Lighthouse Island is the site of Amsterdam’s latest pop-up restaurant. Held on a UNESCO-protected island, guests take a boat ride to the location not far from Amsterdam’s center, and enjoy an ambitious four-course meal cooked by a team of celebrated local chefs.

By Gisela Williams
June 17, 2015
Amsterdam Pop-up Restaurant: Evening
Credit: Annelore van Herwijnen

On a recent summer evening in Amsterdam, a small group of locals, smartly dressed as if for a gallery opening, climbed aboard an elegant teak boat from the 1920s that had been anchored on the IJ river. Soon, the boat cast off and headed east in the golden light of the end of the day. Almost an hour later—after everyone enjoyed a pleasurable windswept cruise while nibbling on charcuterie and radishes over a drink or two—the boat arrived at a tiny island blanketed with wild grass. A sheep idled nearby, a pair of falcons soared overhead a classic red-and-white lighthouse. The passengers disembarked and were led along a path over a green knoll, arriving at an open-sided structure made of wood and glass.

Welcome to Vuurtoreneiland—or “Lighthouse Island”—the site of Amsterdam’s latest pop-up restaurant. Conceived by the ambitious crew behind the restaurant As (a dining room located in a Modernist Catholic church in the Amsterdam neighborhood of Zuid), the idea was born when the Dutch conservation organization Staatsbosbeheer invited local businesses to propose a plan that would bring new life to the UNESCO-protected island.

Amsterdam Pop-up Restaurant: Cooks
Credit: Annelore van Herwijnen

In the summer of 2013, the founders of As, Sander Overeinder and Brian Boswijk, were allowed to give their pop-up restaurant a trial run. In two weeks, they built a low-impact structure in the middle of a field and set-up their low-tech cooking equipment: a massive grill, a wood oven, a smoking oven, and a cauldron. It was so successful they booked the rest of the summer season within the first few weeks. Eventually, the city gave them permission to continue and, as of this summer, the island is officially theirs.

“Some locals are curious to see the island and others came because they are fans of Restaurant As,” explained Overeinder, who is now the head chef on Vuurtoreneiland. Either way, it is a winsome combination. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a boat ride to a remote location not far from Amsterdam’s center and be served an ambitious four-course meal cooked over fire? The whole experience is also extremely well priced at 55 euros ($62)—it being, in Overeinder’s words, “a labor of love.”

A recent evening menu (it changes every two weeks) included a tartare of plaice served with a tangle of wild fennel and herbs and tiny crystals of tomato essence in a rich broth of local crab. Guests took their chilled glasses of white wine and appetizers—artisanal charcuterie, grilled fava beans, and Dutch shrimps served on a wooden board with bread baked in the wood oven—and sat in chairs that were placed throughout the surrounding field.

Amsterdam Pop-up Restaurant: Food
Credit: Annelore van Herwijnen

For Boswijk, Lighthouse Island is not simply a business; it’s also his home. He has lived for the past year on the island—in a quaint house once occupied by the lighthouse caretaker—with his family. “We want to get even more self-sufficient, both with food and energy. We’ll grow more produce on the island and source all our ingredients within forty to sixty miles,” he said. “We’re also learning more about the island, gathering old stories and poems from villagers and the previous families who lived here.”

Boswijk and Overeinder eventually plan to open up a handful of hotel suites that will take into consideration the natural landscape and historical context of the place. For now, guests must leave the island after the last course, dessert, is served and a bell sounds. Back on the boat, the reality of heading back to civilization is softened with spirits and hand-made sweets.

Tip: Reservations can be made two months ahead of time on the website. Guests from out of town can call the day of (+31-6-36432248) and ask if spots are available. “We always hold a few seats for spontaneity’s sake and those who have traveled far,” said Boswijk.

Gisela Williams is based in Berlin, and covers Germany and its surrounding countries for Travel + Leisure.