FG Restaurant Rotterdam + François Geurds

Initial Reaction   

Let’s do acronymic acrobatics. FG stands for François Geurds. FG stands for flavours guru. FG stands for futuristic gastronomy. FG stands for fanatiek genieten. Enough. “Would you like some champagne?” greets the maître d’. Blanc de Blancs: that’ll be a rhetorical question. François Geurds, yes, FG himself, appears to welcome us. “I recognise you from The Fat Duck! One of Heston Blumenthal’s parties?” That’ll be us. Always on an Apician mission to redress the work life imbalance.

Big Yellow Taxi is playing. The barrel vaulted restaurant, occupying two redundant railway arches, is filled with pairs of Arne Jacobsen winged chairs. Chairman’s chairs: everyone’s important here. Later in the afternoon, when the restaurant fills up, they will gently rotate as guests move, forming a slow dance, an idle counterpoint to the fast choreography of the service. There’s nothing bridge and tunnel about these arches, capsules of intimate luxury. A few arches down is Denoism, a smart atelier with a glass walled studio in the middle where you can watch your next outfit taking shape while sipping a coffee.

Mainport’s a lovely hotel,” says François. “And this is a great area of Rotterdam. We attract guests from everywhere, France, America… Come and look at our garden!” We’re ushered through to a verdant private room. “It’s set up for a party later.” He strikes a pose. Arms folded. He puts the I into chef. “We have 56 covers including the private dining and eight people can sit at the bar watching the chefs. We’re fully booked tonight.” We opt for the locavore vegetarian tasting menu with matching wines:

“We don’t find cooking for vegetarians that different an approach,” he confirms. “We always start preparation anyway with lots of chopping of vegetables.” This is fine wining and dining so there are plenty of variations on a theme. Our wooden table is laid with two enigmatic white shapes plus a grinding bowl and petite cutlery. Remember the confusing days of yore when cutlery for every course was laid out altogether on linen tablecloths? Hot bread sits on one of the icebergs; traditional French Parmesan on the other. Interspersions of petals and greenery add colour. “The butter is from Normandy and here is Spanish olive oil,” introduces the waiter.

Another waiter arrives carrying a box of 12 peppers, white to black and every shade between. Enter some personalisation of the meal. After all, whatever Marco Pierre White thinks, everybody’s taste is different isn’t it? Under heuristic guidance we choose Congolese Likovala, Indonesian Cubèbe and Nepalese Timur peppers. A theatrical grinding performance takes place. Our table smells of 100 coffee shops. This routine – one we could get used to thank you – is repeated for salts, Pakistani Diamond and Sel Mirroir.

A sorbet cornetto wedged in a white arch reminiscent of the room shape is “dipped in three different tastes”: tomato, liquorice and piccalilli. Sweet and sour and salty, it’s becoming clear François enjoys treating his guests to taste, texture and temperature teases and temptations. “Collecting knives is a great passion of François’,” says the waiter, holding a murderous array of instruments. We select a mean looking dagger.

After an interlude of mushroom, coconut and haddock (yes they did check our pescatarian credentials) consumé, west Austrian Rabl 2012 “fresh and juicy” white wine is a perfume to the (on a knife’s edge) full bodied curried cabbage, carrot and parsnip with Slovenic cream of artichoke, served with black squid inked potatoes. Pure, unadulterated gastroporn. Is photographing food a disruption? Au contraire, it’s an aide memoire.

The textured black and gold plate displaying beetroot foam, artichoke and parsnip reminds us of a George Baselitz painting. Marrying art and gastronomy, its scent is of a country garden in bloom. The 2014 Colle Stefano white wine – “a typical grape from east Italy giving us fresh herbiness and earthy flavours” we’re told – adds to the rural mood inducing aroma.

Next, the sommelier recommends “a Washington State independent wine from the Dionysus Vineyard.” This smoky 2014 chardonnay plays the perfect companion to pumpkin cream and sweet and sour celery arranged in a crispy crenellation. We’re having far too much fun to pay a lot of attention to the staff’s eloquence and erudition.

Red instead of white wine is now served. In tandem, the arched window frames a blue sky turning grey. Pathetic fallacy or what? The Château de Grand Morgan 2014 pinot noir is “very fruity and earthy”. Our glasses are big enough to swim in, capturing the lingering essence and bouquet of the grape. It accompanies Portobello mushroom, sculpted almond chives and cherry pip sorbet. Another surprising and successful marriage.

“We don’t like the summer truffle in our kitchen!” exclaims François. Winter truffle (Tuber melanosporum) is far more potent than its summer counterpart (Tuber aestivum). Sure enough, winter truffle macaroni comes with lemongrass foam, lentils and parsnips surrounding an egg capped with edible gold leaf. Luyt Douro Doc Reserva Tinto 2011 proves to be yet another orthonasal olfactory hit.

Our carefully curated multisensory voyage is coming to a climax. Cascinetta Vietta Moscato d’Asti in a vintage glass (“light, sweet and just a bit sparkling!”) accentuates lychee sorbet decorated with coconut crisps on a dark chocolate base. FG does all the molecular mixology you’d expect from a modernist restaurant with a taste lab attached yet so much more.

“You have to be in your restaurant seven days a week,” believes François. “Sometimes I take a day off. Otherwise I’m here first thing. I live seven minutes away. In the morning I’m in the lab preparing all the sauces, the meals, the food. I’m always here. I open and close the door, 8.30am to 2.30am.”

The bill is presented under a shell. A sonic surprise? The sound of the sea? A tortoiseshell sculpture representing an inversion of the fossil shaped basin in the bathroom? Or just a paper weight? Four vegetarian courses €71 | five courses €91 | seven courses €111 | nine courses €131. Go the whole hog, add matching wines and Bru sparkling water and there’s not much change out of a couple of hundred euro. But what price umami?

The primacy effect (start of a meal) and regency effect (end of a meal) tend to stick in our minds. What could be more memorable than to sandwich a lunch between an amuse bouche (an unexpected gift) and a goody bag packed with more party favours than a political conference (a really unexpected gift)? Happiness extended. Oh, and the head chef cum experience engineer leaving his kitchen to bookend your visit with a personal welcome and goodbye?

Explosive, experimental and experiential, there’s only one thing missing from FG. It already has a sky high hedonic rating from us. A third Michelin star. Outside, a small red racing car will spin us through the hazy mist of sweltering heat, another rainstorm may await – who cares? – climes unknown persist and pursue us across a restless afternoon. Like a dream, a badly drawn dream. Losing focus, that’s speed and there’s a sailor in every Mainport, so we’re told.

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Sonneveld House Rotterdam + Dutch Functionalism

Holland Lark

ImageDutch Functionalism is in one sense a continuation of the positivistic traits of 19th century thought. That is, architecture holding meaning as a reflection or symptom of a particular stage of historical development. This interpretation of history imposes meaning on architecture and does not depend on the memory of its own past. The spirit of the age demands its architecture is absolutely new.

Music | In another sense Dutch Functionalism is far removed from the rhythm of the 19th century. It is part of a wider movement linked to avant garde art as a whole, rejecting any sense of historicism. The architecture rejects the past’s tendency to consider buildings as legible texts of moral and didactic ideas, ignoring their ability to be forms of artistic portrayal.

Text | This formalist architecture does not deliver neutral structures on whose surfaces are displayed representations of ideas but is an opaque reflexive reality obeying its own internal laws. Sonneveld House is a 1930s villa in the centre of Rotterdam designed by Brinkman and Van der Vlugt. It is not a dogmatic example. Rather, this house is a personalised interpretation of Dutch Functionalism. Form follows function; and comfort; and luxury.

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Hotel New York Oyster Bar + Wilhelmina Pier Rotterdam

The Big Pip

If oysters are your world and squid rings rock your boat, Hotel New York is for you. It’s not in New York but it is in the former Holland America Line offices on the banks of Rotterdam’s River Mass. Turn of the (21st) century buildings tower over this turn of last (20th) century building but it holds its own among the newer crowd. Distinctive pineapple shaped copper topped clock towers herald the Jugendstil presence on Wilhelmina Pier. Hotel New York’s Oyster Bar is inspired by Parisian bistros, adding to an international ambience. Industrial chic: the real ahoy.

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Rotterdam + The Doors

Route Canal

Rotters, the new Amsters. What lies behind?  Worlds unknown.

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Mainport Hotel Rotterdam + Delfshaven

Haven is a Place on Earth

Middag. To the beautiful south of Churchillplein lie the four inlets of Wijnhaven, Bierhaven, Rederijhaven and Scheepmakershaven. Due west of the latter haven along Leuvehaven is our destination. Seemingly giving up on multisyllabic Dutch mouthfuls, our hotel is simply and logically called Mainport. Inanimate nominative determinism. Top notch natch. This could be Liverpool or Rome, anywhere alone. Except it’s not. It is where it is, overlooking Oude Haven, Rotterdam’s oldest harbour.

Nacht. A civic commitment to the new is adhered to by architects MAS architectuur in this 215 bedroom hotel.  All five stars of it. Lowland high life. The windows are massive as they should be, nodding to Dutch tradition and framing such envy inducing vistas and views and perspectives. Owner Karin Geurts has enlisted the help of designer Feran Thomassen to make the interior something to home tweet home about. The bedrooms are all blocks of pattern and enigmatic shadows. Enough monochrome madness to mask afterhours clandestinity.

Ochtend. As we hit contemporary architecture overdrive, overwhelmed by the scale of Rem Koolhaas’s De RotterdamManhattan on the Maas, it’s time for a diversion due further west along the water via Coolhaven to Delfshaven. This intimate remnant of historic Rotterdam, missed by the Luftwaffe, is Dutch fridge magnet heaven. We’ve swapped stilts, pilotis, cantilevers and hangovers overhangs for crow-stepped gables, oversized sashes, canal bridges and – dada! – a windmill. All we need is blonde and beautiful clog clad locals and the cliché is complete. To quote Nicky Haslam as he serenaded the select audience in The Pheasantry Chelsea recently, “This has gone by rather too quickly!” We’re spinning with the stars above.

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William Laffan + Abbey Leix Book Launch

Holland Days Source

Neither a Monday evening nor (apropos to an Irish shindig) drizzly weather could possibly dampen spirits. Not when it’s a party hosted by the dashing Sir David Davies and the lovely Lindy Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood last Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava the artist otherwise known as Lindy Guinness. And it’s probably worth mentioning the setting: the mid Victorian splendour of Lindy’s Holland Park townhouse city mansion.

International banker and businessman Sir David is President of the Irish Georgian Society. In between rescuing companies and country houses, Sir David leads a high profile social life (he counts Christina Onassis among his exes). Like all the greats, he once worked at MEPC. This party is all about the launch of a book on his Irish country house Abbey Leix. And Averys champers served with prawns and pea purée on silver spoons.

Two vast bay windowed reception rooms on the piano nobile of the Marchioness’s five storey house easily accommodate 100 guests. One room is hung with her paintings. Renowned Anglo American fine art specialist Charles Plante is an admirer: “Lindy Guinness brings forth abstraction in painting that mirrors the cubism of Cézanne and Picasso. Her works are irresistible.” It’s hard not to notice the staircase walls are lined with David Hockney drawings. Lucien Freud was Lindy’s brother-in-law and old chums included Francis Bacon and Duncan Grant.

The party’s getting going. Interior designer Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill is admiring the garden. Sir David’s glamorous sister Christine and her son Steffan are chatting in the hall. They’re from Ballybla near Ashford County Wicklow: turns out they’re big fans of Hunter’s Hotel. Writer Robert O’Byrne is talking to designer, artist and collector Alec Cobbe in the drawing room. “I still live in Newbridge House when I’m in Ireland,” confirms Alec. BBC3 Radio broadcaster Sean Rafferty is busy playing down his former illustrious career in Northern Ireland where he’s still a household name. “You must visit my cottage in Donegal.” A party isn’t a party without Nicky Haslam. Perennially topping Best Dressed Lists, the interior designer extraordinaire smiles, “I didn’t realise I was such an icon to you young guys!”

Fresh off the treadmill finishing the definitive guide to Russborough, a mighty tome on another Irish country house, Abbey Leix was erudite architectural historian William Laffan’s next commission. Sir David Davies bought the estate from the Earl of Snowdon’s nephew, Viscount de Vesci, for £3 million in 1995. William’s book celebrates the restoration of the house and its 1,200 acre estate.

“Thank you to Lindy for inviting us to her home,” he announces. “It’s very much a home not a museum. Someone asked me earlier was this my house. I wish it was! The only thing better than a double first is a double Guinness! Lindy is a Guinness by birth and a Guinness by marriage. And thank you to William for all the hard work. I asked him to write 100 pages and three years later he’s written hundreds of pages! The photographs are beautiful but do make sure you all read a bit of William’s great text too!”

The Knight of Glin’s widow Madam Olda Fitzgerald, mother-in-law of the actor Dominic West, is present. Sir David continues, “Desmond Fitzgerald was a great inspiration to me. Bless him, bless the Irish Georgian Society. I feel very honoured to follow in his footsteps as President. There are three other people I wish to thank without whom the restoration of Abbey Leix wouldn’t have been possible. John O’Connell, the greatest conservation architect in Ireland. Val Dillon, the leading light of the antiques trade. John Anderson, former Head Gardener of Mount Usher Gardens and Keeper of the Gardens at Windsor Great Park. I had to prise him away from the Royals!”

“Bravo!” toasts the Marchioness. She also owns Clandeboye, a late Georgian country house in Northern Ireland. Its 2,000 acre estate is famous for yoghurt production. The party is a resounding success: the launch is a sell out. A (fine 18th century) table stacked high with copies of William Laffan’s Abbey Leix book at the beginning of the evening is laid bare. Fortunately a few copies are available at Heywood Hill, Peregrine ‘Stoker’ Cavendish 12th Duke of Devonshire’s Mayfair bookshop.

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City of London Guildhall Breakfast + Tall Buildings

Towers of London

The collection of buildings that make up Guildhall could hardly be more eclectic. The Festival of Britain inspired Members’ Club by Sir Richard Gilbert Scott. The (rare) pseudo gothic Art Gallery also by Sir Richard. The medieval Great Hall with George Dance the Younger’s (rarer) Moghul gothic entrance. Sir Christopher Wren’s baroque St Lawrence Jury Church. The Private Dining Room of the Members’ Club has great views of these low rise buildings against a backdrop of skyscrapers.

Guildhall is his office and – it transpires – his midweek home. Chris Hayward, Chairman of the Planning and Transportation Committee of the City of London as of 2016 is clearly a busy man. There are more cranes piercing the horizon of the City now than in the 1980s. When the Elizabeth Line opens there’ll be more people, more pressure, more planning applications. “There’s nowhere like this in the world,” he believes. “The City is a major financial centre with medieval streets. It’s the powerhouse of Britain, the heart of economic growth, whatever they say in elections. Do you want to live in Frankfurt? I don’t!”

Chris refers to an extension of the ‘Eastern Cluster’ as the only part of the City suitable for more tall buildings, in order to preserve heritage elsewhere. “We could fill in the gap between the Walkie Talkie and the Cheesegrater. The skyline works. In the Square Mile we can only go up, not out. I’m a strong advocate of clustering.” He acknowledges others’ mistakes of the recent past. “I want the new generation of tall buildings to be more outward looking, more approachable. For example, the ground floor of the Leadenhall Building is very permeable. They should also have world class public spaces in between. I don’t want the City to be the new Manhattan: too many skyscrapers in Manhattan interact poorly at ground level.”

Contrary to most media missives, London’s skyline isn’t changing in a haphazard way. The City has developed a complex viewing model and is undertaking world class wind modelling work. The future isn’t only about offices scraping the sky. “There’s a forgotten area of the City along the riverfront near the Tower of London,” he explains. “It’s pretty awful but I have a vision of an amazing mixed use scheme of tallish – not ultra tall – buildings. It would need a change of planning policy to allow for residential use. I’ve asked my officers to look at it. Hot off the press! That’s your scoop!” Chris is also keen to see retail planning applications coming forward as well. Rumour has it that Selfridges and Harvey Nics would jump at the chance of opening in the City.

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Selly Manor Bournville Birmingham + Cadbury

Chocolate Box Architecture

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Soho House Birmingham + Samuel Wyatt

Nightclubbing

No, not that Soho House. Really. There’s life beyond Barcelona, Berlin, Istanbul, Miami, New York and so on and so forth. Just so happens Birmingham’s very own Soho House is a museum not a members’ club. Not any old so so museum though. Soho House Birmingham was designed by two of architecture’s most oh so famous brothers. Wrong again, not the Adam family. Samuel and James Wyatt both revamped this Georgian gem.

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The Hilton Park Lane London + Galvin at Windows

Pie in the Sky | The Londond’ry Arms

In the property industry, for every floor you go up, a premium is added. Room with a view with a price tag. Presumably there’s a surcharge in the hospitality industry for a table with a view. The Hilton on Park Lane isn’t a universally beloved feature of London. Even the Queen has complained about its architecture (usually she leaves that to her eldest offspring). One way to guarantee the hotel doesn’t blot your horizon is to eat on the 28th floor. There you can see just about every other landmark from Battersea Power Station to Buckingham Palace (at Her Majesty’s displeasure). We’re looking down on The Lanesborough. We’re looking for Isabel. A frenetic excursion in Gurskyism.

The interior of Galvin at Windows by designer Keith Hobbs (who did up Nobu and Shoreditch House) is unfussy retro luxury: all husky creams and musky greens and dusky greys. A galvianised bronze ceiling sculpture unfurling like a giant Christmas cracker across the ceiling towards the view is the only bow to bling. That, and the chunky golden sculpture in the adjacent bar. More of that shortly. In this most English of settings, Chef Patron Chris Galvin has created seasonally inspired menus focused on modern French haute (no pun) cuisine. Head Chef Joo Won caters for an international audience. All Michelin starred of course(s). We opt for the menu du jour. Chris was, as you may know, the opening head chef of The Wolseley five or six years ago.

With a sense of abandon, we can but only reach for rococo hyperbole, revel in baroque pleasure and roll in art nouvelle cuisine. A radical polychromatic dream of texture and flavour. And that’s just the operatic note striking the end of the afternoon: passion fruit and dark chocolate truffle petit fours. Lady Londond’ry would approve. Mourne Mountains of diced and sliced and spliced squid, celery and seaweed come hither, as crisp as a County Down spring day. More than the title deriving mere pie, a main of vegetable tarte fine, cauliflower purée, roasted mushroom and onion juice is a distinctive essay in deconstructivism. That sculptural disruptor in the bar next door – all circles in metallic squares – transcends spheres as pink (think Diana in Savannah) praline mousse, chocolate ganache and (oh, our favourite!) marzipan ice cream. Sometimes, there’s art in simply eating.

Ok, so we’ve nabbed the best table in Galvin at Windows. Good. What’s the opposite of social Siberia? A bay window practically levitating over Hyde Park. Well, it feels like California till the auto blinds descend and the air con turns up a notch or 12. Actually the three pronged propeller shape of the Hilton, gloriously inefficient to build, does generally afford delicious views (who said the hotel’s architecture was crap?). The Thames is invisible, hidden in a sea of greyness and greenery, a chaotic urban mosaic. Wait a minute! What’s that shimmering reflection? We glimpse a pale sapphire pool cradled between the catslide roof of Montevetro and the witch’s hat roof of Chelsea Harbour Tower. There you go, the Thames reduced to a jewel. And, as it turns out, all for no extra than the table stuck next to the kitchen. It’s Good Friday. The Bishop of Stepney, who promotes the reenchantment of society, says, “Live well | Live life to the full | This life is not the end.”

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