For down to earth Sybarites FG Food Labs is the place to be in Rotterdam. The atmosphere there is warm and laid back, the idea being that culinary enjoyment works best if you’re completely at ease. You can turn up in anything from jeans and trainers to your highest stilettos. Just make sure you’re ready for a gastronomic experience of the highest class; you’ll be excited and very impressed. It’s hardly surprising that the place is just about always full, nor that they had a Michelin star in less than a year. But lucky for us – we bagged a table at the last minute. This report records our evening.
At the old railway station.
FG Food Labs is on a wonderfully unusual site. It’s actually in one of the arches of the old railway station, the Hofplein, where the trains from Rotterdam stopped on the way to The Hague in the early 1900s. Since those days all sorts of creative businesses have moved in, FG Food Labs among them. Recently FG restaurant was welcomed into the adjoining Hofbogen. The move means that the Head Chef and his two teams can focus even more clearly on quality and refinement. They’ve got ambitious goals. They want to get three stars for FG Restaurant while keeping up the success of FG Food Labs.
An air of the South
The interior has something of a Spanish bodega about it. There are high tables, the World-famous Joselito ham and the place is done out with rustic timber décor. The music has a southern beat, there’s soft lighting – but the open kitchen bustles with activity. Immediately it all sets just the right tone.
François Geurds – a top Chef.
The Chef, François Geurds, is a real star. But without any airs and graces and he always has a smile on his face! He’s the only man in the Netherlands who’s really running a laboratory, where he can test flavours until they’re just the best and as fully perfected as possible. FG is actually as well known for its scientific approach as for its intense flavours. For example he’s used nitrogen, and he brings extremely challenging flavour combinations to the table but which amazingly seem to work perfectly. When we asked him where he gets his inspiration his reply was “from everything that’s alive”. He’s right, too, because his vision includes space for refinement, perception – and the unexpected. It’s a magic cocktail of creativity and fanaticism. A never-ending journey of discovery, looking for that one unforgettable dish. Well, for us there was more then one unforgettable dish. And we can already let you in on that secret…
Menu’s made to measure
At FG Food Labs, as well as the à la carte menu you can choose a surprise menu of anything from four to nine courses. As usual we followed the Chef’s recommendations and chose the eight course menu. We also went for the “drink-drive” arrangement of half a glass of wine per course – it’s a good idea, by the way, that they offer the possibility.
We started with a Citadelle Gin & Tonic, a glass of champagne and crackers with sesame seed, poppy seeds and pink peppercorns.
Amuses à la FG
The first of the amuses consists of two snacks. First came a vichyssoise with sour dough croutons, coupled with tobiko caviar (flying fish roe) which made for a wonderfully crunchy texture. Delicious with the subtle and creamy soup. The second offering was a falafel ball with roasted onions, anchovy and chive. The suggestion of spicyness made the whole thing extremely good.
Our third amuse could just as easily have been one of the petit fours. It was a delightful little Canelé de Bordeaux with foie gras. Pretty audacious for an amuse, but absolutely delicious and just right for this stage of the meal.
While our first course was on the way we were given some sourdough bread with butter and olive oil. There was also pink salt from the Himalayas for you to grind yourself – another new experience, and good fun!
Seafood starters – delicious in triplicate
The first course was a mousseline comprising potato, Joselito ham and chive with crispy fried potato chunks and potato cakes coloured with squid ink and caviar. It all comes in a remarkable-looking dinner set specially designed for the purpose that adds a visual effect to what is anyway powerful taste experience. What a great beginning!
The wine was a Vin d’Alsace, Pinot Blanc, Les trois Terroirs, Domaine Jean Sipp, 2015. Its complex nature derives from the fact that its vines are planted in three different sorts of ground.
Then came two courses that may be eaten together, because they complement each other perfectly. One of them was tuna ceviche with Japanese mayonnaise, hoisin, spicy tomatoes and sweet and sour celery with tapioca. On the other hand a small taco with spicy mango chutney made for a sweet but mildly spicy flavour.
The sommelier plumped for a Domaine Begunde – Le secret du Sud, Gewürztaminer, 2015. It’s a wine with hints of herbs and notes of lychee.
Theme of the next dish was the colour green. It came on a green plate with green-tinted ingredients. This was halibut with foamed lime-leaf, watercress, fennel, sweet and sour sea-lettuce and broad beans.
The wine we sampled with this was Delaire Graff, Chenin Blanc, Swartland Reserve, 2014. Fresh and very dry with aromas of peach, pineapple and lemon.
Twice times duck liver – both different
The fourth course brought closer acquaintance with the scientific aspect of François Geurds’s cooking. An important component is benzaldehyde, a bitter-tasting chemical which can be extracted from cherry stones. This is then made into cherry ice, which creates a lovely smooth and shiny texture. This ice is then served with duck liver glazed with balsamic vinegar, flakes of almond, chamomile and chive.
A supple, mildly fruity wine, with notes of raspberry and blueberry would be just right with this – so Painter Bridge California, Zinfandel, 2014 fitted the bill exactly.
The Chef was now keen for us to try the fifth course, because that’s currently a tour de force. Sourdough toast, apple compote, eel from the IJsselmeer in a layer of foie gras garnished with caviar and gold leaf. It looked gift-wrapped…
Time to try the FG Nitro Lab style, one of FG Food Labs’ ’s signature dishes. It has a cold part, and a hot part…
To get the cold part you’ve got to roll your own sleeves up. A pestle and mortar is brought to the table, with some fresh herbs. There’s lemon balm, mint, dill, tarragon and pink pepper. The idea is to add liquid nitrogen and grind the herbs yourself. Now liquid nitrogen is at -169˚C, so the whole thing appears to start boiling. Actually of course it’s freezing, until the mixture of herbs dries out. When it’s finely ground, along comes a scoop of yoghurt ice-cream and lime.
The hot part of this course is made up of tofu, creamed sweet potato, Nameko mushroom, green herb oil and mint. The best way to savour it is to take a bite of the hot and then the cold. It’s by turns earthy and full on the one hand, and fresh and creamy but light on the other.
A glass of a lively rosé goes well with this savoury dish; we had Le temps des Fleurs, Chiroulet, 2015.
For the last course we had MRIJ (Maas-Rijn-Ijsel) beef, beef topside, cauliflower, Jerusalem Artichoke in Hollandaise sauce with crispy oven chips and mace. What’s particularly good about this dish is the variable texture of the beef, because it has the flavour of filet with the texture of stewing beef.
You need a strong red wine with this dish, and Damana 5, Ribera Del Duera answered the challenge beautifully. It’s matured in oak casks, and has lots of tannins and a good earthy flavour
Subtle Sweetness to finish.
The dessert was especially adventurous. If you consider all the ingredients, you’d think you’re in for a savoury snack. You’d probably never think to choose it from the menu – but you’d be wrong! Caramelized macadamia and foie gras in breadcrumbs with vanilla ice-cream and Masia el Altet olive oil are a match made in heaven. Simply scrumptious.
We found ourselves going to Italy for the wine, for that’s where the fresh-tasting Tre Filer, Cà dei Frati, 2011 came from. We detected honey notes, and peach.
That was the last of the wines on our menu, so it was clearly time to look back at the line-up of what had been served.
Although the cheese board looked good and very tasty, alas we were so full we just had to pass, this time. All the same we’re quite happy to share a picture of the impressive assortment.
And now another unforgettable sight because here came a mini-barbecue with lavender marshmallows. A wonderful aroma, a refined flavour. Definitely worth trying, even if you normally don’t like marshmallows…
Then there was a selection of four petits fours to choose from with the coffee and tea. From right to left we have a coffee truffle, chocolate pate with banana cream and flakes of banana, peanut fudge with white chocolate and Bastogne biscuits; and finally FG Candy which has a blackcurrant and lychee flavour. You can watch FG Candy being made in this video.
Our conclusion? Expect a relaxed atmosphere at FG Food Labs, but full of character. A cooking experience brought to the pitch of perfection, full of intense and rich flavour. What we’ll remember most from dining there are the unexpected dishes with their unusual combinations, that delightful tableware for the starter, and the superb pairings of the wines and food. In short, this restaurant is recommended!