Goddamsterdam!

My partner is a travel agent at Virgin Holidays, therefore the majority of our vacations are long-haul. Whilst this allows us to venture to the other side of the planet, it also means European trips are scarce. Cue a last-minute getaway to Amsterdam through the power of Groupon!

I have always wanted to explore this city for a long list of reasons. From the history to the food, the art to the canals, the cycling to the 'coffee' shops and above all else... Stroopwafels! If you know, you know.

I mapped out the usual touristy attractions and hit up the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Vondelpark, Heineken Experience and Dam Square -- all of which were fantastic. On top of that, the Anne Frank house is truly something else and should be experienced by everybody visiting. Make sure you book ahead of time, however, as it's very busy.


Whilst all of this stuff was awesome, it's not the reason I came to love Amsterdam.

After working our way through the majority of the above list on day one, it was time to combine two common sayings: 'when in Rome' and 'what happens in Vegas' -- and adapt to Amsterdam. Let me start by saying the coffee shops are not seedy, nor intimidating. Whilst there is an obvious stigma for weed in England due to its legal classification, coffee shops are common-place in Amsterdam. I was almost expecting them to sit as part of the red light district and attract a 'certain type of person', but that couldn't be further from the truth.

We visited 'Original Dampkring'; a conveniently located coffee-shop in the heart of the capital that also featured in the movie 'Ocean's 12'. The environment was incredibly relaxed (who'd have thought?) and we quickly felt at home, joined by the resident cat who must be on a permanent high.

We opted for the 'space cake' out of the simplicity of only having to consume a sweet treat. We were told to consume it in moderation as the high can be intense. After a few hours of sipping on Coca-Colas, talking to a cat and nibbling away at our snack, we honestly felt nothing.

It is perhaps worth noting that Dampkring was not the first coffee shop we had visited on this day. During lunch we had enjoyed a previous space cake at another coffee shop called Abraxas. Under the impression that this one also hadn't had any impact, we decided we would wait until the evening to try again. In hindsight, we did spend the rest of the afternoon simply walking around Amsterdam eating. We shared a bucket at KFC, self-served some authentic Dutch snacks from FEBO, devoured some incredible fries from Vlaams Friteshuis and then rounded it off with a two mile walk to an award winning apple pie cafe named Winkel 43. And of course, following all of that, we failed to realise the impact of the space cake, ultimately leading us in to Dampkring and where I resume my story...

Second space cake down within the same day, we then decide to depart from the coffee shop and make our way back to the hotel, which just so happens to be an hour's walk. I am adamant I am feeling nothing still, despite consuming roughly one and a half space-cakes overall, considerably more than my partner.


Not too far in to our walk back, when crossing a road, I turn to find my fiancee standing on the edge of the curb looking bewildered. She looked up at me confused at the prospect of what was about to happen. "Are you coming?" I uttered a little confused. A few bikes went zooming past her and she looked back up at me with a devilish grin. And then she started laughing... for about five minutes.

I finally got her moving again and we headed into Vondelpark for an evening stroll. At this point she decided she had found John Lennon and started pointing furiously over to a man walking in the opposite direction. He did not look like John Lennon. He did not even nearly look like John Lennon.

Whilst still under the impression that the effects had not hit me, I spent the next twenty minutes trying to convince my partner that her eyebrows were not moving and were still on her face. I could appreciate her concerns though.

Suddenly we came to the realisation we had absolutely no idea where we were. Vondelpark is stunning day and night, but it is also huge. Luckily this was not an issue as it frankly didn't matter. There were more pressing issues to be worried about such as "what if we aren't really here right now, but still back in the coffee shop instead thinking about this happening?" -- a question we pondered for twenty more minutes.

The high for me reached a new level after roughly an hour of walking. My mouth was stuck with the widest grin I have ever achieved. Walking around looking like the Dark Knight's Joker, I begin telling my fiancee that this felt natural now. I must maintain this huge grin wherever I go, likely for the rest of my life. It's my new resting face.

And then somehow we were in the lobby of the hotel ordering a Coca-Cola. The guy serving us was staring at me so intently. I think he knew. He definitely knew. Am I going to get thrown out of the hotel? Maybe even arrested? Luckily, my partner is able to convince me otherwise and we walk away with our Coca-Cola without being sent down for life for consuming a legal drug.

The hotel room was an interesting place to be. My mind was convinced we shouldn't turn on the television. We couldn't risk it this late in the night. Instead, I sat on the bed staring at the lamp which arched over the bed. There was something going on with this lamp that I couldn't put my finger on. I think it might be the devil.

I turned to my partner who was caressing her face with a wet-wipe, thoroughly enjoying the experience. Thrilled at this basic task, she exclaimed "these face-wipes are amazing. This is one of my favourite things to do". I couldn't absorb this information, however, as I was still determined the lamp was up to something.

Closing my eyes was intense. Giant numbers bounced around my mind counting down to something. Every time it reached 0, it restarted again from 9. Now I need to figure out what I'm counting down to in order to give these numbers purpose. I wander in to the bathroom to brush my teeth whilst pondering this further.

After getting myself ready for bed, my fiancee is still wiping her face in pure joy. I am ready to retire for the evening, though I'm going to keep a close eye on that lamp tonight, that's for sure. I just need to get back up to check the tap isn't leaking first though. It isn't. Nor is the shower. Good.

Dozing off took a long time as the countdowns wouldn't stop and I'm fairly sure my fiancee was still wiping her face.

But morning did eventually arrive. The high was certainly at a considerably lower intensity, but I'm still shocked to find I have concerns over the devil lamp and the possibility of the shower leaking. Luckily my partner feels fine now and is determined the answer to our problems can be found in Starbucks.

After a more reasonable walk back in to the city, we enjoy a coffee and attempt to plan our final day, ahead of the evening flight back to Birmingham. Despite having a list of attractions yet to conquer, there is only one place that feels right... the zoo.

It is crazy that over 12 hours on, we still felt the effects of the space cake. Luckily it was now a mellowed experience with the odd important question to contemplate, such as "do you need a zoo map for £2?". Of course we need a zoo map for £2 -- how else would we be able to navigate around without one? We would be lost in here forever.

For me, what's truly great about Amsterdam isn't the fact you are able to get high, nor is it the food or attractions. It's the people, atmosphere and general warmth you feel in and around this magnificent city. No matter where I was I felt safe, no matter what I was doing I was enjoying the experience and the city feels so inviting, tolerant and relaxed, even in times like this where major cities are constantly threatened by terrorism.


Anyway, let's talk about food. I had intended on enjoying three burgers in three days, but as we floated around eating snacks for two days instead, I missed this opportunity. Here's my breakdowns on food:

Restaurant
Location
Rating
Lombardo's Grachtengordel 9/10
Winkel 43 Noorderkerk 9/10
Stroopwafel Truck Rijksmuseum 8/10
Vlaams Friteshuis Voetboogstraat 8/10
Toastable Koningsplein Heiligeweg 8/10
Hard Rock Cafe Max Euweplein 7/10
Bagel & Beans Grachtengordel 6/10
KFC Damrak 4/10
FEBO Dam Square 4/10
I managed two burgers, actually on the same day: Lombardo's and Hard Rock Cafe. The former soared its way in to my top burgers I have ever eaten, so I highly recommend it. Good luck getting a seat in there though as it's tiny and very popular! Luckily they do takeaway. As for Hard Rock, whilst the burger was not fantastic, we enjoyed the atmosphere in the restaurant, which also overlooked the canal.

For sweet treats, make a trip to Winkel 43 for the apple pie or seek just about any food truck serving Stroopwafel -- make sure they're made fresh and served hot though and you won't regret it.

We had far too many portions of fries around Amsterdam. Unfortunately I did not record every one we ate at, but they are quite common around town and almost all of them are delicious. You'll be blown away by the choice of sauces.

On the other end of the spectrum, as expected, was KFC. In addition to this, FEBO, which I scored at 4, is still worth checking out. Serving traditional Dutch snacks from a hot vending machine, the quality is certainly not great, but the unique experience is worth it. We tried the beef croquette (rundvleeskroket) which was deep fried and filled with a strange gravy-like mush. I realise now that there were actually burgers in there too, so I'll need to return to check those out.


Amsterdam is a city that I already crave to return to. It is unique, fun and relaxed offering a rich history, a diverse culture and fantastic food (so try and avoid the KFC). If you are going to take advantage of the 'coffee shops', always read up before hand and don't do anything unless you are comfortable with it. Oh and my last tip... don't stare at the women in the red light district! What a city!
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Wagyu Burger, Lombardo's - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Lombardo's is a tiny burger and sandwich restaurant located within the centre of Amsterdam, not too far from the Rijkmuseum. Despite its compact size, Lombardo's oozes character, utilising the finest and freshest ingredients for the ultimate gourmet experience.

The burger menu contained 10 choices; many of which shared similar components, most commonly the 'homemade burger sauce' and 'red wine onion compote'. I was drawn towards the 'Silence of the Lambs' and the 'Wagyu Burger', ultimately opting for the latter, keen to experience Lombardo's take on the popular Wagyu-style. I guess I am always a sucker for the beef option too.

My initial concern as the burger landed was the bun. It looked a little on the thick side, especially the lid. It was also lightly toasted, which could hinder overall taste if it made the bun too crunchy.


The cross-section told an entirely different story, however. The patty and fillings were clearly the dominant aspect of the burger, whilst the lightly toasted bun helped keep it all together so eloquently. Above all this was the fact that the meat sat at the center of the bun cooked a perfect medium rare.


This burger was a true delight to bite in to. The most pleasing aspect was that the meat shone through above anything else -- and for all the right reasons. This patty was thick, juicy and incredibly well-flavoured, highlighting the premium cut and perfect cook-time. I would go as far to say this was one of the finest tasting patties I have ever consumed.

The homemade burger sauce hit the palate next and was also a welcome experience. The usual ketchup/mayonnaise flavours pulled through, but with a slight hint of some kind of seafood sauce. Paired with this was the red wine onion compote which also stood out but did not overpower, helping to build the unique flavour.

The burger also contained lettuce, sweet tomatoes and mini pickles; the latter in particular helping to build additional flavour. Winding back to my initial worry for this burger: the bun. Given the juiciness of the patty and the pairing of the sauce and compote, a thick toasted bun actually worked considerably well. Although part of me perhaps still wishes I could sample the same burger with a brioche bun, I am happy there are still burger joints out there not jumping on to this bandwagon.

To summarise the 'Wagyu Burger' at Lombardo's in one word, I would go for 'unique'. This was one of the finer burgers I have tasted boasting high quality ingredients, especially the patty, and a superb array of balanced flavours around it.

Patty Master Musings:

  • There are about six seats in the entire restaurant. Be prepared to either wait for a seat or grab a takeaway.
  • Great staff in this place too -- very helpful in pointing me towards a burger as I was stuck between 'Wagyu' and 'Silence of the Lambs'.
  • They do not serve fries here! Kinda crazy for a burger joint, but at the same time I did not miss 'em.
  • In-fact, if you do want fries, there are some incredible places in town. I recommend 'Vlaams Friteshuis'. And get the fries sauce. Wow, tasty.
  • Did I Dip It? The patty alone drove sufficient flavour to avoid dipping and the pairing of the homemade burger sauce and red wine onion compote on-top made it pure magic.

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Double Dutch, Hard Rock Cafe - Amsterdam, Netherlands

The last Hard Rock Cafe I conquered was Washington D.C. You can read that review here if you are interested. Interestingly enough, I had actually enjoyed a Heineken Burger back in the states. It was strange coming to Amsterdam, the home of Heineken, and not finding this burger on the menu. I guess this gave me opportunity to sample other options on Hard Rock's impressive menu instead.

This was one of the smaller Hard Rock Cafes I have visited, also being short in the way of merchandise too. On the flip-side, it did overlook the canal making it a great venue to spend an evening.

My typical approach to the menu when dining in this chain is to tackle either the limited edition burgers or the local legendaries. There were a few choices that immediately lured me in when browsing the Amsterdam menu including the 'Guinness & Jameson Burger' and the 'Hell's Bells Burger'. However, it was the 'Double Dutch' I went for, hoping to get a taste of Amsterdam in burger-form.

A Hard Rock burger is always a visual delight, often large in size and delightfully appetising. The 'Double Dutch' was no different, towering before me gloriously. The initial bite was strong too as a mixture of flavours danced around on the taste buds.


The homemade onion jam was potent in onion flavour, but also carried through an intriguing sweetness that boldly attempted to offset the overpowering meats. The Dutch also know their cheese and make no mistake this was one of the finer cheeses I have enjoyed on a burger, with the only downside being that there simply was not enough.


Or maybe there was. The more I tucked in to the burger, the more I realised the issue was in-fact the volume of meat. Starting with the locally sourced Dutch Blonde d'Aquitaine cattle patty, the beef struck a decent balance of meat to fat, though still lacked decisive seasonings. On-top of that, it was clear that the cook-time of the meat, well done, was a detriment to the overall taste. The Dutch sausage was strong flavoured boasting a smoked quality; a welcome addition. However, the volume of meat between the buns (no innuendos there) was simply too much.

Any burger lover will stress the importance of not only the quality of ingredients, but the volume in which they are used. This burger would have benefitted from a little less meat and a little more onion jam and cheese. Although the first bite was pleasing, I had to whip out the tomato ketchup by the end to balance out the meat feast. This was not a bad burger by any means, but Hard Rock can and do create much better.

Patty Master Musings:

  • This was the smallest Hard Rock Cafe I've been to, but absolutely beautiful during the day as it overlooks the canal. I recommend it.
  • The artisan fries are truly special at any Hard Rock. I swear by the garlic and herb.
  • Did I Dip It? It had to be done. The sheer amount of meat in this burger was not sufficiently balanced with sauces. Straight in to the ketchup.

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California Chicken TenderCrisp, Burger King - Birmingham, UK

I associate Burger King with holiday food. That’s not to say I go on holiday and seek out Burger King – though I guess there’s a level of reliability in dining in a chain of this magnitude. What I mean is that just about every major airport you visit will house this franchise.

Funny thing is; whether you’re travelling at the crack of dawn or late at night, a Burger King is a mighty decision to line the stomach pre-flight. My flight, in this particular instance, was roughly 8am in the morning – what better time is there to order a burger?

I have always preferred Burger King burgers against McDonald’s. Although I think the gap closed a little in the UK, when I am over in the States in particular, they are worlds apart. In-fact, McDonald’s in the states I tend to avoid because even that 20 nugget sharer box does not have the same vibes as it does in the UK.

After a perusal of the classic BK menu, I opted for the ‘California Chicken TenderCrisp’ from the current Route 66 promotion. Whilst I do trust beef options in BK, they still don’t produce the magic I want from a burger and to be frank I was sold by the idea of a chicken TenderCrisp meal for breakfast. Who isn’t?

With the crispy chicken at its core, the burger was topped with lettuce, onions, juicy tomatoes, cheese, some more cheese and a chipotle ranch sauce. Yeah, alright, I can run with that.


Visually the burger did its job. Whilst it wasn’t exactly a towering masterpiece, it retained a decent level of thickness, whilst also remaining stylistically pleasing, unlike your average fast food burger unwrapping.

The lack of freshness in the bun was apparent from the first bite. It was a little tough, typical of these big fast food chains.


The cheese slice looked a little sad, but was seemingly topped with more cheese in order to balance the lack of cheese. Uhh? The ranch sauce was in copious volumes, unfortunately a little too much so for my liking. In terms of taste, it was a rich mayo with a slight tang to it – a solid choice for chicken, but needs balancing with the other components.

TenderCrisp chicken is always delicious; deep fried goodness with every bite. It is no surprise this style of chicken quickly became a popular choice at Burger King as it does not disappoint.

Still, whilst the meat of the ‘California Chicken TenderCrisp’ was succulent from beginning to end, the other elements were subpar. The bun lacked freshness, the cheese was average and the ranch sauce, whilst tasty, was overused. I would stick to the regular menu choices, unless you are a huge fan of ranch sauce!

Patty Master Musings:

  • Luckily I was flying out at this point, so better things were to come.
  • Did I Dip It? There was a lot of sauce here, but no balance. I dunked it in to the ketchup to give it a more varied flavour.

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El Chicken Spicy, McDonald's - Birmingham, UK

Every now and then you just have to have a McDonald's. Whether it's a weekend treat in the early hours that you'll be happy to forget about or a weekday evening after a long day at work. Either way, the accessibility of McDonald's is perhaps more enticing than the food itself, and whilst I do not dislike a trip to ol' Maccy D's, I would not typically opt for a burger there.

Still, I remain impressed at how McDonald's are constantly evolving their image away from that negative processed reputation and more towards locally sourced foods with better quality ingredients. And I think it's noticeable too. I recall eating McChicken nuggets as a child and in comparison to today's product, they are world's apart -- definitely for the better now too.

Despite this, I do not often eat beef products at McDonald's. The quality of the meat and the thickness of the patties are underwhelming, which often leads me down the route of chicken, particularly that dreamy 20 nuggets sharer box -- minus the sharing, of course.

On this particular evening, I did fancy a burger though and spotted the 'El Chicken Spicy' on the menu; two crispy chicken breast strips, Beechwood smoked bacon, Mexican salsa, chilli cheese sauce, jalapeño slices, tomato, lettuce in a cornbread-style bun. On paper, that's a good burger. In reality? We'll see.

McDonald's have improved the visuals of their burgers over time too. Whilst the marketing material always outshines the meal on your tray, it is a lot more reasonable than it used to be. In-fact, my burger looked pretty damn good against the stock image on the board and I was ready to tuck in.


Unfortunately, writing about burger experiences and actively seeking out the best burger joints means these fast food moments are more underwhelming than they used to be. With the 'El Chicken Spicy', this moment was no different. Whilst each component tasted okay, nothing particularly stood out.

The chicken strips were tasty, with much of the flavour derived through the coating over the meat itself. The bacon strips, by comparison, were lacklustre, not adding much in the way of flavour.


In-fact, immediately noticeable was the kick in the taste-buds from the jalapeño slices. Whilst partially soothed by the lettuce and tomato, there was still a heat imbalance in this burger. The salsa and cheese sauce were also both lacking in volume and taste, with the former also adding to the heat kick. The lack of sauce was surprising given many fast food burgers tend to do the opposite and drown their burgers in sauce (typically mayo) in attempt to build flavour.

The 'El Chicken Spicy' is an average burger that I imagine will not be hanging around too long at your local McDonald's. The standard menu choices for chicken burgers are superior to this number, so stick to your Chicken Legend instead. Each element was nothing more than satisfactory with the lack of sauce also hurting the overall taste.

Patty Master Musings:

  • The self-service machines in select McDonald's stores are awesome. This is the future of fast food and McDonald's are brilliant for pushing forward with this technology.
  • Did I Dip It? The barbecue sauce was required after the first few bites. Definitely the best sauce McDonald's produces too...

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