Looking for Amsterdam’s buzziest and best Asian feast? Head up in the jungle lift to Ron Gastrobar Indonesia Downtown for high end streetfood, music and cocktails and a fiercely fabulous evening out.
As regular readers of my blog will know, I’m always keen to encourage Amsterdam visitors to try local food rather than default to standard International fare. I have a particular bugbear about sushi. Why come to Amsterdam and head out for Japanese food? If Asian is what you’re after then the city can offer something far more authentic. So avoid Tokyo, ditch Bangkok and give Shanghai a miss – instead head further South and sample the incredible delights of Bali, Sumatra and Jakarta.
If you’re confused as to why this would be authentic, then perhaps you didn’t realise that Indonesia was once a Dutch colony and is now one of the best places to try its fabulous cuisine outside the country. It’s a bit like going out for a sensational curry in London – some of the flavours are locally adapted and whilst you might not get “rijsttafel” or rice table in Indonesia, it’s a staple of Dutch ethnic cuisine and will give you a taste of the amazing flavours and spices this country has to offer.
As with everything there are dozens of tourist haunts lauded by guidebooks that are eager for your business. in order to steer readers clear of these we have previously recommended Blauw in Amsterdam or Ron Gastrobar Indonesia in Ouderkerk. However, there’s a new kid on the block and although it’s also owned by Dutch megachef Ron Blauw (famous for giving back a Michelin star to free him up to offer the kind of accessible, unpretentious and affordable food he is passionate about) this recent opening has immediately become one of our new favourite Amsterdam recommends.
If you haven’t got time to read on, then let me cut to the chase. Ron Gastrobar Indonesia Downtown is an outstanding restaurant and if you are looking for a brilliant evening out with great food then don’t hesitate to put it on your list.
But if you’ve got a moment, I’d love to share what makes it so special.
The restaurant is in a most unlikely location. Based on the rather unlovely Rokin, and even more surprisingly on the 5th floor above a department store. It is not perhaps what you would expect – but then everything about this place is a bit unexpected in an absolutely brilliant way.
The entrance is behind a hidden doorway in a side alley It’s intriguing and sets the tone for the night ahead. Take the disco lift with its jungle murals up to the 5th floor and you’ll step out into a world of Ron’s imagination.
The interior décor is insta-fabulous. Lush green with murals of apes and parrots, jaguars and rhinoceri; there are Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling that softly change colour through the night; a Missoni-esque tiled floor and dense foliage that not only grows upwards but hangs in tendrils from the ceiling above.
The bowed windows on both sides of the building with their honeycombed panes are reminiscent of London’s Gherkin and the view out the windows is fabulous. I generally feel that Amsterdam is a city best seen from canal-level – it doesn’t have a particularly notable skyline – however looking out to the Westerkerk tower and beyond at sunset managed to somewhat convince me that the city is no less lovely from up above.
But its definitely not just the view that people are coming here for.
We were lucky enough to be seated at the bar overlooking the open kitchen. It operates a little like a chef’s table and we were delighted and honoured that head chef Luke Brouwer offered to present us with a series of the restaurant’s standout dishes by way of a sampling menu.
In the past I have typically opted for the Rijsttafel at Indonesian restaurants. It offers a kind of culinary shortcut and takes the agonising dilemma of choice away. Dishes are brought to the table on an elevated bench ranging from mild to spicy and unsurprisingly it acts as a cornerstone of the Ron Gastro Downtown menu. I’m certain it is wonderful here (I know it is at their out of town branch in Ouderkerk) but on this occasion Luke offered us a stunning selection from the streetfood menu and now, there’s no going back.
It is almost impossible to pick out a favourite from what turned into a gourmet Indonesian fine dining streetfood feast. I’m not a fan of oysters but the oysters we ate that night, served with apple, green pepper and ginger dressing were incredible – something like a slightly sour, citrus-sharp ceviche. I was hooked and could have eaten a dozen, but then there was the softest albacore tuna tartare; the taco with Balinese chicken, coconut mayonnaise and crispy chicken skin; the slow cooked duck with sambal mayonnaise, the minced chicken sate on a lemongrass stalk, served with the most delicious crispy Dutch baby shrimp and a killer peanut sambal; oh and the steak tartare served in an egg-shaped crisp and presented on a bronze branch.
Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore, out came the saté tasting menu. There is nothing like real Indonesian saté and once again the Ron Blauw take on it completely blew us away. I would never usually order goat but it was the tenderest meat in a sweet dark sauce that left us scraping the plate. We had the chicken saté too, the beef and pork belly with peanut crumb. We absolutely love saté but have honestly never tasted a better selection than this. When you see the work that goes into preparing it, using an Indonesian fan on and old-school charcoal grill you get a sense of just why it tastes so good here and what makes it so completely authentic.
We ate like kings. Each layer of flavour more subtle and wonderful than the one before. And the drinks were fabulous too. The signature cocktails compliment the menu perfectly and although we stuck to one we could easily have come for the evening and enjoyed several more with some snacks.
But as well as offering quite exceptional food, Ron Gastrobar Indonesia Downtown is also brilliantly quirky too. The cornerstone of the restaurant is the sambal cart pushed around by Mr Spicy (I’m not joking) who will come and offer a range of spicy sambal accompaniments from mild to hot. Dressed like a circus ringmaster he skips around the restaurant entertaining patrons with his patter.
He also seems to have an identical twin brother (who we named Mr Smokey). Dressed like Prince Charming, his job seems to be to present a theatrical dessert that involves placing your hand inside of a box filled with dry ice and reaching inside to find a container with Mr Whippy-style soft-ice in a range of flavours. Even the menu instructs you to have your camera ready.
As if all this wasn’t entertaining enough, at one point their cat mascot appeared and sat down at a table.
If it all sounds a bit bonkers in an upmarket restaurant – well it is. But in a uniquely Dutch and hugely charming way.
It’s also worth saying that there’s live music every night which really added to the occasion. It’s increasingly rare these days and again, almost unheard of when combined with seriously good food. Later on Friday and Saturday nights (from 11pm to 3am) the volume is turned up and locals arrive for drinks when Downtown transforms into the “Urban Jungle Club”.
After a sensational dessert of chocolate, biscuit and peanut caramel ganache, shaped like a peanut and served with passion fruit sorbet (absolutely shouldn’t have worked but did!) we decided it was time to head home.
As I glanced back I caught a glimpse of Mr Spicy who had donned a silver sequined jacket and was throwing some Michael Jackson style moves at the end of the room.
Ron Gastrobar Indonesia Downtown is slightly mad, ridiculously fun, and a place to come for some seriously fabulous food. Don’t miss it.
*On this occasion, we were invited as guests of Ron Gastrobar Indonesia Downtown but I cannot stress enough how willing we would have been to pay for our fabulous meal and how sincerely our opinions reflect our wonderful evening . Perhaps the best sign of all is that we have already personally recommend it to friends and family and plan to head back at the first opportunity!*