Mossel en Gin, a laidback seafood restaurant just outside the center of Amsterdam, is one of those places you're lucky to find as a tourist. Even luckier when you didn't plan a single thing to do or eat during your two-day trip.
Set in the sprawling, serene Westerpark (which is consistently less crowded than its more well-known neighbor, Vondelpark), this five-year-old spot is known for two things: big pots of buttery steamed mussels served with thick-cut french fries and a vast selection of gin and tonics.
We heard about Mossel en Gin thanks to one of my friends who I was traveling with; he got a tip to check out the place from a co-worker who grew up in the city. So we stopped by in the afternoon and made a reservation with Wouter, a friendly, effortlessly cool (as it seems all Amsterdammers are) guy who we'd later find out was one of the owners.
The late-summer weather was brisk, so that night we sat under string lights at one of the many wooden picnic tables in the garden, hearing little else but Dutch being spoken around us.
We each started with a gin and tonic—I went for one with orange and clove, while my friends ordered the mango with red pepper–infused gin. Seeing as we were very hungry after a day of traversing the entire city by foot, we pregamed our heaps of mussels with an an appetizer of shrimp bitterballen, a deep-fried Dutch snack very similar to a croquette.
And this is when we met the restaurant's unsung third claim to fame: Gin Mayo.
Arriving alongside the bitterballen in a blue tube with a flashy, almost retro-looking logo, the Gin Mayo confused us a little at first. Would it taste good? (Yes.) Was it alcoholic? (Yes, but not very.)
I squeezed a tiny blob onto my plate to try it on its own—it had a light orange color and tasted a little bit sweet, with just the right amount of tangy and salty (almost like a creamy shrimp cocktail sauce). I slathered it over the crispy bitterballen, and asked for another tube to go with the french fries that came as a plus-one to my mussels steamed with fennel, white wine, and Roquefort cheese.
Toward the end of our meal, Wouter stopped by our table to check in on us. We ended up chatting for a while over a round of beers from his wife's brewery, Gebrouwen door Vrouwen (which literally means "Brewed by Women").
I got back from my trip (which also included London and Linz, in Austria) a few weeks ago, but I still had a few lingering questions about the restaurant and Gin Mayo, particularly whether or not I could find it in New York. (Update: You can order it online from Chelsea Market Baskets in New York City!) So I reached out via email for a little chit chat, which you can read below. (Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Erin Alexander: How did Mossel en Gin get started?
Wouter ten Velde: Josh [Selter, the other co-owner and self-proclaimed "mayonair"] fell in love with the mussels in Zeeland (in the south of Holland) and started wondering about the national love for mussels. It's a big thing as a dish in the south of Holland, but not so much further north, so 80% of the Dutch mussels are exported to Belgium, the U.K., Germany, and France. How could we make mussels more attractive to Dutch consumers and make them relevant again as part of our national pride?
Josh is the creative and food man, dealing with the kitchen, recipes, design, and marketing (the Mossel). I'm the hospitality guy, dealing with service, operations, and guests (the Gin).
EA: Where did the idea for Gin Mayo come from?
WTV: It made sense for us to make a sauce with gin in it to eat with your fries in our restaurant. Actually making something tasty that made people happy was the thing that triggered Josh to create the brand. We decided we didn't want to branch out with multiple restaurant locations, but instead to focus and go deeper around what we were already doing and this product fit with that philosophy.
EA: What was the process of coming up with the formula like?
WTV: Mixing gin with mayonnaise and ketchup (haha). After that, playing with herbs and sugar, and eating a lot of mayo—pure mayo, scooping it up a spoonful at a time.
EA: Is it made in Amsterdam?
WTV: It's made near Amsterdam, in Zaandam. We are proud to say our producer is a famous Dutch factory called "Zaanse Mayo,” which is quite a special thing as we are the only non-internal brand they work with.
EA: It's obviously great with fried food, but what else do you like to eat with Gin Mayo?
WTV: It goes with everything! I personally love it with eggs, on a burger, smoked salmon, fries, and of course, mussels.
EA: And the most important question, where can you buy it?
WTV: In the Netherlands, the U.K., and South Africa. We just started exporting to the United States and are working with Chelsea Market Baskets in New York.