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Oct 19 14

Blauw, the best Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam

by maxineclayman

Is this the best Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam?

Forget curry or Chinese, it’s Indonesian food that’s a staple cuisine in Amsterdam. But with so many Indonesian restaurants, of varying quality, to be found in the Dutch capital it can be tricky to know where to go. I’d been told by those in the know that the best Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam is Blauw, located in the posh suburb of Amsterdam West close to Vondel Park. So it goes without saying I had to find out for myself if Blauw lived up to its reputation as the best Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam and was indeed one of Amsterdam’s hidden foodie gems.

Blauw Indonesian restaurant Amsterdam

Just one of the meat dishes at Amsterdam’s best Indonesian restaurant

I have to admit that things didn’t get off to the best start on the night I went. First up there was a mix-up with our booking, the restaurant called at 6.45pm to see if we were still coming, our table was for 8pm. Then I was given the worst table ever, right next to the bar and on route to the toilet, which mean there was a constant stream of people walking past. But we were given a more pleasant spot upstairs after I asked if we could be moved.

Blauw restaurant Amsterdam

Blauw restaurant Amsterdam

Blauw, the best Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam, is legendary for its rijsttafel (rice table). I went for the vegetable version and tried not to get distracted by other dishes on the menu, which sounded equally as delicious. I also opted out of a starter. I tried to warn my friends that the rice table was supposed to be massive, but I don’t think they quite believed me, and ignored my advice. One of them ordered deep fried crispy shrimp. Two huge pieces of shrimp, covered in a surprisingly light and fluffy batter that didn’t stick to the shellfish, served with a mix of sweet, savoury and spicy sauces. My other friend opted for Soto Ayam, a flavoursome, spicy chicken broth, the taste of the lemongrass and kaffir leaves really coming through, with decent-sized pieces of chicken in it.

Blauw Amsterdam restaurant

But I knew the best was yet to come. And I wasn’t disappointed. Our waitress said the rice table (all 18 dishes of it) was for one person. Seeing the gigantic amount of food before us I have to say it was a bit of a stretch, even for me. My friends had also ordered a meat, fish and vegetable rice table and a main dish of beef to share between them. I was so excited by the vast array of food in front of us I didn’t even know where to start. f it tasted as good as it looked I can see why Blauw is the best Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam.

Blauw Indonesian restaurant Amsterdam rijsttafel

Our table groaned under the weight of the rijsttafel

My vegetarian feast included a variety of veg in sambal sauces, mixed veg in coconut sauce, spicy tofu and tempeh dishes, caramelised potato, sweet and sour cucumber, fried banana and steamed and fried rice. Each dish was delicately flavoured and deliciously spicy, without being too hot, greasy or overpowering. For the meat eaters there were a selection of dishes from the vegetarian ricetaffel as well as goat in soy sauce, stewed beef in tumeric and in a spicy sauce with cinnamon, chicken satay, fried cod in a curry and a spicy sauce and pork in soy sauce with star anise. It wasn’t just our table that was groaning at the amount of food on it at Amsterdam’s best Indonesian restaurant. We were stuffed. Blauw may well be the best Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam but it also has a branch in Utrecht so I’ve no doubt it’s probably the best Indonesian restaurant in Utrecht too.

Oct 5 14

Best bookstore in the world in Maastricht

by maxineclayman

How an old Dominican church became the best bookstore in the world

As I’ve previously mentioned the Dutch city of Maastricht is full of hidden gems, which also includes this one, the best bookstore in the world. As you can see from my pictures, it’s easy to see why the Selexyz Dominicanen is a Maastricht hidden gem, and a contender for the best bookstore in the world.

Best bookstore in the world, Maastricht

Best bookstore in the world, Maastricht

Not dissimilar to another of my hidden gems, Maastricht’s monastery hotel the Kruisherenhotel, the Selexyz bookstore is housed in a converted 800-year-old Dominican church, originally built in 1294. The building hasn’t actually been used as a place of worship for hundreds of years. Napoleon is generally thought to have been the one that ordered its closure (it’s most recent previous incarnation was as a storage space for bicycles) but a requirement for allowing its conversion into a bookshop was that the church had to be completely preserved. This meant Amsterdam based architecture firm Merkx + Girold had to use free-standing scaffolding to construct the steel staircases and walkways that go up three floors. But their creativity paid off as the best bookstore in the world won the Lensvelt de Architect Interior Prize in 2007.

Outside the best bookstore in the world

Step insifde the best bookstore in the world

What’s also great about the best bookstore in the world is that it also sells some of the best coffee in Maastricht too. Coffeelovers  has a branch inside the Selexyz bookstore, where the alter would have formerly been. Once you’ve finished browsing you can relax with coffee and cake at the cross-shaped reading table and appreciate the award-winning architecture, that includes  a halo of lights. The best bookstore in the world is located in the centre of Maastricht on Dominikanerkerkstraat 1, about a five-minute walk from Vrijthof Square, so it’s also a great place to stop for a coffee if you’re out and about shopping.

Coffeelovers coffee shop Maastricht

Heavenly coffee and cake at Selexyz

It may well be the best bookstore in the world but sadly Selexyz, which was one of the biggest chains of bookstores in the Netherlands and owned the Selexyz Domincanen, went bankrupt in 2012. It was sold to Dutch investment company Procures which combined it with second hand bookstore chain De Slegte to become a new company called Polare. Unfortunately they also closed down their bookshops in the Netherlands a few months ago so the future of the best bookstore in the world is looking uncertain. Let’s pray this Maastricht hidden gem will still be opening its doors in years to come.

Sep 21 14

TerraZen Centre vegetarian restaurant in Amsterdam

by maxineclayman

Best budget vegetarian restaurant in Amsterdam

Finding a decent vegetarian restaurant in Amsterdam, especially in the touristy parts of town, can be tricky at the best of times. Amsterdammers love their meat (and herring) so I could barely contain my excitement at my discovery of the TerraZen Centre vegetarian restaurant in Amsterdam.

TerraZen Centre vegetarian restaurant Amsterdam

Utterly delicious chicken curry at TerraZen Centre vegetarian restaurant in Amsterdam

Of the few vegetarian or veggie friendly places to eat in Amsterdam most tend to be slightly further out of the centre (Betty’s and De Kas). This leaves non-meat eaters fairly limited, usually a toss up between with the less than healthy option of chips with various forms of mayo, or a cheese sandwich. Unbelievably the TerraZen Centre vegetarian restaurant in Amsterdam is located right in the middle of Amsterdam’s main shopping street, close to Damark and Spuistraat. But it’s still an Amsterdam hidden gem as it’s tucked away down a little side street on Sint Jacobsstraat.

TerraZen Centre vegan restaurant Amsterdam

Tasty tempeh burger at TerraZen

The TerraZen Centre vegetarian restaurant in Amsterdam has more of a cafe feel to it than a restaurant. It’s pretty casual, there’s a bit of a hippy vibe going on. And it’s also quite small – there are only about three tables and a counter area. Our table was quite low down so we sat on cushions while we ate but to be honest at this vegetarian restaurant in Amsterdam it’s really all about the food.

TerraZen Centre Amsterdam

The TerraZen Centre may not be much to look at from the outside but don’t be fooled

I was surprised by how extensive the menu was. Dishes combine Japanese and Caribbean influences, ranging from vegetarian curries and chicken katsu to noodles, burgers, stews, sushi and sandwiches – all totally vegan made from ingredients such as tempeh, tofu and lentils. feeling totally spoilt for choice Sharps and I decided to share two dishes. We went for a tempeh burger (on the basis the best burger I’ve ever eaten in my life was a tempeh burger in Sydney, Australia. Sadly it was years ago and I was too drunk to remember the name of the burger bar). We also decided to go for the veggie chicken curry with rice.

TerraZen vegetarian restaurant Amsterdam

Sharps finding his inner hippy at TerraZen vegetarian restaurant in Amsterdam

Apart from one rasta guy on the next table Sharps and I were the only people in the TeraZen Centre. Even so our food still took a while to arrive as it was being freshly prepared to order. But also unlike many of the eating establishments in Amsterdam the waitress was super friendly so we didn’t mind too much. Plus, unlike in lots of Amsterdam cafes, this food was well worth waiting for. Both dishes were tasty and packed full of flavour, though we both greedily fought over the creamy vegetarian chicken curry which stood out of the two. Sharps even said (unprompted) that he’d be keen to come back so he could try more off the menu at this vegetarian restaurant in Amsterdam. We both left feeling full and far more zen than we had in a long time.

 

Aug 31 14

Hotel Wailea, a Wailea hidden gem

by maxineclayman

Head for the hills with a stay at the ultimate Maui hideaway and a Wailea hidden gem

On the recommendation of my friend Bal, who raved about the luxurious resorts in Wailea, I decided it must be THE place to stay if you’re visiting Maui. What he didn’t warn me about was the scale of them. Wailea is full of huge hotels (and I mean HUGE) facing out on to the beach. Perfect if you’ve got kids, or are happy to just stay in the main tourist drag. But not quite so ideal if you’re trying to find a Wailea hidden gem, or you’re after more of a secluded romantic Hawaiian break for two. And certainly a bit of a shock to the system after the relative solitude of Kauai.

Hotel Wailea Maui view

Wailea’s hidden gem, views from the hillside vantage point of the hotel Wailea, Maui

Thankfully for us, we were staying at the Hotel Wailea courtesy of Travelbag and Discover America, which without a doubt is a Wailea hidden gem. Set back away from the main strip, the Hotel Wailea in Maui is nestled up in the hillside. This means this Wailea hidden gem is away from the throngs of tourists. Plus, you also have pretty impressive views while you eat breakfast.

Hotel Wailea Maui pool at night

The Hotel Wailea’s pool by night

What makes the Hotel Wailea, a Wailea hidden gem, also stand apart for me is its size. The Hotel Wailea has an intimate, boutique hotel feel. Part of the AQUA Hotel chain, the Hotel Wailea is smaller and more contemporary than some of its grander neighbours.

Hotel Wailea, Maui, room

Lounging around the Hotel Wailea, Maui

The hotel is more like a series of apartments. Each room has its own lounge area and kitchen, equipped with utensils, dishes, fridge and freezer, coffee machine, stove and microwave/oven. Maui is expensive. If you’re on a budget the Hotel Wailea is a great option as the facilities give you the choice to go self-catering. Our room also had a patio so we could sit outside on the sofa and chairs and appreciate the hotel’s immaculately manicured grounds.

Hotel Wailea Maui view from Capische restaurant

Breakfast is served at the Capische restaurant

As we were shocked to discover, it seems the norm that at most luxury hotels in the US breakfast isn’t included. The Hotel Wailea is an exception, offering guest complimentary banana bread, muffins and Hawaiian coffee to kick start the day. As well as views like this one.

Hotel Wailea bedroom Maui

Our room at Wailea’s hidden gem

What I also loved about this Wailea hidden gem is its swimming pool. I’m not usually one for lounging around a hotel pool but I have to admit this one was hard to resist. It was far too easy to wile away a few hours in one of the comfortable cabanas near the poolside bar (open from 11.30am) which serves up incredible frozen cocktails to order (it was tough to choose between a refreshingly fruity drink or one that tasted more like alcoholic ice cream).

Hotel Wailea Maui pool daytime

Who could resist the Hotel Wailea’s tempting poolside cabanas

The Hotel Wailea is about a five-minute drive to the beach. But it really isn’t a big deal as this Wailea hidden gem operates a free courtesy shuttle bus (it’s actually more of a big car). The bus drops guests off right at the beach, and it’s also only a five-minute drive to Maui’s main shopping precinct. This means you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything, giving you the best of both worlds. The Hotel Wailea also has an agreement with the Grand Wailea meaning that guests are able to use its beach club so you get access to beach towels, water and umbrellas free of charge. Wailea Beach is relatively crowded but given it’s proximity to all of the resorts it’s to be expected.

Big Beach Wailea Maui

Maui’s big Beach, off the Wailea tourist track

Luckily the Hotel Wailea’s shuttle bus also operates along the Wailea coast. Not only will it drop you at Wailea Beach, or any of the local restaurants, shops etc you can also ask to be dropped at some of Wailea’s less touristy beaches. Following a tip from one of the hotel staff we asked for a lift as far south as the shuttle bus would go to. From there we walked for about 20 minutes until we hit Makena Beach (Big Beach), more of a local beach with golden sand and not an umbrella or hotel in sight, just surfers. Sandwiched in-between we also came across some of Maui’s best beaches, Little Beach and Black Sands Beach, the only beach that has black sand on the south of Maui. Then, after an afternoon of chilling out you can just give the Hotel Wailea a call and they’ll head straight out to pick you up and take you back home to this Wailea hidden gem.

Aug 24 14

Best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent

by maxineclayman

Why veggies should head to Warempel, the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent

Belgium isn’t the easiest of countries to visit as a vegetarian so I was quite excited when someone recommended that I check out Warempel, the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent. I have to admit that after a stay in Antwerp I was pleasantly surprised that Ghent seemed to offer a much wider choice of  options for non-meat eaters.

De Warempel vegetarian main

A vegetarian feast at Warempel restaurant

As usual with lots of my hidden gems my first obstacle was actually finding Warempel. Although the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent is relatively central to all of Ghent’s main tourist attractions it’s tucked away down a little side street which explains what makes it so popular with locals. It’s so well hidden that we almost missed it (there was lots of building work going on down the street during my visit) but thankfully someone pointed us in the right direction.

De Warempel vegetarian lasagne

Vegetarian lasagne a Warempel staple

Sharps usually complains that it takes me ages to decide what to order. Luckily then for him the menu at Ghent’s best vegetarian restaurant is quite small. There’s the option of a starter of the soup of the day (mushroom the day we were there). Then there’s a choice of two main courses, one of which changes on a daily basis  and the other being a vegetable lasagne.

De Warempel best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent

Hidden  away down a side street, de Warempel, the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent

We decided to order one of each and share and we weren’t disappointed with either dish. A huge portion of creamy, tomatoey vegetable lasagne was served with various salads on the side. The dish of the day, vegetable samosas, consisted of spicy vegetables wrapped up in a fried, flaky pastry that wasn’t too greasy. Beautifully presented, it also came with a veritable feast of sides including a serving of saffron rice with sultanas, cauliflower florets in a mildly spiced tomato sauce, sweet carrot with flakes of coconut and a cucumber salad.

Inside De Warempel restaurant Ghent

Step inside Ghent’s best vegetarian restaurant

It ‘s not just the food that makes De Warempel the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent. Service was friendly and helpful and the atmosphere was quite laidback. I spotted a few solo diners as well as a mix of couples and friends out for a casual (and delicious) lunch. The only down side is that the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent is only open between 11.45am to 2pm on weekdays, with the exception of Fridays when it opens from 6-9pm. Evenings, De Warempel is open but just for group bookings  from 20 people, which is a real shame. I’ve no doubt a dinner menu at the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent would be equally as tasty as lunch here.

For more info on Ghent check out visitghent.be