Amsterdam has grown exponentially as a tourist spot in recent years. Although exact figures are hard to find (18 million has been thrown around), think-pieces on how tourism is ruining the city are ten a penny. So it’s rare to find an amazing experience in Amsterdam that is a local secret. But Vuurtoreneiland seems to be just that. An island in the Ijmeer with a pop-up summer restaurant that you travel to by boat from Amsterdam. Bookings open at noon three months to the day before each date in the summer, and it is booked up within minutes for weekends. I tried unsuccessfully a few times before landing a dinner date for two in mid-July. Apparently last minute spots can be snagged by phone on the same day, if you’re not into planning.
The concept is fantastic. You climb aboard a vintage boat outside the Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam Oost, about 25 minutes walk from Amsterdam Centraal. You get snacks and a drink on the boat trip, which takes about 40 minutes. On the island, you get a five course meal with five glasses of wine to pair with them. You set sail back to Amsterdam at around 22:45 and get coffee and biscuits on the boat. You can also opt to buy stiffer drinks on the boat for an extra charge. All of this costs 100 euro per person, which is the same as you would expect to spend for this in many restaurants in Amsterdam, but without the adventure. In the winter, they house the restaurant in a fortress on the island instead.
We arrived at 18:15 on the dot for the 18:30 boat departure and already the outdoor spaces on the boat were filling up. In the cabin we were given glasses of cider and a neat little box containing fresh rye bread (the best I’ve tried outside Denmark) and flat breads, together with different dips). The boat winds it way back up towards Amsterdam Centraal, before heading out towards the Ijmeer passing along the coast of Amsterdam Noord. At a lock between Amsterdam and the Ijmeer, the boat stops, and one of the staff comes up on deck to give a small introduction to Vuurtoreneiland. This was where I realised we had hit on a local secret. The introduction was all in Dutch. I recently passed my first ever Dutch exam, so for me the presentation went something like this:
Welcome, we would like to give you a little introduction to Vuurtoreneiland…………….man-made island near Durgerdam……………1700s………………………fortress with troops UNESCO…… winterrestaurant………toilets are in the fortress……………it is a little bit of a walk………….sheep……………………………………………..city council……………….vegetables………………….enjoy your evening!
When we arrived, there was time to explore the whole island (which takes about five minutes) before dinner. The island is home to the aforementioned feral sheep which look strikingly like goats and flocks of Canadian geese, who were waddling around with their goslings. I am sure there is a Ryan Gosling joke to be made here, I just haven’t found it yet (answers on a postcard to the usual address).
The meal started with a salad of tomato, nasturtian leaves and seeds in a light broth. This was the refreshing kind of dish you can only serve in summer when the tomatoes are at their best. It was paired with a glass of sylvaner. Next came a tray of snacks, still apparently part of the first course. These included cured pork with buckthorn, a prawn cocktail made with turnip instead of prawn (way better than it sounds), a cracker with fish liver and fennel piccalili (also way better than it sounds, even to someone who usually hates fish innards) and salad tied in a little bouquet with lots of fresh herbs.
After this came a hunk of perfect sourdough bread, together with a generous helping of whipped aged butter. We were the only table in the vicinity to finish both. The next course was a white fish with a sauce of red peppers, spinach and spinach seeds, paired with a chenin blanc. We moved on to my favourite dish, smoked new potatoes from Texel with powdered dried mussels and a samphire and chive sauce. You can take the girl out of Ireland…. We were told to mash the potatoes with the sauce to make a stamppot. This was an incredibly tasty dish with great flavors, and I loved that they were confident enough to make potatoes a feature rather than just a side. Our final savoury dish was lamb with confit onions and oyster grass paired with a red wine.Dessert is usually an after thought for me but here again they excelled. The dessert was a toffee ice-cream together with a meringue dusted in liquorice powder, topped with salted lemon cream and marinated strawberries paired with a sweet dessert wine.
We were promptly rounded up after dessert and pointed in the direction of the boat. Pro-tip: the queue for the ladies bathroom is very very long come departure time. Back on board, they were serving cups of beautiful coffee with homemade shortbread and had a full selection of spirits for anyone looking for a nightcap. We made our way back to Amsterdam in the twilight, everyone a little bit tipsy and strangers making new friends around the boat.