The prestigious buildings that punctuate the Rotterdam skyline have witnessed the rejuvenation of a city that has endured some bumpy times, but is now very much on the up. In the wake of this revival, Rotterdam is enjoying something of a gastronomic boom with the opening of a string of first-rate restaurants – and more are planned.
Culture Trip speaks with long-time Rotterdam resident and writer, Brenda Altorf, who knows the cosmopolitan, multicultural city like the back of her hand, and gets her selection of the best restaurants in what is a fast-moving hospitality scene.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Rotterdam’s city centre, on a pleasant suburban street, this outstanding French restaurant is a family-run affair, a neat and trim bistro-style little place with an ivy-clad facade. Altorf simply loves the place, especially as it boasts a sun-trap pavement terrace and a relaxing, rusticated air – kneuterig, as she (and her compatriots) say. The restaurant offers an à la carte menu of three courses for €35 (£30) or four courses for €42 (£35) – something of a snip considering the quality of the food. Steak tartare, pork cheeks, snails and oysters are all immaculately prepared and presented. Reservations are essential.
With every justification, Héroine has garnered lavish praise for the quality and creativity of its menu: think, for example, stewed beef with black pudding and, for dessert, Jerusalem artichokes with vanilla ice cream. Neither should you be deterred by the indeterminate office blocks that surround it as the restaurant’s interior is a real pleasure – airy and well-lit with an industrial vibe from the exposed heating pipes and wood panelling. The owner-founders, Eva Eekman and Michael Schook, keep a watchful eye over proceedings and guide guests through the set menu – three courses €32 (£27), five for €48 (£40) with wine pairings of €4-7 (£3.40-£6) per glass.
In the heart of the city, Witte de Withstraat is Rotterdam’s social hub, and its trend-setting café-bars and restaurants reach an extravagant climax at Bazar, a big and bustling Middle-East-meets-North-Africa restaurant. The exterior, with its long and shady terrace, looks relatively demure, but the interior is strikingly vivid with an army of multicoloured lamps, souk-like panelling and brightly painted tables. Once you have recovered from the visual shock, you can explore an inventive menu that offers some real delights, such as the tavuk sis kebab, grilled kebab with marinated chicken, or mosàmma, consisting of aubergine, potato, tofu, cheese, hazelnuts and tomato. Prices are great, too – the daily specials come in at just €9 (£7.60).
In the centre of the city, beside one of its busiest boulevards, the Hilton Rotterdam may indeed occupy a routine modern block, but there’s compensation inside at Joelia, one of the city’s most impressive restaurants. The decor is the first thing to strike you – richly original with a brigade of dried flower-and-twig arrangements that look like modern sculptures. And then there is the food: set menus are the order of the day, each course beautifully presented. “The food may be high-end, but the typical, down-to-earth Rotterdam attitude prevails,” Altorf says . Set meals start at €110 (£93), plus matching wines for €53 (£45).
Chic and slick modern restaurant HMB is located on the ground floor of one of the glistening tower blocks that overlook the River Maas on the south side of the city centre. A wide-ranging but well-chosen menu includes the likes of crab with caviar or fried venison with quince pear. Main courses weigh in at around €40 (£34), though you can cut costs considerably by opting for a set meal – four courses for €65 (£55) and up to €105 (£88) for eight. The place hums at the weekend, especially when the weather picks up, and you can drink till late at night on the river-facing, outdoor terrace.
This hip tapas restaurant and bar, which is situated among the tower blocks of the city centre, has a relaxed and informal air, not least because most of the seating is on high stools at the bar or at small tables. “Be prepared to perch,” Altorf says. The decor is stripped down and simple – they have, for example, left the old iron girders on view, and this seems to give the place some extra zip, as does the popular pavement terrace outside. The tapas are both authentic and delicious, featuring everything from octopus terrine to Spanish dried and cured beef, plus they do a good line in cocktails – their spicy maylita may well make your hair stand on end.
Looking out over the River Maas, in a particularly pleasant corner of the city, the Zeezout is a smart, neat and especially welcoming restaurant painted in various shades of cream. This is Rotterdam’s premier seafood restaurant, and has been for several years now, its popularity built on a well-conceived menu executed with flair and imagination. The turbot-fillet paella with chorizo, octopus, anchovy and clams for €30.50 (£25.75) is highly recommended.
Park Heuvel, one of the most well-regarded restaurants in Rotterdam, occupies a villa-like building with Art Deco flourishes and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the surrounding parkland with the River Maas beckoning beyond. It’s a lovely setting, and the smooth and smart decor is an appropriate setting for a sophisticated, gourmet-standard menu. There’s a choice between several set menus or you can opt for à la carte, with signature dishes including wagyu beef with sweet and sour vegetables, quail eggs and caviar or turbot with peas, chanterelles and asparagus – it really is hard to beat.
Knoflookrestaurant Look Dining Table | Courtesy of Knoflookrestaurant Look
Beside one of Rotterdam’s busier boulevards, this city-centre restaurant may not have the finest of locations, but if you’re after good-quality food at affordable prices – and want to leave the high-end restaurants well alone – then this place is an excellent bet. There’s a cosy and folksy vibe here and, as the name would suggest (look is Dutch for ‘garlic’), garlic is the main event in everything from the creamy garlic soup to the garlic-vanilla ice cream, though they pride themselves on their leg of lamb with rosemary and, you guessed it, garlic. Main courses cost as little as €15 (£12.65).