Very good to Excellent (89-92)
Above average to Good (86-88)
Below Average to Average (80-85)
Avoid (below 80)
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Note: In June 2013 Restaurant Ivy changed its name to FG Restaurant.
This story starts in 2005, when my husband and I were having lunch at the Fat Duck in Bray-on-Thames to celebrate our 10th anniversary. A member of staff told us that a Dutch chef was working in their kitchens as Heston's sous-chef but we weren't introduced at the time. Only in February 2009 when François Geurds announced the opening of his own restaurant called Ivy in Rotterdam, did I realise that he was the chef who was cooking in Heston's kitchen in 2005 and a lot has happened since his Fat Duck days.
Ever since the opening in February 2009, Ivy has been one of the most talked about restaurants in the Netherlands and François Geurds one of the most talked about chefs. Just 9 months after the Ivy opened its doors, Michelin awarded the restaurant with a star in their 2010 guide. The restaurant is also doing extremely well in Dutch restaurant guides. My visit was therefore long overdue.
Ivy is located in a recently re-developed dock area in Rotterdam called Lloydkwartier. It is at the waterside and can even be reached by boat. We didn't arrive for lunch until 13.15h, so when we had parked the car and entered the restaurant it was already in full swing.
For lunch and dinner The Ivy offers 5, 7, 9 or 11 course tasting menus and a a la carte menu. The tasting menus also come in a vegetarian version. We decided to go for the 9-course tasting menu. While we were deciding, we were served several types of thin crostini's, which were flavoured with Parmesan, cumin, pink peppercorns, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. The crostini's were nice and crisp. Next to the crostini's we could also have munched the (tasting) menu itself as it is printed on edible paper (I did try a bit).
We were served 4 pre-starters. The first was chicory purée and mustard ice cream served with a cheese tuile and dried Iberico ham. An excellent start of our lunch, the chicory puree was creamy but reassuringly bitter and went great with the refreshing but creamy mustard ice cream.
Second, celeriac puree, crème of tarragon, popped quinoa, seaweed powder. A brilliant dish. Velvety celeriac puree, its flavour enhanced by the tarragon, followed by a briny touch from the seaweed powder. The popped quinoa added the necessary bite to this dish. Seconds please?!
The third pre-starter was a macaron filled with goat's cheese, apple and mint. The macaron's sweetness provided an elegant counterpoint to the sharp goat's cheese. A bit like honey and goat's cheese but much more refined.
Last was a tomato cone dipped in liquorice powder filled with a picalilly sorbet. This pre-starter has been served since the restaurant opened in 2009 and is one of Francois Geurds's signature dishes. It was a fun pre-starter and the use of pop rocks shows that he did pay attention when he was working in Bray...
To cleanse our palates before the first course of the tasting menu was served, we were presented with a champagne jelly. It was refreshing indeed so it served its purpose, but personally I'm not a big fan of jellies made with wine or champagne.
On to the first course of the tasting menu: lobster, white chocolate emulsion served with a jus of smoked butter, chives, verjus, topped with caviar and a small oyster leaf. Good God, what a way to start a tasting menu. Succulent lobster with an intense and perfectly judged smoky butter flavour combined with creamy white chocolate and the saline touches of the caviar and oyster-leaf. Every mouthful unveiled a parade of transparent and precise flavours, first the lobster, then the smokiness and richness of the butter , followed by the chocolate, finished by the briny-ness of the caviar and oyster leaf. A glass of slightly sweet sparkling sake was served with this lobster dish and with each sip you could taste the sea.
The second course was soft egg yolk, potato and truffle mash, potato crisps, beef fat crispies, shaved and grated black truffle, served with limited edition Marfuga l'Affiorante olive oil. With these ingredients you might expect a very rich dish but it was nothing of the sort. The potato and truffle mash was light and fluffy and had a powerful potato flavour, matched by the beautiful earthy flavours of the other ingredients. The various structures made for a perfect balance and the olive oil really brought everything together. I especially liked the 2 ways of truffle - shaved and grated.
Next up was the nitro cocktail, yes exactly: a cocktail made with nitrogen, prepared at table. I like this 21st century take on the spoom, a frothy sorbet that used to be served as a refreshment between courses. Yogurt and cucumber juice are mixed into a sorbet with the nitrogen and are then served with pickled cucumber, pink peppercorns and lime zest. Refreshing and with a long and pleasant aftertaste.
The fourth course was foie gras de canard topped with grated almond, chives and chamomile powder served with a cherry sorbet. A delicious melt-in-the-mouth foie gras. Grating the almond really expressed its fruity character. The cherry sorbet had a bright cherry flavour and the addition of extract of cherry pips (benzaldehyde) gave the flavour a pleasant "bite". The sorbet and the chives made this an elegant and surprisingly digestible dish.
On to the fifth course: sweet breads, oyster, pearl onions, potato, urchin and curry. Although normally I wouldn't regard sweet breads as comfort food in this case that is exactly what they were: comfort food in a glass. Perfectly cooked crisp sweet breads, glazed pearl onions, which still had a bite to them, served with a succulent poached oyster that was hidden underneath a smooth and rich blanket of potato mash. I think it was potato mash; despite my request to this effect the staff declined to inform us as they wanted us to "discover" the dish for ourselves. However: a wonderful and comforting dish with a pleasant hint of curry.
Before our main (sixth) course we were served a small courgette/crispy filo pastry skewer served with the Ivy dip. Yum.
The main course was Simmenthhal fillet of beef, artichoke, black olives, brioche and pecorino. The beef, which was slowly cooked in olive oil and quickly seared just before serving, was unbelievably succulent. The artichoke (both grilled and as a purée) and the olives gave this dish a Mediterranean feel and how wonderful it is to see the artichoke playing such a big part in a main course - usually its just a smear of purée. The toasted brioche served with grated pecorino on top added the necessary crunch to the dish. A main course that delivered big and strong flavours.
Then it was time for the desserts.
First up was single-cream ice cream, macadamia nuts and brioche crumbs, served with some Masia el Altet olive oil. A lovely light and fresh dessert. The olive oil really brought out the nutiness of the macadamias.
The second dessert was pistachio, popcorn ice cream, crispy chicken skin. The inspiration for this dessert came when Francois Geurds visited a New York cinema and had pop corn and chicken wings. Well, my notes were just three words: fantastic, genius and gorgeous and no I wasn't drunk. A terrific dessert of pistachio crème, chopped pistachio, lovely popcorn flavoured ice cream and, yes, a piece of chicken skin and some crumbs of the same too. The use of crispy chicken skin for texture and saltiness in this dish is a stroke of genius.
Last up was pineapple, chocolate and ginger. A very well balanced dessert of refreshing marinated pineapple, a chocolate delice, chocolate ice cream, a piece of ginger "glass", dried ginger, gold leaf and pop rocks. Although chocolate desserts can sometimes be quite a mouthful as the final course of an extensive tasting menu, this dessert was light and refreshing - perhaps one might even say invigorating - which is very useful after all that went before.
The 9 course tasting menu was an excellent way to get to know Francois Geurds' style of cooking. Geurds has a reputation as a molecular and experimental chef and it is clear that he employs the techniques that he has learned at the Fat Duck. However, this is only a minor element of his cooking and it should not distract us from the thoroughly classical basis of his cooking done in a contemporary style. Every dish in the menu has been meticulously thought out, from the temperatures to cook the ingredients to the use of different structures, textures and temperatures on the plate. Did you know the coagulation point of halibut is 42 C? François knows... The flavours in his dishes are very well defined, the dishes are very harmonious but the individual flavours from which they are constructed come through very clearly.
Francois Geurds is an ambitious chef but he can back it up and not just with his cooking. The restaurant has a cosmopolitan atmosphere matched by few restaurants in the Netherlands. The buzz and the vibe in the restaurant could easily make you feel that you're in London instead of Rotterdam. This buzz and vibe are created to no small extent by the young and energetic team, both in the restaurant and in the very open kitchen. A kitchen, by the way, that may send out up to 2,000 items during a single service.
After lunch I had a chat with François Geurds and what he said confirmed what was already evident from what I had experienced at lunch: he is a very hard-working, inspired, creative and ambitious chef and I will be very interested to see what these fine qualities will lead him to. I hope that this post may lead many of you (via the Hook of Holland, perhaps?) to him.
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