Café Willem Albert, Groningen, Netherlands

On a recent trip to the Arctic Circle, I started and ended the European mainland part of my campervan road trip in the Netherlands. I had found a great place to park up near Groningen, which I’ve always found to be a charming and manageable small city. l liked it so much, I told my friend Roisin about it and she arrived a few days later to check out its charms.

The temperatures were soaring in July and, after a little sightseeing in our lightest outfits and best-available hats, we craved some air-conditioning and a light lunch somewhere near the Grote Markt in central Groningen. I spotted the perfect place, with generous shade at the side of the market square and, while most people were outside, we ventured into a beautiful and cool room which stretched throughout the ground floor of its building.

We were just bushwhacked by the heat. Like a computer chip, I function best in cool temperatures (I may be making that part up!). Roisin looked happy to be parked too!

This is a well-established bistro at the centre of the city. It garners regular high stars on review websites, but I wanted to see how it ranked for myself.

Beer seemed like the right drink choice and, armed with two 0.5l Heinekens, we chose from the fry-heavy Chef’s Lunch Menu. Roisin selected a marinated chicken burger. I would have been disappointed as this was a minced chicken product rather than a whole chicken piece, but Roisin is optimistic and seemed to like it. The amount of fries was a bit overwhelming and I think a generous side salad would have been a good choice of accompaniment had it been available.

I was in the mood for fish and chips, a staple of bistro menus in the Netherlands. The proportion of fries to fish was more balanced here, the wedge of lemon seemed freshly sliced (who wants an ageing wedge?) and the batter was light and maintained a little satisfying chew. The fish had been dusted with a red seasoning. Given that paprika salt is used a LOT in Holland, I’m assuming that this slightly indistinguishable umami seasoning was some form of paprika. No element of smokiness, this isn’t a Spanish version, but a central European flavour.

Haven’t we moved past faux fry baskets for presentation yet?

My dish came with two quite generous dips: the first, a black pepper aioli and the second a standard lemon mayonnaise. The black pepper dressing was full of malt vinegar and all the finer for that reason.

Being my usual nosy self, I went off to find the restrooms and to snap a little photograph or two to share with you. Toilets are downstairs (the stairs were beautifully designed and thoughtfully lit) and in each alcove or corner there is an instagram-worthy vignette.

However, the star of the show is the bar area itself: high stools in a burnished green leather crowd around a horseshoe-shaped bar with a decent overhang. The metal pipework overhead carries a soupçon of Charles Rennie Mackintosh art nouveau styling and who doesn’t want a reminder of Scottish art in Groningen?

Our bellies full, we wandered off through Groningen, exploring the wonderful Forum building (subscribe to my YouTube channel for an upcoming video of that).

Roisin went in search of a fridge magnet to add to her growing collection from all over Europe, which she has toured in her van, Daisy, with her family. Along the way, I found this gorgeous armoire. I just love the pops of mustard appearing from underneath the verdigris.

Groningen is a must-visit city in the Netherlands, usually overlooked for Amsterdam or Bruges for weekend trips. However, it is an equal in terms of ease of getting around and Café Willem Albert a fine choice for a light supper and cocktails on anyone’s weekend getaway.