.
However, it turned out that the kangaroo dish was the dish of the night….in fact, the whole weekend! We were talking about it days later.
This was a wonderful dish. The meat itself was very smoky, rich and so, so tender. It melted in your mouth. The sweet potato complimented it beautifully, as did the mustard in the dressing. Everything balanced perfectly. I was gutted I hadn’t ordered this myself. Luckily, I have very generous friends who kept offering me bites of theirs.
Kate opted for the cod fritters with wakame salad and paprika ketchup.
I really liked this too. Full of flavour, you could really taste the cod and the paprika ketchup sauce on the side really spiced it up.
For the main course, Claire went for the full-sized version of my ravioli starter. She too thought it was a bit heavy on the tarragon. Carmen and Faiza ordered steak with potato, romanesco and garlic-thyme-gravy…
I didn’t try this but was assured that it was delicious. Tender juicy cuts of sirloin and a beautiful rich sauce. Kate and I went for breast of duck with purslane stew, rhubarb compote and lavender gravy…
I loved this. The duck was beautifully cooked, and the sweetness of the rhubarb compote was a perfect pairing. One I would never have thought of before. The lavender gravy took it up to another level entirely. I thought this was a wonderful dish.
Once we’d finished our mains we asked for a bit of time before having pudding. The DJ was playing some really good tunes, we had some great wine on the go and we were enjoying the atmosphere.
Once we were ready, I ordered the cheesecake and the girls went for the cheese plates which came with a quince jelly.
The cheesecake was delicious. Dense yet not heavy, rich but not sickly. The biscuit base was perfectly crumbly, the cheese had the perfect amount of vanilla. It was lovely. I left the girls to finish off the cheese plate.
Overall, we all had a fantastic night. The waiters were incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, attentive and efficient. The food was wonderful and the place has a great atmosphere, with great music playing through the night. I’m so glad I read about it because if I hadn’t, I would never have found it. Its a bit off the normal tourist track but if you are planning on going to Amsterdam, please add it to your list of places to go.
Lab 111, Arie Biemondstraat 111, 1054 PD Amsterdam
Tel: +31 (0)20 616 9994