I’d been wanting to go to Vuurtoreneiland – the tiny lighthouse island just off Durgerdam, north of Amsterdam – ever since I read Curry Strumpet’s blog post about it in 2016. Back then, Vuurtoreneiland’s pop-up restaurant of the same name was only open in the summer months, but it’s since expanded to offer a winter version as well. So I did what every normal person in a relationship does at Christmas: I gave a dinner experience that I clearly wanted for myself to my other half as a present. He wasn’t getting the hint, ok?
After just under an hour on the IJ, navigating around islands and past locks and sluice gates, we arrived at our destination in the pitch dark. It was one of the few occasions I’ve been able to see stars in Amsterdam. We were given hurricane lanterns to light our way while we made a brisk circuit round the island to the restaurant itself. It’s housed in a sort of bunker whose former use I missed, but I’m assuming it was something war-defence related. At any rate,
Food-wise, you get the feeling Vuurtoreneiland is well aware of its environmental impact. As the island has no electricity or running water, food is cooked using old-school wood and fire, while cutlery and glasses aren’t changed between courses to save on water usage. And the menu has a clear local, seasonal message that’s heavy in vegetables and sustainable protein. Our meal started with three amuses: salsify chips with puffed mustard seeds that had a proper vinegary kick; beetroot crackers that were both earthy and fresh; and parsnip cooked two ways with a creamy mayo dip. The latter was my favourite of the three, but I liked them all.
Next came what I keep describing as a carrot party: these bright, patriotic root veg had been treated in various different ways from raw to roasted, and served with a salty, umami-rich seaweed powder. It was palate-poppingly good. Our final vegetable dish was kohlrabi: parts fermented, parts roasted, and with both the roots and the leaves used to full effect. Again, the umami flavour was intense and satisfying.
Perhaps my least favourite dish, while still good, was the fish – a variety of whiting called steenbolk that was served with fermented celeriac and a purée that could’ve been a pumpkin-celeriac mix. While the herb oil formed a nice contrast, the rest of the dish just tasted (and smelt) a bit too fishy to really enjoy.
The only meat dish was a take on the traditional Dutch slavink. But this was a far cry from the sausage-y wodges of pork you see in the supermarket. Using all parts of the pig, the rich gamey taste of the meat was offset by sweet-and-sour red cabbage confit.
Dessert called itself zoethout (liquorice), which concerned me as I’m generally not much of a fan of anything aniseed. But in this case it was accompanied by so much cocoa and coffee that it was perfectly palatable and a great way to end the meal.
Of course, we both fell asleep in a food-and-wine coma on the boat ride back, which made cycling home afterwards all the more challenging. But it was a memorable four or five hours that really stood out for being different to your average night out in Amsterdam. Dinner at Vuurtoreneiland will set you back €100 per person in winter, but it includes the boat trip plus all wine pairings with your six-course meal, so the cost-to-value ratio is certainly high. And it makes a great gift – even to yourself…