Five reasons why Rotterdam ought to be your next foodie destination
New indoor markets, quirky restaurants and experimental breweries make the Dutch port city a feast for the senses, says Howard Dorman
HANG on tight if you sit out the back on a water taxi in Rotterdam. Time is money in Europe's biggest port – so forget snapping at the skyscrapers, or your smartphone might just end up bleeping with the fishes.
R'dam, as the Netherlands' second city is known by its 630,000 inhabitants, moves at a brisker pace than Amsterdam. It's also an architects' and Instagrammers' playground. Much of the historic city was obliterated by the Luftwaffe in 1940 but in the eight decades since, it has reinvented itself as a 'Rottermandamhattan'.
The city's skyline is dominated by towering monuments to modernism along the waterfront, with overhanging floors and other gravity-defying flourishes.
Besides the water taxis, a rapid metro system and an extensive tram network were both developed as the city rose from the ashes of the war. Many of the central shopping areas are pedestrianised and wide pavements abound, making for pleasant strolling, though don't expect to see many canals – most were filled with rubble and covered over after the blitz of 1940.
Being a port city, Rotterdam is a huge melting pot, and the same can be said for the food scene.
In 2014, the city unveiled another colossal construction, the Markthal (markthal-en.klepierre.nl), a horseshoe-shaped homage to food that is home to more than 80 fresh produce stands, food shops and restaurants.
And this summer, the opening of the Rotterdam Foodhallen in Wilhelminakade (foodhallen.nl/rotterdam) has made the city an even hotter destination for foodies.
A former tea and nuts warehouse has been converted into a new hip spot to buy lunch or dinner from a choice of 12 stylish stands specialising in everything from Spanish pintxos to Indonesian to vegan, with diners sitting where they want in a spacious industrial-chic seating area. Three elegant bars, one focusing on gin, mean that drinkers are an essential part of the mix, too, with the Foodhallen staying open until midnight.
I tuck into tapas for lunch – savoury milhojas (layered with aubergine, courgette and tomato in a garlic sauce) and patatas bravas – which costs €9/£8, about par for the course for a light meal at the Foodhallen.
I stay at the Room Mate Bruno, a newly opened luxury boutique hotel in the same converted warehouse. It stands in the shadow of the city's most eye-catching landmark, the De Rotterdam tower block, and is just a three-minute walk from the Wilhelminaplein metro station.
A 10-minute walk over the new Rijnhaven footbridge takes you to the Fenix Food Factory in Veerlaan (fenixfoodfactory.nl), a farmers' market that has cropped up in another converted warehouse. A butcher, a baker and a cheese maker rub shoulders with other entrepreneurs serving up coffee, cider and beer. Hats off to the Kaapse Brouwers brewery (kaapsebrouwers.nl) whose 30 draft offerings include a gluten-free Karel ale, which I caress on a bench on the quayside.
:: Five foodie experiences to enjoy in Rotterdam
1. Grab a ticket to dine at the RotterTram
Where: Join the tram at Willemsplein
Climb on board a restored vintage tram and take your seat for a four-course dinner, featuring dishes such as braised veal cheek and marinated fowl. Be prepared to keep downing a utensil to return the compliment to the numerous people who will wave at you as you glide past them knife and fork in hand. The 44-seater tram has a kitchen on board and a toilet, which is handy, as this ride lasts a quite lovely 2.5 hours.
How: A meal and drinks package costs €79.95pp/£71 (based on two dining); also enquire about one-hour brunch specials (€29.95/£27). Visit en.rottertram.nl.
2. Go bio at Restaurant De Jong
Where: Raampoortstraat 38
This bio-food bistro is housed in a converted railway station arch and helmed by Rotterdam star chef Jim de Jong. Seasonal vegetables play a starring role in a daily alternating menu, with much of the produce coming from the restaurant's own kitchen garden. Tell your waitperson your dietary requirements or food hells before being treated to a highly inventive surprise menu of four (€47/£42), five (€55/£49) or six (€62/£55) courses.
How: Visit restaurantdejong.nl/en.
3. Excite tastebuds at Aji restaurant
Where: Pannekoekstraat 40A
Aji is Spanish for pepper, a key ingredient at this South American-fusion restaurant owned by Michelin star chef Mario Ridder. Dishes are inspired by Ritter's travels to Peru and Mexico, and although plates aren't overflowing, the flavour combinations are exciting – try aubergines with garlic or shiitake mushrooms and scallions. Several main courses are priced at under €20.
How: Visit restaurantaji.nl.
4. Eat farm-fresh food up high at Op Het Dak
Where: Schiekade 189
Take the lift to the sixth floor of a former office block, climb some steps and emerge on the largest urban farm rooftop in Europe. This is the home of Op Het Dak, or On The Roof, a cafe that serves simple, seasonal food. Unsurprisingly, most diners make a beeline for the outside tables amid the vegetable plots, but you can also sit inside and peer out through two strangely misshapen windows. Lunches such as poached eggs in spiced yoghurt cost around €10/£9.
How: Visit ophetdak.com.
5. Sink craft beers in Kaapse Maria
Where: Mauritsweg 52
An offshoot of the much bigger brewhouse Kaapse Brouwers, this craft beer nirvana is set in a historic building in the city's Cool district. How cool is a name like that? Find 24 beers on tap plus a range of natural wines and deglutenised pale ale in bottles.
How: Visit kaapsemaria.nl.
:: Rooms at the Room Mate Bruno hotel (room-matehotels.com/en/bruno) cost from €90/£80, excluding breakfast.
:: Easyjet flies from Belfast International Airport to Amsterdam Schipol airport. Regular train and taxi services are available from Schipol; the journey takes approximately one hour. (easyjet.com)
:: Eurostar (eurostar.com/uk) runs two direct services a day from St Pancras, London, to Amsterdam stopping at Rotterdam Centraal, rising to three from June 2019. Return journey, including Thalys service from Rotterdam-Brussels on London-bound return, cost from £80.
:: For more information about the destination, visit en.rotterdam.info.