Cups and Leafs – Tea for Two

logo_websiteLunch on a rainy summer Monday was a good reason to visit Cups and Leafs – located on the corner of Zijlstraat and Gedempte Oude Gracht in Haarlem’s main central shopping area. For myself and my lunch partner, this was our first time to Cups and Leafs, which opened for about six months.

The tea house/café interior is well-light, spacious and tastefully decorated with tea memorabilia of an Asian influence – credited to joint owner and tea expert Xiao who originates from China and a strong culture of tea drinkers. I arrived a few minutes early and was welcomed by Xiao with a tiny cup of tea. Unfortunately my lunch partner missed this lovely welcome ritual as she arrived at the same moment that a small group of new customers entered the café.

FOOD: The menu is expansive offering breakfast, wraps, salads, sandwiches, cheese-tea combinations, dim sum items (mainly dumplings), muffins, cakes, coffees and a plethora of black, white/yellow, oolong, green, herbal, flowered, flavoured, iced, frothed – and traditional teas seeped to strict guidelines that enhance the individual characteristics of each tea.Cups and Leafs

I chose a fresh lemon and ginger tea, more of a warm drink without actually tea, which was refreshing and matched the weather perfectly. I opted for the Japanese bbq beef wrap with beef, mixed salad, coriander, red peppers, black sesame seeds and a sauce. Although it didn’t remind me of any Japanese flavours, it was fresh and tasty.

My adventurous friend decided to try the blended chocolate black tea, presented to look like a chocolate sundae complete with whipped cream. To eat, she enjoyed a chicken bacon avocado multigrain roll – minus the bacon as it was unavailable at the time of ordering, and a side order of dim sum dumplings. She reported being happy with her choices and that she enjoyed her lunch.

SUMMARY: Great space, friendly but somewhat slow service, a wide menu of fresh foods with an Asian slant making Cups and Leafs a special venue to enjoy breakfast, lunch or a pick up cup of exotic tea with something sweet, dimsum morsels or cheese. Total bill: €26.


The Gin Sum Club

g&tAfter much anticipation, The Gin Sum Club(TGSC) opened its impressive doors eight weeks ago. Located on the corner of Zijlstraat and Gedempte Oude Gracht, evidence of the previous tenants, Rabobank, adds charm to this otherwise totally morphed building. New to Haarlem, the interior of GSMC is perhaps something you could expect to find in London, NY or Berlin. Slick, upmarket and urban.
Having made a reservation for Saturday, our party of four were seated at a table adjacent to the open kitchen – a comfortable, but very noisy position. The staff are well-versed in selling the restaurant vision and describing the menu. The blurb about a vision of sharing meals instead of traditional one plate-one customer dining – is a growing restaurant trend in Haarlem – and something that often (in my humble opinion) results in a very expensive evening with the need for a snack on the way home.

We ordered five plates from the dim sum menu: Veggie Gyoza (€7.50) with truffles and gsc4mini mushrooms; Crispy Chicken Gyoza (€5.25); Thod Man Pla Dumpling with lemongrass and ponzu (€6.75); Spring Rolls with duck, shallots and hoisin sauce (€8.25); and Fried Wontons filled with smoked eel and duck liver (€9.00). All dishes provided four pieces, were delicious and made on site. Accompanying sauces were correctly matched to the ingredients. Presentation was beautiful.

From the sharing menu, we enjoyed a Japanese style salad of yellowfin, dashi, cucumber, and citrus flavours (€13); Rendang gsc2Steak Tartare with ginger and Asian vegetables (€13); and Pork Belly with prawns and kimchi (€13). Again – all three dishes were delectable and aesthetically pleasing – yet being the size of an average entrée only provided each member of our group with small spoon size portion to taste.

The gin menu is the focus of TGSM with 40+ types of gin (ranging from €5.50-€11.50 per serve) and 18 types of tonic (€3.25-€4.75) and a plethora of garnishes to match the whims of every guest. All gin drinks are served in a tall glass with a stirrer holding a small piece of dry ice – that fizzes and emits a cloud of smoke when the tonic is added. This is a magical effect!
TGSM also offers a menu of cocktails, beers, wines and non-alcoholic drinks.

OVERALL: Our total bill came to €168. This included a bottle of sparkling water, 8 g&ts, 5 dim sums and 3 entrée-size share dishes. Yes – everything was delicious, the service was very good, and the venue was amazing …. yet we were all felt a little underwhelmed. On reflection, the reason being that we had expected a restaurant experience – and although TGSC has a restaurant, it is more bar/club than restaurant. The leather chairs that furnish the ‘lounging section’ are perfect for comfortable conversation while sipping on a fancy g&t and nibbling on dumplings. Next time, we will eat first and come later to enjoy and indulge what TGSC offers.



To Amuse – for that Special Treat

A fancy occasion, my birthday, needed a fancy restaurant and so on Friday evening we found ourselves being welcomed at To Amuse ( The restaurant is housed in the beautiful art deco building, previously home to the Douwe Egberts café and store.
Our table was located on the upper floor, which enjoys a little more space than the bustling ground floor. Décor is elegant with the lead lighting in the front windows adding a special warmth to the atmosphere.
Service is friendly, polite and professional. We were welcomed at the front door, escorted to our table and offered an aperitif – a smooth service that continued to meet our exp

To Amuse offers the choice of a daily four course set menu (€39.50), or, an extensive selection of sharing plates (think tapas), main meals (entrée size), desserts – from which you can pick and choose depending on the size of your appetite. We decided to experiment.

to amuse

Photo: maakelaarhaarlemcentrum

Sharing Moments:
Grilled Vegetables with Citrus Dressing (€7.50): deliciously roasted pieces of parsnip, beetroot, portabello mushroom, red pepper, pumpkin, zucchini, carrot and eggplant dressed with slight lemony sauce.
Croquetas Caseras (€3.95): mini croquettes filled with manchego cheese and pata negra (spanish ham) and chicken. Tasty morsels.

Main Meals:
Couquille Saint Jacques (€15): two scallops + two sweet potato beignets served with steamed spinach and a pumpkin cardamon sauce. Heavenly in the mouth – but a disappointingly tiny serve!
Brill fillet (€12.50): with potato rosti pancake, cheese and roasted tomatoes softened in a butter sauce. Wonderful combination of flavors with the fish perfectly cooked.

Still hungry we ordered two further Sharing Plates:
Tears Spareribs Pata Negra Varken (€9.50): three boneless spare rib slices marinated in the house bbq sauce. Tender treats.
Crispy Flatbread (€4): long slice of flat bread adorned with tomato and garlic butter. Crispy accompaniment to the ribs.

Our total bill came to €97.85 and included a bottle of South African Sauvignon Blanc (€25) and a bottle of water (€5).
Our evening at To Amuse was a lush experience. The service, food and wine were all excellent. Admittedly expensive, yet I have no hesitations in recommending To Amuse for that special lunch or dinner occasion.

The Golden Bull: Grab it by the horns!

bullThe idea of going to a steak restaurant in the Netherlands is not something I would usually agree to. Although there are plenty of Dutch cows, the local cuisine does not comprehend ‘beef’ – in any format except as mince meat. So on Friday night (with an IENS restaurant voucher in hand), we set off for an evening at The Golden Bull with low expectations.
The restaurant was warm, sparsely decorated, and very full. Tables are typically close enough that if feels correct to greet the people of the tables next to you. The staff were polite, knowledgeable and offered a professional waiting service not seen in most Haarlem restaurants.


Lobster Soup: rich, creamy bisque with generous morsels of lobster.
Caprese Salad: fleshy round balls of mozzarella, with basil and tomato – dressed in a very decent balsalmico dressing.
Argentinian Rib Eye steak (approx 230g) served with salad, and side dish of wide fries and mayonnaise. Steak as ordered was medium rare, soft and succulent – and oozing enough of its own juices to be authentic and delicious.
Dessert:golden bull
Crème Brulee: An art piece, that the waiter caramelized at the table. A beautiful end to the meal.

The bill for two people came to €96 (€30 Iens 3 course meal + a glass of prosecco + merlot malbec, €49 Iens 3 course with wine arrangement, bottle of sparkling water).

The food, wine and service at The Golden Bull is of a standard above what is usually on offer in Haarlem. The wine menu offers an adequate selection to accompany the dishes on the menu. The wine was decantered at the table with a suitable explanation. The service was impeccable. The food was delicious. What a delightful surprise!!

(NB borrowed photos)

Back to Basics – should include good service.

Thursday evening and Back to Basics were so busy that they had back-to-back bookings. We were seated in between the toilet and the kitchen, after waiting for our table to be cleared of guests and then having a quartet of young, ill-mannered women make a break for the now-empty table, leaving behind the least desirable table in the restaurant, which we were then seated at. Not a good start, but someone has to get the dud table.antipasto
Okay moving on.   The restaurant interior is cozy and relaxed. The wood-fire pizza oven sits in the middle of the restaurant, oozing the lovely smell of pizza cooking. Staff were initially friendly, then inattentive and careful to avoid all eye contact with guests. Naturally this resulted in delays in ordering, delays in individual meals reaching shared tables; hassle in ordering drinks; and by the end of the evening, an total lack of enthusiasm for dessert.

Vegetarian Antipasto (€9): a beautiful display of individually crafted and delicious pieces. The stuffed pepper on a bed of polenta was very good.
Tagatielle with Mushrooms and Eggplant: the homemade pasta seemed overcooked, which gave the dish a sloppy feel – although the mushrooms were flavourful.
Pizza Carfiofi (€12.50) – simple pizza with artichokes and black olives
Pizza Pera E Pancetta (€12.95) – with pear slices, walnut pieces and rucola (rocket)
Both pizzas were acceptable – uncomplicated, with light sprinkling of toppings. We both felt that more pizza sauce was needed.
We chose an easy-drinking Pinot Grigio (€21) to accompany the meal.

pastaOverall: The service was a problem that might be solved by adding more experienced wait staff. The meal was fine, although not worthy of a return visit.


Louisiana Lobster Shack: all hype, no bite

Newly opened, The Louisiana Lobster Shack is a very funky looking space. The walls are covered in interesting art works, the craybar is fully stocked and ready to meet the desires of cocktail lovers, and the furniture perfectly chosen for the space. Staff members are professional, friendly, cute in their uniforms and obviously experienced at working in a bustling restaurant.

The food menu is spread over two pages, with the drinks menu being about three times as long and, for the most part, dedicated to cocktails. For our table of six guests, this should have been the red alert that Louisiana’s main focus is not really the food. Unfortunately for us the hubbub of music, talking and laughter were not conducive to chilling and chatting over expensive cocktails.

We started the meal sharing a board of Hush Puppies and New Orleans modified bitterballen. I have always had the belief that deep-frying can make almost anything taste (momentarily) delicious. Incorrect. These deep fried corn meal nuggets were not delicious. Nor were the pseudo bitterballen containing corn meal and unidentifiable bits of meat. Very tasteless and dull.
Louisiana Bayou Crawfish Boil (€23.50) – this wooden board covered with red crayfish, two boiled potatoes, half a corn cob, coleslaw and ?spiced butter looked amazing. Alas the considerable task of removing the meat from the shells resulted in a tiny mound of tasteless crayfish meat – that couldn’t be improved by adding the ?spiced butter.
Gumbo (€14.50) – a traditional Creole dish, but unlike the traditional dish this gumbo lacked the spices that make it favourite comfort food.
RBR – Red Rice and Beans – (€12.50) as with the gumbo, no taste where there should have been an abundance of spices.
Corn Chowder (€9.50) – so dull that only half the serve could be eaten.gumbo

I had really high hopes for The Louisiana Lobster Shack. Their concept is fantastic, with Creole food being a perfect addition to the Haarlem restaurant scene. The Louisiana looks great – and will definitely entice the hip and trendy crowd, but offers little to customers seeking a satisfying culinary experience – unless it dares to use the spices intended for Creole dishes.

Bill: €165 – for six main meals, two shared entrees, seven beers, two glasses of wine, one prosecco.


Het Uiltje – the bird has landed.

bar1As four beer aficionados, we popped by the new boutique beer establishment – Het Uiltje – opened on 21 feb 2015 in Zijlstraat. For Saturday 5pm, this hip space was buzzing with like-minded beer enthusiasts wanting to drink one of the thirty different beers available on tap. These craft brewers seem to know their stuff and do produce very interesting and tasty brews, which we had previously indulged in and enjoyed (Het Uiltje beers are available at Melgers). Unfortunately for a group of friends wanting to catch up over some afternoon beers, the venue was too loud, too hipster, and the wine glasses used to serve the beers (hence half sized beers at boutique beer prices) seemed too obviously an exploitation. Nevertheless, Het Uiltje is worth checking out.