Café Briljant, Haarlem.

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Haarlem is a small city to the west of Amsterdam. Far more than just a satellite town, Haarlem has an important history itself, and provided the name for a suburb in New York. The heyday of beer brewing in Haarlem goes back to the 15th century, when there were no fewer than 100 breweries in the city. And it’s twinned with Derby, England.

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There are a good number of cosy and warm Dutch pubs (brown bars), and a jewel in the crown is Café Briljant. They stock around 50 beers, with a heavy Dutch and Belgian prevalence;  offer 5 changing taps; and 29 whiskies. They also offer a real community vibe, nestled as it is in a quaint suburb. There is  great window seat to watch people go by (above) or an equally appealing alcove seat at the back.

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Venue: 8/10

A relaxing venue, and perfect for gathering some energy after a wander around some very pleasant suburbs.

Beer: 7/10

A good range with 5 changing taps to keep you interested.

Café Belgique, Gravenstraat.

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Café Belgique hides in plain sight- amidst chain retail outlets, it’s easy to not notice this gem of a beer warren.

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One of the smallest bars in Amsterdam, you’ll find yourself wondering, “How can this be one of the smallest?!”. Unbelievably, they host live music. I’m not sure how, or why- as appealing as music is to some, it won’t make this one-room cubby-hole any bigger, so it’s not like they can pay the DJ off the back of increased customer revenue- it’s always full. And heed that advice- turn up very shortly after opening (3pm) and you might get a seat.

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In truth, it thinks it’s way cooler than it is. And by ‘it’, I partly mean the clientele. If this were London, we’d call them scenesters. The website states “It’s frequently visited by a varied public of locals, expats, musicians, artists and dj’s”. See what I mean? Who cares if artists go there? Do I feel better about my Orval because the guy with an unkempt beard sat too-closely next to me sticks wires through books encased in styrofoam and calls it “A Critque on the Abandonment of Western Values”, and his dreadlocked girlfriend photographs litter blowing in the wind for her forthcoming exhibition in a disused plastic bag making factory? No, I do not.

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For the size, the beer choice is broad- 50 bottles and 8 taps, but even this is too many as evidenced by the foul taste of the Floreffe Blonde.

Venue: 9/10

The only real criticism is the size, but that’s also part of the atmosphere. And when you do finally get that corner seat by the window, boy does it feel cool.

Beer: 6/10

Decent range, but unfortunately not all the taps are very well maintained (I’m looking at you Floreffe Blonde).

Staring at Jacob

This great little brunch-and-cocktails place is located on a corner of Amsterdam where Staringstraat IMG_2609meets Jacob van Lennepkade (Staring + Jacob = clever name!). Having sampled the brunch on one previous occasion, we decided to head there last Sunday (along with the camera) and fill up on more delights before a long walk through the city.

 

The combinations on the menu do seem a little odd – Yorkshire puddings crop up in plates which also feature ratatouille – but they do have simple offerings in the ‘sides’ section of the menu, so you could always create your own fare. We both opted for ‘The all-rounder’, as you can see in the picture below:

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Needless to say, we both cleared our plates, drank all of the maple syrup and felt throughly satisfied. Callum also discovered a new beer he’s rather fond of, which is turns out, is from an Amsterdam-based brewery.

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Below are some shots of the cafe itself. We got there at just the right time as there was a table available straight away but by the time we were finished, a chatty queue was building and the bar seating was full of people ordering beers and delicious-looking cocktails (it was about 12:30 by this point, on a Sunday. Definitely drinking time!).

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If you want to see more pictures then head to their Tumblr site or if you’re in the area head over and sample their delights for yourself. It’s still a new place; you don’t have to scroll far down on the Tumblr feed before you get to the construction pictures! I will definitely be heading back for more pancakes and syrup… Perhaps some cocktails will also be sampled??

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(Just one more picture of the food. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

The most wonderful time of the year

I love Christmas. Yes, I’m one of them. One of those people who gets a little excited feeling around mid-OctoIMG_2067ber, just as the air feels like it’s hardening and evening darkness encroaches upon the afternoons more and more. Whilst most are still mourning the lost of summer and have not had the heart to put away their flip-flops, I am already feeling nostalgic and looking forward to seeing fairy lights and eating mince pies.

If you do not share my feelings (i.e. you have a more rational perspective on the Christmas festivities) then you will no doubt feel the urge to hit people like me if we have the nerve to utter the “C” word before Decemeber 1st. Callum doesn’t share my love of the anticipation of Christmas so I have to keep my glee under wraps, as it were.

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Now we have almost completed our first week of December, I need hide it no more. The lights are up, presents have already been bought (some of them wrapped) and I’m playing Fairytale of New York on an almost daily basis. I have already made, written and posted all of my cards – but I didn’t take pictures, which was stupid because I was very pleased with them this year. However, for the past couple of years I have never been able to feel fully in the Christmas spirit because in Holland Christmas is still second-best; Sinterklaas is the big celebration over here and so gets the most attention from shops (and therefore shoppers).

As a result, my advent calendar is less typical than those we have in England (although not as much as Callum’s), I’ve had to hand make a ‘Happy Xmas’ banner and still haven’t eaten a single mince pie. (My options are to pay more than €5 for six M&S ones or make them. It’s practically a violation of my human rights.) Think this is likely to dampen my Christmas anticipation? Not at all. I just know that it won’t really feel like Christmas time until I reach jolly ol’ England toward the end of December…

PS. If you’re still feeling more Scrooge than Santa, have a listen to my newest favourite Christmas song by Aussie comedian Tim Minchin. It’s lovely: