It’s attracting lots of gastronomic and architectural attention, and it does indeed offer a wealth of national and international food outlets. The new Markthal is a traditional market in Rotterdam with piles of fresh vegetables, meat and fish and, yes, cheese as well; but its attractive and striking environs are also garnished with a good selection of restaurants. Rotterdammers love their food and it’s evident in the rest of the city too.
Rotterdam is a tapestry of modern architectural projects that date back to post-WWII. It was devastated by bombing although some remarkable structures survived the war and remain iconic examples of their particular architectural style. The Van Nelle Factory is now a Dutch national monument and this year gained the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site. One doesn’t have to be a building buff to appreciate the ingenious simplicity of this building. It has covered walkways and closed corridors that were once used to carry samples of the various products from one area to the next. Van Nelle processed coffee, tea and tobacco originally and there was always a risk of cross-contamination, so this factory was designed with not only beauty but practicality in mind.
Another noteworthy structure which now has a delicious food association is the Hotel New York. It dates back to an era of trans-Atlantic crossings, with boats laden with not only luxury passengers but those poorer folk who were searching for a better life in the New World. The building was, once upon a time, shipping offices.
The Hotel New York once again reminds us of the link between food and architecture. Today one can enjoy one of the best Afternoon Teas that Rotterdam can provide. Its restaurant is imposing and it still retains its historic high ceilings and an aura of past times. It’s a must-visit for any tourist. One can stay in the marvellously appointed hotel but even a day-tripper can enjoy the food.
François Geurds (full interview here) is a young but already well-decorated chef in Rotterdam. He owns the two-star FG Restaurant as well as the more casual Food Lab. It’s the first culinary laboratory in the Netherlands and has been noticed. This year it joined its sibling in Michelin, in recognition of its quality and originality – and that goes for the venue itself, too, which is architecturally innovative.
This gastronomic playground is the brainchild of Chef Geurds who was inspired by his mother’s cooking and still remembers those childhood dishes. This isn’t a glitzy, white-linened, dinner-suited-waiter sort of establishment. It’s literally underneath the arches of a railway bridge. Granted, that might conjure visions of tyre-changing sheds and panel-beating workshops but this little corner of trendy Rotterdam is using this space as a showcase for modern culinary excellence.
Once inside the surprises continue. One has the sense of being perhaps in a former wine cellar. It’s cosy and intimate with an open kitchen that’s close to every guest. Almost every table become the Chef’s Table. One can sit on high stools and watch the action …and other diners. One is likely to meet the man himself as he is a sociable sort who is passionate about his food and basks in the joy it brings others.
The food is a comforting mix of contemporary and traditional. Even the bread basket isn’t mundane, with the basics having a twist to charm and amuse. The dishes are numerous and entirely individual. At one moment one will be tasting tender and melting meat and the next one experiences melting of another sort with a do- it-yourself savoury ice cream served with a hot savoury partner. He toys with techniques but then returns to versions of more traditional fare, but always adding a flourish. In short his menu is ever-changing with the common factor of ‘it works’.
I have never been keen on molecular gastronomy as it often seems to miss the intended mark but François Geurds (he was once a sous-chef at The Fat Duck) teases the guest with that concept and technology, but doesn’t ever punch one out of a familiar comfort zone. He introduces and leads one on a deliciously new and inviting journey. This is a Rotterdam highlight. You will be talking about dinner here long after the ferry hits Harwich.
But you are unlikely to head for the ferry port immediately after that sumptuous meal. You will need a room for the night. Consider the architecturally dynamic area around the new market. This particular building is, at first glance, a rather uninteresting hotel that looks more like an office block, but it is stuffed full of contemporary character. There is nothing Zen or minimalist at citizenM. Modern indeed but with those old-fashioned virtues that make any travel lodging bearable, and in the case of citizenM, they will likely encourage you to extend your stay.
The rooms are, it’s true, not over-roomy but what they lack in yardage they make up for in charming quirkiness. These are rooms for the computer-savvy with an iPad as the technological hub for TV tuning, light-dimming and blind-rolling. They say in their publicity that they don’t offer twin beds, extra beds or cots, but the beds that they do offer are remarkable for their comfort. Once one prises oneself off the aforementioned mattress the more spacious public spaces will beckon.
Breakfast at citizenM is continental but done lavishly. Juices, hot drinks, cheeses, breads and pastries await and here food is available 24 hours a day. This is a hotel designed with the night-owl and the jet-lagged in mind. There are shelves lined with books. There are sofas on which to curl. There are nooks in which to disappear. In those quieter moments one has to remind oneself that this is truly a hotel and not the home of a well-travelled, fun-loving uncle with a taste for contemporary design!
Rotterdam is special. It has life, vibrancy, individuality and it’s not far away. It has culture aplenty with museums and historic buildings. The restaurants are, to the out-of-towner, surprisingly good. And a visit won’t break the bank.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018