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Aug 16 15

Taste of Honey, a Deventer hidden gem

by maxineclayman

Quirky cafe Taste of Honey is a Deventer hidden gem and the star of this Dutch town

It was like Russian roulette at Amsterdam’s Central Station when, on a sunny Sunday, Sharps and I decided to take pot luck and head on a train to a small town called Deventer Netherlands tourist information. We had managed to get ourselves a cheap day train ticket that can be used anywhere in Holland. The plan was to visit Maastricht for the day but we overslept. And as Maastricht is about two-and-a-half hours from our base in Amsterdam we decided it was too late in the day to go and check it out. In hindsight probably quite ambitious anyway as you really need a weekend to do Maastricht any kind of justice. So with no set plan, apart from a quick look at the tourist board’s website which has vague info on anywhere other than the usual Dutch city suspects (think Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam), I suggested the Hanseatic town of Deventer. It laid claim to being one of the oldest cities in The Netherlands, plus it was a bit over an hour away from Amsterdam. And this was how I came to stumble across a Deventer hidden gem, A Taste of Honey.

Taste of Honey Deventer reindeer

Reindeer on display at A Taste of Honey in Deventer and it’s not even Christmas

As luck would have it the Sunday in August we decided to go coincided with Deventer’s annual book fair, the largest annual consumer book fair in Europe. Sharps noticed hoards of old people waiting at the station for our connecting train (our journey from Amsterdam took about an hour-and-a-half in total), but strangely they didn’t all get off at Deventer. On arrival it was relatively easy to find our way to the city centre, in part because there was a lady with maps and info at the station (she was there due to the book fair), but also because the town itself is relatively compact.

Deventer book fair Holland

Deventer, the biggest annual book fair in Europe

Deventer is a typical Dutch town, consisting of an obligatory market square, which was where we found the book fair. While obviously the majority of books were in Dutch it is also possible to find books in English too if you can be bothered to hunt them out. We were also fortunate that because of the book fair most of the shops were open as it’s worth noting that otherwise they are usually closed on Sundays. Deventer’s other claim to fame is that the epic war film, A Bridge Too Far, starring Sean Connery, Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman – the list of famous faces goes on – was filmed in Deventer. As you can see from my pic below the very bridge shot in the film is behind Sharps.

A Bridge Too Far Deventer

It was while we were wandering round the shopping area, made up of lots of little side streets, that I spotted A Taste of Honey, my Deventer hidden gem. What I loved about this cafe was the outdoor area – a big courtyard where you could sit outside on couches or chairs decorated with fluffy cushions and order food.

Taste of Honey cafe Deventeroutside

Outdoor entertainment at Deventer’s Taste of Honey cafe

Tucked away at the back there was a cool wooden conservatory, again decked out with tables and couches and adorned with lots of paintings of the same (slightly creepy looking) child – the owner told me this used to be a form of poor man’s art in Holland. We timed our pit stop perfectly as we even had musical entertainment, to our delight a couple of guys were playing the accordion.

Deventer hidden gem Holland Taste of Honey

Welcome to the weird and wonderful (and slightly creepy) decor inside

It wasn’t just the outside of this Deventer hidden gem that was cool. Stepping inside A Taste of Honey (names after a Four Tops hit) was a surreal throwback to the 50s, with songs from the decade playing in the background, Johnny Cash memorabilia and almost Spanish feel. On the walls were a host of quirky pictures, a selection of reindeer and flamingos and downstairs was equally as interesting as the ladies toilets had glittery silver seats and there was a big jukebox in the corridor.

Deventer hidden gem Taste of Honey cake

Cake o’clock at Taste of Honey

What made this a Deventer hidden gem for Sharps was the food. The menu is pretty basic – a selection of bagels (from €4.50 – €8.50), salads, cakes, hot and cold drinks (€2.65 for coffee and €2.35 for tea) and we shared a generous slab of Dutch apple cake (€3.75), served on a proper china plate. The soft, plump apple had a hint of cinnamon and was bit strudel-like in taste and texture, and Sharps ordered a huge dollop of fresh cream on the side (€0.60). I have to be honest and say while we had a lovely day out it there isn’t that much going on in the town itself so it was definitely A Taste of Honey that made our trip to Deventer sweet.

 

Jun 28 15

Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam

by maxineclayman

When the weather hots up the Dutch head for Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam

Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam is where the locals decamp to as soon as the sun comes out in the Dutch capital. The reason Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam is so popular, apart from the fact that it’s a nine-mile stretch of golden sand, is because it’s just 30 minutes on the train from Amsterdam Central Station (€5.30 each way). This makes Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam an easily accessible day trip from Amsterdam. Alternatively you could choose to stay overnight at the beach resort and combine a city and beach break, an Amsterdam hidden gem as sunbathing on the beach isn’t something you’d automatically associate with a visit to Holland.

Zandvoort beach Amsterdam

Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam

To be honest having previously checked out a couple of Amsterdam’s urban beaches I wasn’t expecting much from Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam. I was proven wrong. True the town itself is a bit tacky. The centre of Zandvoort aan Zee has a couple of main streets filled with clothes shops, the obligatory bucket and spade shops (even the Hema there sells them), cafes and bars. Zandvoort reminded me a bit of Newquay in Devon or some other English seaside resort. But once I hit the beach it was a different story altogether.

Chilling out at one of Zanvoort's beach bars

Chilling out at one of Zanvoort’s beach bars

I couldn’t believe that Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam was in Holland. The sand was super soft under my feet and seemed endless. Sharps said he felt like we were on a proper holiday abroad (as in out of the city and on a beach type holiday). What was also great about Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam is that despite the mass influx of daytrippers from Amsterdam (our train was packed on the way out) its size means there’s plenty of space for everyone. I was surprised at how easy it was to find a relatively secluded spot to sit on the beach.

Zandvoort beach

Who needs ice cream when you can have herring on the beach?!

Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam is great for families (there’s a Center Parcs too) but I also loved that it has a series of cool beach bars making it a great hotspot to hangout on a summer’s day. We stopped for lunch at Skyline 13, an Australian beach bar. Having seen the food at some of the other beach bars along the strip I knew we weren’t going to be talking haute cuisine but actually the food was pretty good, as was the service. I opted for a huge nacho salad (€10.50) with guacamole, spicy sauce, feta, lettuce and sour cream. Sharps decided on a BBQ chicken salad (€10.50) which was also massive so you could easily share a main dish between two. If you prefer to stay on the beach there are also various mobile food stalls dotted along the seafront selling fish, hotdogs, ice cream and cold drinks.

Lunch at the Skyline 13 Australian beach bar

Lunch at the Skyline 13 Australian beach bar

After lunch we walked all the way along Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam until we got to Bloemendaal beach. We had planned to investigate the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park but we only got as far as one of the lookout points before deciding we’d be better off coming back another time with bikes to explore the park’s trails properly. We never actually got round to doing this though as next time we came back we headed down the beach in the opposite direction. After about half an hour the crowds started to disperse and we discovered another cluster of beach bars that had a much more chilled vibe.

Sunset at Zandvoort beach near amsterdam

Sunset at Zandvoort beach near amsterdam

Most of the daytrippers tend to stay at the bit of the beach close to the station by Skyline 13 so if you want to properly relax away from the crowds it’s worth the walk. And if you really want to feel free, there is also a nudist section of the beach in that direction. We stayed till sunset then reluctantly had to drag ourselves away to catch a late train back to Amsterdam. It felt like a romantic mini beach holiday. You won’t even need an excuse to visit Zandvoort beach near Amsterdam. It’s the perfect way to spend a sunny summer’s day in Holland.

May 3 15

Mamouche, the best Moroccan restaurant in Amsterdam

by maxineclayman

If you’re prepared for the looong wait then this is definitely the best Moroccan restaurant in Amsterdam

I’ve walked past Mamouche, the best Moroccan restaurant in Amsterdam, numerous times but it wasn’t until recently that I ventured to pay it a visit. Mamouche is situated in a busy part of the Amsterdam’s trendy De Pijp neighbourhood and home to Albert Cuyp market. The area is teeming with trendy bars (like hidden speakeasy the Butcher) and restaurants, making it easy to overlook the best Moroccan restaurant in Amsterdam.

Mamouche Morrocan restaurant in De Pjip

Mamouche the best Morrocan restaurant in Amsterdam

From the outside Mamouche looks quite posh. There are tables and chairs outdoors where you can sit outside if the weather is nice. Inside the restaurant has an intimate feel. Our table was next to the bar where we were mesmerised by the bartender making cocktails.

Mamouche Amsterdam starter

Our starter at Mamouche was a generous portion

The contemporary menu at Mamouche is a mixture of Moroccan and French influences. We decided to share a starter of a tuna bric, a generous sized portion which was delicious. I have to admit when it comes to Moroccan food I don’t really expect it to be fine dining. But at the best Moroccan restaurant in Amsterdam I was proven wrong. I was particularly impressed by the presentation of the dishes at Mamouche. Our starter resembled a giant samosa and the crisp pastry, almost tempura like in batter, covered tuna in the middle. This was served with a salad with a sweet dressing.

Mamouche seabass couscous

My surprising seabass couscous at Mamouche, the best Moroccan restaurant in Amsterdam

Main courses were equally as exquisite. I had ordered seabass with couscous and was expecting couscous with pieces of seabass in it. What eventually arrived was a revelation. Sweet sultana couscous topped with sweet onions, chickpeas and a delicately cooked piece of seabass was surprisingly light. The sweetness of the sauce and the couscous could have been overpowering but it worked well as it was offset by the slightly salty seabass. Sharps had the special, guinea fowl, morels and potato crisps. He said had a pleasant cinnamon flavour running through it.

Mamouche restaurant meat main

The guinea fowl special at Mamouche, an Amsterdam hidden gem

I’d have to say that the food at Mamouche was faultless making it an Amsterdam hidden gem. But my only reservation (and it’s a big one) about it being the best Moroccan restaurant in Amsterdam sadly is the service. The staff were polite and helpful but what was unacceptable was the ridiculous wait between courses. From getting our starter to having our main was nearly an hour and a half.  We asked a couple of times how much longer it would be, each time being told soon, which clearly wasn’t the case. It actually got to the point where we were so hungry we told the waiter to forget about our main courses and to just bring us the bill. He then brought us a glass of wine each by way of an apology and our food miraculously appeared quite sharpish after that. I’m glad we stayed as it would have been a real shame to miss out on the main event. But I guess it depends how much patience, and time you have, as to whether you think it worth going to the best Moroccan restaurant in Amsterdam.

Mar 15 15

The Railway Telegraph the best pub in Forest Hill

by maxineclayman

Thanks to a revamp this could be the best pub in Forest Hill

I never expected to be writing about the Railway Telegraph pub in Forest Hill, let alone describing it as the best pub in Forest Hill. In the five years I’ve lived in South East London I’ve never actually been inside the Railway Telegraph. Not because it’s on Stanstead road so a little out of the way from the main hub of Forest Hill. But because, to be frank, it looked like a total dump. Which was why I was a bit surprised to learn that some the Forest Hill fashion week events were held there a few months ago.

Railway Telegraph pub Forest Hill

The Railway Telegraph SE23, no longer an old man’s pub

It all made sense when I received an invite to sample the new menu. It turns out that the Railway Telegraph, the best pub in Forest Hill, is undergoing something of a revamp. First off, the transformation from old man’s pub you wouldn’t dare to set foot in to a cool destination pub is pretty impressive. Not only is the Railway Telegraph the best pub in Forest Hill it also easily serves the best cocktails in Forest Hill. All of which looked almost too pretty to drink. Almost. I opted for a knickerbockerglory. This rum-based mohito complete with raspberry cream on top looked exactly as it sounds. I wasn’t brave enough to try the English Rose, an absinthe based cocktail, but I’m told was quite pleasant with a mere hint of the lethal liquor.

Railway Telegraph pub cocktails

A grown up knickerbockerglory and one of Forest Hill’s best cocktails

I also discovered there are plans afoot to have a hidden gem of a Victorian style drinking den in the basement of the best pub in Forest Hill. It reminded me of The Worship Street Whistling Shop – vintage furniture and lots of dark wood which gives it more of a pub vibe as opposed to a pretentious cocktail bar. As it only seats around 25 people, meaning it will be tickets only. But that will give this speakeasy more of a secluded feel.

The downstairs drinking den at the Railway Telegraph pub Forest Hill

The downstairs drinking den at the Railway Telegraph pub

The drinks may have been inventive but when it came to the food, I have to be honest, I wasn’t holding out much hope. Fortunately I was wrong – the executive chef comes from the Hix stable. His menu of wholesome cooking, inspired by Mrs Beeton, proved to be hearty without being heavy. We sampled a selection of dishes. These included moorish pea and mash fritters, duck livers on brioche with whisky cream and oysters wrapped in bacon on a light base of puff pastry (my friend Sabina said you could taste the saltiness of the sea). As I don’t eat meat I was treated to the grilled seabass (minus the crayfish and clams as I don’t eat shellfish) in a white wine and tomato sauce. I also tried some of the veggie option of tasty roasted red peppers stuffed with red rice, herbs and topped with feta cheese.

Railway Telegraph downstairs restaurant

The downstairs restaurant at the Railway Telegraph SE23

I’m not usually a pudding person but for me the stand-out dishes were the desserts that I somehow managed to find space for. A rose Turkish delight, mulberry and almond cheesecake was creamy and fluffy and the best cheesecake I’ve tasted in a long while. I’m not usually a fan of dark chocolate but the classic combination of chocolate and orange in this rich dark chocolate orange tart was divine.

Railway Telegraph pub

Forest Hill may be an up-and-coming area of South East London but one thing it sorely lacks is a decent restaurant (not counting Babur as it’s in Brockley Rise). The Railway Telegraph pub could be the answer. As well as serving up its own new menu Threepenny Mansion, the upstairs dining room, is going to be used as a function room and a space for fortnightly pop-up restaurants. It also has a terrace area where people can hang out too.

Railway Telegraph Forest Hill

Another exciting development is the outside area of the best pub in Forest Hill. There are plans for BBQ’s, a kids’ play area and outdoor film screenings. There’s even talk of further down the line the car park being converted into a beach for the summer of 2016. With so much going on (and not forgetting those cocktails) the Railway Telegraph, the best pub in Forest Hill, is no longer on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s an SE23 hidden gem worth taking a detour for.

Feb 22 15

Utrecht hidden gems

by maxineclayman

Why there’s never been a better time to explore these Utrecht hidden gems

The lovely @EmilyMatheison recently flagged up the Dutch city of Utrecht as one of The Guardian’s must-see cities to visit in 2015 so I thought I’d share my experience of some Utrecht hidden gems. Utrecht (the 2015 home to the Grand Depart of the Tour de France is about a 25-minute train ride from Amsterdam.

Utrecht canals

Utrecht’s canals

Having spent a lot of time in the Dutch capital, I decided to take the opportunity to take a day trip to this neighbouring city to discover some Utrecht hidden gems. Utrecht is a bit like a mini version of Amsterdam. If you’re looking to escape the more touristy side of Amsterdam (ie the Red Light District with all the stag and hen dos), Utrecht is the ideal place. It still has all the charm of Amsterdam with its cobbled streets and canals just on a smaller scale. Even for me it was pretty easy to navigate your way around its compact city centre.

Utrecht Free City Tours

Outside the inventor of the X-ray’s house on the Utrecht Free Tour

We decided to visit Utrecht on a Saturday. Mainly because I’d read that a Utrecht hidden gem, a free city walking tour, only runs on Saturdays and I was keen to learn more about Utrecht’s history. The Utrecht Free Tours start at 12pm, leaving from the Dom Tower, and take three hours – there is a break for lunch. Our guide, Ellen, was pretty easy going and very knowledgeable, giving us the lowdown on some of Utrecht’s past without it being too dull. I was also impressed by the number of people she had to shepherd around Utrecht as there were about 30 people in our group.

Utrecht's Dom tower

Utrecht’s Dom Tower

The tour begins right in the historic centre of Utrecht, in Dom Square. Ellen explained why the Dom Tower and Cathedral are separate (which is quite unusual). Initially the middle part of the structure had been built of wood. It burnt down in the 17th century and was never replaced. It later became an area associated with scandal as it was the site of large-scale persecutions of gay men in 1730.

Dutch architecture in the streets of Utrecht

Dutch architecture in the streets of Utrecht

Next, Ellen pointed out some of the houses of Utrecht’s most famous former residents. The only Dutch Pope came from Utrecht, although he never actually got the chance to live in the house he built for himself. And Wilhlem Conrad Rontgen, the inventor of the X-ray and winner of the first Nobel Prize in physics was in fact expelled from Utrecht University.

Letters of Utrecht

Letters of Utrecht

Utrecht is also home to a Miffy Museum (the Dick Bruna Haus) – I learned from Ellen that Miffy is in fact a girl. And on our tour we also walked along the riverside and took in the picturesque park of Brutenhof, which was once where Utrecht’s city walls used to be. Another of the Utrecht hidden gems I discovered was the pretty cool Letters of Utrecht – an ongoing poem started in 2012 which has a new letter carved into the cobblestones of Utrecht every Saturday.

Utrecht canal

A Utrecht local chilling out canalside

There are of course lots of canals in Utrecht. What struck me is how much lower down the water levels are to the ones in Amsterdam (the canals in Utrecht are much older). Sitting in one of the many canal-side bars you’re almost in the water and it makes them the perfect place to stop off on a sunny day – though it might be advisable not to sample too many Dutch beers so you can stay steady on your feet. A day trip gave me time to discover some Utrecht hidden gems but no doubt there are plenty of others I’ll have to come back for before the year is out…