At the IJ in Amsterdam you can eat quite well (and also terribly bad)

My friend had to perform with her band and my mother wanted to come and watch. I said: “You know what Mom, we’re having a snack there”. This is relevant because otherwise I would never have ended up at Noorderlicht, a neo-hippie eatery with a ‘city beach’ on the IJ next to the NDSM wharf in Amsterdam North. Of course, I’d checked the menu beforehand – it had enough likeable ones to give it a try: dukkah with bread, grilled oyster mushrooms and other serious vegetarian options, and a goat hot dog.

The goat was up. The pork hot dog (8.50 euros) came on a white roll with sauce. It was soggy, sweet and greasy, the kind of sandwich that you self-consciously hide in an emotional split between a comfortable childhood memory of McDonald’s and culinary self-flagellation. It was the best of the evening.

As a viewing file, we got into conversation with other guests. I recognized the man next to me – a local celebrity from the Amsterdam music circuit. I told him I had seen him perform when I was sixteen. He asked what I was doing, and then if I was going to write about this debacle.

This is just the crap they serve every day. That’s a crime, even if you asked twenty cents for it

“Why would I? Nothing was good. But it was also all under a tenner, so oh well…”

“That’s exactly why,” he interrupted me. For the people who don’t have that much to spend. That’s why they come here to be fobbed off with this rubbish for that little money. Because no one writes about it. Because it ‘only’ costs eight euros.”

He is right. It’s a gossip. Northern lights should be ashamed of themselves.

A little context: This is two months ago, it was the hottest day of the year. But it wasn’t ‘suddenly’ the hottest day of the year. That had been coming for a while and then there is still the weather forecast. So really no excuse not to deploy two more waitstaff. But hey, it was hot, it was extremely busy, Noorderlicht was overwhelmed, both the service and the kitchen. Then I’ll forgive it for taking half an hour to get my first beer on the table. That nothing comes at once. Even that the medium-rare steak (9 euros) ordered is evenly gray. Can happen once. (To then ‘make it up’ with a bloody, cold rag is pushing it.)

What I certainly do not want to forgive is the gunk with the chicken satay (8.50 euros). Because they have prepared it before. When there was no blind panic because the place was once full. “With 20 herbs” is proudly displayed on the menu. I would rather have had a non-wacky sauce with three spices than this sour chunky diarrhea. The hairdresser with pulled pork – a bowl of limp chips under a mushy mashed pork-cheese sauce for 8.50 euros – also didn’t have to be improvised on the spot. This is just the crap they serve every day. That’s a crime, even if you asked twenty cents for it.

Also a sandy beach

Next to Noorderlicht is Pllek – built from sea containers, also a sandy beach, also a fire pit, also everything organic or responsible and serious vegetarian options. They can do it there. The prices on the menu are slightly higher, but you get something for that. Like a plate of grilled oyster mushrooms (€6.5) – tender, juicy, meaty, with garlic and a crunchy edge, it could pass for vegan döner. Or Korean falafel of mung beans and kimchi (11.50 euros) – three generous, clean-fried quenelles (dark-crispy but not greasy), juicy and flavoursome, served with a generous dollop of fresh young kimchi on a thick tahini with oil and za’ atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend). A great balanced vegan(!) appetizer. Real spot on.

The wild boar smoked and fennel sausages come from Wild van Wild – a sympathetic Amsterdam company run by two hunting brothers. The vegetables of the organic vegetable guru Wim Bijma from Osdorp. The thinly sliced ​​veal with mackerel-lemon-tarragon-mayo is not very exciting, but it is done with care and attention. The raw fennel is wafer thin and pickled. It is also a really big plate for 12.50 euros.

The main courses at the neighbors look fine, decent AVG ones; the skin of the chicken is brown and crispy, the fish springs back juicy when cut. Instead of ordering a main course ourselves (based on the starters, I trust that it is all right), we decide to give Noorderlicht a fair chance.

It is not made easy for us: at ten past nine ‘the kitchen is closed’, while it is quite pontifically stated on the menu that dinner is served ‘from 18:00-22:00’. We sputter some more, but the kitchen is relentless. On a third attempt, again a week later, on a rainy day the satay sauce turns out to be watery and sour and the hairdresser’s soggy meat puree on chips. The octopus terrine is soft, but smells quite fishy (it’s on the edge). The four loveless slices of cold potato and piles of dusty raw paprika do little to disguise it.

I did my best.

Pllek seems more expensive at first glance, but looks can be deceiving. For starters, you get a lot more bang for your buck, both in quality and quantity. And with one such dish at Noorderlicht you won’t get around either. Then it becomes a simple calculation. So from now on we will first eat at Pllek and then go to Noorderlicht for the music. Because there are some nice bands.