AMSTERDAM, June 11 — Some cafés focus on the coffee, be it espressos or filter brews. Many make a point of serving food too, usually brunch fare such as Eggs Benedict or pastries.
Then there are a precious few that take both parts of the equation earnestly and, in doing so, offer a one-of-a-kind dining and drinking experience.
Founded in January 2010 by Dick van den Heuvel, Screaming Beans in Amsterdam aims to create precisely this experience. Predominantly a specialty coffee roaster and coffee bar, Screaming Beans also has a food menu that wouldn’t look out of place at a fine dining restaurant. Consider this Dutch “fine casual” served with quite a caffeine boost.
Fine casual enthusiasts rave about the opportunity to enjoy food inspired by haute cuisine using some of the best ingredients available but without the frou-frou of a full-on white tablecloth setting and stringent etiquette to follow.
It may not be fine dining, but the food still tastes very fine indeed.
Screaming Beans takes this concept further by marrying it with their coffee and wine bars. Diners can choose to be seated outside when the weather is sunny or inside where the lighting is dimmer and more private.
Indoors, rows of wine glasses hang upside down which, together with a sizeable wine cellar, show how serious they are about their reds and whites.
But we begin with the coffee, and not wine. (The name of the establishment is Screaming Beans, after all, and not Screaming Grapes.)
The coffee bar feels less like a bar but more of a chic barista’s laboratory. The blackboard lists down various coffee classes they conduct, rather than the beans available, a departure from other cafés.
There’s no need for a list of the beans because your server-barista will attend to you personally to advise you on the most appropriate coffee before you begin your meal.
We opt for an El Salvador Bourbon, brewed using a V60. Bourbon varietals have a balanced profile, a gentle way to prepare our palate without overwhelming it.
A fine coffee to lead the way to some fine eating.
Here, ingredients are meant to be presented in the simplest manner, to best accentuate their freshness and true flavours. And so, as an appetiser, we begin with a back-to-basics salad. Nothing more than a carelessly tossed together mess of tart apple cubes, salty and tangy feta cheese, sharp and bitter rocket leaves, and crunchy toasted walnuts. Nothing too precious.
We need little more to whet our appetites. This is refreshing, yes, but also an uncanny blend of tastes and textures. The salad may look simple but it takes some skill (and perhaps an instinctive flavour bible in one’s head at all times) to make such a simple dish not only good, but great.
To continue this theme of showcasing only the freshest ingredients, we enjoy an “ocean garden” on a plate. Slivers of young artichoke and in-season asparagus are given a decadent lift by chunks of lobster — the catch of the day, perhaps — and crackers of toasted Parmesan cheese. Edible flowers add an element of the meadow.
It’s art on a platter, truly.
If our apple, feta and walnut salad was meant to be an unassuming starter, then surely this course is designed to impress. The act of eating from this plate is not unlike the act of foraging — be it on land or from the sea.
The diner gets to decide how the plate is transformed as each morsel is carefully selected and savoured.
Our main course is beef — tender slices of wagyu beef that’s pan-seared to perfection. With meat this good, the danger is only in overcooking it or drowning it in unnecessarily overpowering sauces.
Thankfully, the chef has a light touch — a tiny “stream” of herbal-buttery Béarnaise sauce and dollops of rich avocado sauce are just right. Some micro greens to add crispness, and that’s all we need. Every bite is a delight.
Usually dessert can be a saccharine affair, an afterthought almost, at most restaurants. (Even those with Michelin stars.) But at Screaming Beans, the sweet course at the end of the meal could well be the pièce de résistance.
We are served a pair of quenelles, one a hot pink and the other a gentle shade of pale green. The first is a tangy raspberry sorbet, made with fresh raspberries; the second is an unusual tarragon-basil ice cream, bittersweet and tasting subtly of aniseed.
Orbs of Mascarpone cheese covered with dark chocolate ganache, candied orange peels and little spheres of raspberry gel complete the picture.
As with every course here at Screaming Beans, every bite is an explosion of different flavours — bright acidity, a fruity sweetness, bitterness both sharp and muted — that makes dining here so much fun.
And surely the wonderful meal is made all the more brilliant because we needn’t dress up to the nines or endure the stiff upper lip of a takes-himself-too-seriously maître d’, yes?
We end as we began. Our barista offers his recommendations for a post-meal cuppa. We go with his recommendation of some Ethiopia Yirgacheffe brewed using Aeropress. The resulting coffee is pleasingly floral — hardly the bold, dark roast espressos one gets at most fine dining restaurants.
When the meal has been such a pleasure, why mar it at its finish with a cup that tars your tastebuds for hours afterwards? At Screaming Beans, we need never suffer this ignoble fate.
Singel 276, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Open Mon-Fri 8am-5pm; Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 10am-5pm
Tel: +31 20 626 0966