Restaurant FG Food Labs, Rotterdam

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 0 No tags Permalink

Until now, I still can taste the deep flavours of melt in the mouth porkbelly I had for lunch at FG Food Labs last Friday. That kind of dish that can blow you away in its simplicity can only come from a Michelin chef. And until we were seated I didn’t know that FG Food Labs is owned by the same chef at FG Restaurant in Lloydkwartier – Chef François Geurds.

I recognized the logo when I got to  my table. I knew that I had seen that somewhere and true enough, I searched my email and found that I am still subscribed to FG Restaurant’s newsletter.

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I first tasted Chef Geurds’ magic years ago when FG Restaurant was still called Ivy, back then a one-star Michelin restaurant. I remember having their 11-course tasting meal and kept on wishing that I’d have enough money to eat there again but never got around to. The lunch last Friday was spontaneous because it was the end of the work week and FG Food Labs is only 10 minutes away by bike from my workplace. If you are familiar with Katshoek street in Rotterdam, you’d know that it’s not the chicest part of town. So it’s quite surprising to find a Michelin star chef cooking here.

What’s not surprising however is the news that Chef Geurds now has two stars under his belt, already for almost a year. But at Ivy, I did not meet him. This time I did and I was more surprise by how young he is (or how he looks).

Anyway, back to FG Food Labs. Because the restaurant is located under a viaduct, the Hofpleinviaduct, the interior looks like a tunnel and the back of the restaurant is decorated with a huge photo of a railway under a tunnel, giving the open kitchen a cool 3D effect. There were at least five young cooks busy at the kitchen that day but unfortunately only one waitress and the barman.

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Clockwise from left: The folded pages are the food and by the glass wines, the rest are different kinds of wines and their stories; cheesy crisps and bread; rice crackers with squid ink and the funny Himalayan salt.

We skipped the appetizers and went straight for the main course. It was lunch time and we didn’t have the luxury of a long meal. However we still get an amuse which was some kind of rice crackers with squid’s ink (if I remember it correctly). It was good but not better than the generous plate of bread and cheesy crisps on the table.

My meal was the most divine pork belly dish I’ve had so far, even better than the crispy pork belly that my husband loves to prepare (that’s saying a lot). It was served with a side dish of mashed pumpkin and a sauce I forgot to ask. I was more interested in the way that the pork belly was prepared. I paired it with a 2010 Tempranillo and of which vineyard I forgot to note down because I was so engrossed looking around the restaurant .

Pork belly

The unforgettable pork belly.

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Eggplant, tomato and mozarella dish. Please don’t ask me where the eggplant is.

Brita, our waitress was talking a bit too fast for my Dutch but from what I can remember, the meat was marinated in some basic ingredients and cooked for several hours in water. Then it was cooked in Mibrasa oven for more hours. Later at home, I searched about Chef Geurds and found this article about how to prepare pork belly, as quoted from www.debuikvan.nl:

“Wash the pork belly in vinegar water, rinse then marinate it in olive oil, salt, pepper, laurel leaves  and garlic. Cook it in the oven for twelve hours at 70 degrees. Then cook in the grill for a few seconds to make the fatty part crispy. Make a salt crust of coarse salt around the pork belly and put it on the barbecue under a hood and cook througout 120 degrees.”

Drop Banana dessert

Drop and banana dessert -probably the most innovative way of serving the infamous drop candy.

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We finished our meal with a plate of cheese for me and a banana drop (famous Dutch candy) jelly for my companion which is the most interesting creation in that whole meal. The first time I tasted drop, I spit it out two seconds after it touched my tongue but this dessert was so delicious that I wanted to exchange plates with my companion. All the more reason to come back to FG Food Labs.

It’s in the details

Eating in a good restaurant is not just about the meal, it’s the overall experience. This is what I’ve experience even in non-star restaurants in Antwerp like The Glorious,which got their first star this year and Restaurant Raven which am sure would have gotten a star had it not closed down. You will feel special while eating there and their attention to details is very noticeable.

Chef Geurds with his crew

Like a fan – Chef Geurds and his boys.

For example, the high chairs at FG Food Labs has a little compartment under it which I presumed is for the women to put their bags on because the tables are not very wide. And the bar man (or sommelier am not sure) recommended a very nice glass of (Graham) port that was not on the wine list because I couldn’t decide which dessert wine to take. You can say that they may want me to pay extra but at least they talk to you about what you are in the mood for and spend time to actually check what they have that may please you.

And flowers, fresh flowers. Because I frown upon pricey restaurants in the Netherlands that have fake flowers on their tables. After all, this is the Netherlands, famous for its flower industry.

That’s usually what you are paying for in very good restaurants. In addition of course to the genius creations of chefs like François Geurds

Although I am not saying that all pricey restaurants are good restaurants.

Some minus points

However, not all is perfect. The food took a long time to arrive which was also what  remembered when I ate at Ivy. And the crisps (what kind of crisp I forgot) on my mashed pumpkin were not crispy and I know that they were meant to be crispy. I know that there’s a construction going on in the FG Shop next door, where the toilet is located, but the toilet need a lot of improvement.

But those are minor things which am sure the chef and his staff would try to avoid if they can.

I was a little disappointed when I asked Chef Geurds for a photo with me and said he first need to talk to his boys at the kitchen. He walked away after that and I did not want to bother him any longer. But when he walked pass by the FG Shop and saw me, he asked if I still want a photo with him. And walked me to his kitchen to have a photo with all the boys who were all very enthusiastic. And even though you leave with a hole on your pocket, you leave smiling.

FG FOOD LABS
Katshoek 41
3032 AE Rotterdam
+31 (0)10 425 0520
www.fgfoodlabs.nl

Weekend in Texel: Finding refuge

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 2 No tags Permalink

I guess each of us has that one place where we run away to when our spirit is at their lowest; a sort of refuge where we know we would be healed.

My travel schedule had been crazy and I don’t mean that in an exciting way. My body has not been able to recover from my weekend trip in Paris so when I flew to Stockholm, my stress level shoot up. This usually manifests in mouth sores. It’s difficult to eat or talk and at the end of the day, it makes me very tired and irritated. But life goes on and that means running after ships and deadlines almost everyday.  So if we’re friends and I am not answering your messages or calls, I am probably too tired, too sick or too busy to do so. Or I can’t talk.

Crazy  schedule also means spending less time with Robin. Between the work grind and weekend trips, his wedding gigs and his new job, there’s very little time to go on a date or even have a long chat in the evening. So we decided to get away at the first opportunity and booked ourselves a weekend in the Dutch island of Texel.

Adobo dinner on the road

Thankfully I could work home on Friday and the hours I would have otherwise spent travelling to work, I’ve used it sleep. I’ve been sleeping a lot to help my body recover faster.  Or at least trying to. Sometimes resorting to sleeping pills. My mouth was so painful that even drinking water was excruciating.

But I was very much looking forward to the weekend trip in Texel and  didn’t let my exhaustion dampen my mood any longer.

How are you doing lately?

Friday, August 29, 2014 1 No tags Permalink

Really, right now I should be writing a travel article for my magazine and an advertorial for a client (excuses to my editor and my client). Instead I am blogging. Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to switch from that mood of writing for an audience in mind and just writing, diary-style. Maybe there should not be a difference between the two. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know.

After last month’s African post, you haven’t heard from me again. Ironically I had been busy, travelling. In the span of one month, I had two weekend trips, in Madrid and Umbria, and a week’s holiday in Germany. Sometimes if you ask me where I was two weekends ago, I wouldn’t be able to remember right away. I kid you not, travelling is exhausting, especially short trips.

And so now I am back in the Netherlands with loads of work, killer deadlines and in dire need of a detox. At least until my next weekend trip in two weeks.

I hoping to blog about these trips soon but for now let me share with you a new passion of mine. This has been giving my travels a whole new insight.

In North Africa’s highest peak: staying at Kasbah du Toubkal

I was relieved when the 4×4 finally pulled up in front of Kasbah du Toubkal’s office in Imlil, one of the many small villages in the Toubkal, the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. All throughout the whole 80 minutes drivc from Marrakech to Imlil, I was holding my breath and praying for dear life not to end that day as we navigate the narrow dirt roads leading up to the mountains. It reminded me so much of the Philippines’ rural areas; where a bus full of people and produce (usually crammed at the top of the vehicle) would pull over the side to the side road to let another vehicle pass by. One wrong turn and either can stumble down the deep ravines prominently scaring travellers like me who dare to explore the High Atlas Mountains.

Chanelling Little Red Riding Hood on a mule. Photo by Robin Kuijs.

Chanelling Little Red Riding Hood on a mule. Photo by Robin Kuijs.

We were met by Igdem, a cheerful, young Berber who works at the Kasbah already for several years. He looks as innocent and inhibited as his (Imlil) village but this young man is an expert skier and tour guide (as I have learned later). I shrieked in delight when I saw his donkey, which I planned to ride to the 15-minute ascend to the Kasbah.

“How cute is your donkey! But can it really carry me to the top?” I asked him while he strapped our bags and myself at the back of the small animal.

“It’s not a donkey, it’s a mule!” he answered with a look that says “has this little Asian not seen a mule before?” I was too ashamed of my stupidity that I just laughed it off, in a proper Asian way.

The mule went it’s merry way up to Kasbah du Toubkal, a luxe mountain retreat that costs me two days of hard work every night. This was my second time in Morocco in one year. On my first visit, I wasn’t able to acquire an accommodation because the Kasbah has at least three months waiting list. At the end of our stay, I was very glad to have booked this hotel because my husband was able to get over his culture shock of Marrakech. The mild climate of the mountain and the hospitality of the Berber people are two things you won’t often experience in Marrakech.

Unchartered territories

Thursday, March 27, 2014 2 No tags Permalink

I was about to start Dostoevsky’s Demons when I decided to write this nagging entry. Last week, on the way to Plaza Espanya, I found my old passport stuck in the tiny pocket of my hand luggage. I don’t often use this hand luggage so this passport has been here for years until last Friday. Seeing it again flooded me with so many travel memories so I kept it in my hand bag for several days, all the while thinking of the title of this article.

This was my very first passport, issued in 2008 which I consider the turning point of my life. I was 24.

In May that year, I went abroad for the very first time, together with my husband who is returning to the Netherlands after more than two years of living in the Philippines. We can hardly be considered serious couple then, having just hooked up five months before. That first trip sort of decided whether what we were having was true love or just a passing dalliance. After two months, we’ve decided that we can’t live far from each other so I began processing a more permanent visa to the Netherlands which luckily got approved. However, when I went back to the Philippines, I was faced with several immigration hurdles that kept me in the country for several more months, hanging my future and my sanity on a ridiculous accusation of a jealous ex girlfriend.

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In China, if I remember correctly, in Suzhou, considered as the Venice of East.

In the middle of those harrowing months, my editor probably saved me from my suicidal tendencies by sending me to a familiarization trip to China, allowing me to experience Guangzhou and Shanghai in a very pampered manner – that includes a night at the posh Ritz Carlton hotel. For a few days, I was relieved of my depression, enjoyed a completely different world and became a little more positive.

Looking at these first two visas in my passport, I am reminded of how the world opened up for me for the first time in such extreme circumstances. When 2009 started, I came back to the Netherlands and began travelling to parts of the world previously unknown to me. And I have not stopped since.

Hello again+memories of Crimea

It feels like an eternity since I wrote here last. 2013 went so fast and I realized, I only wrote about six posts the entire year. That did not mean that I was not travelling anymore. Only that I’ve been too busy to write about them.

You see, last year I launched The Filipino Expat, a bi-monthly lifestyle and living magazine for and about Filipino expatriates in Europe. It has taken over my entire life, including my bank accounts and my travels. Sometimes I still wonder what the heck has gotten into my head and I started a magazine with a European distribution. But it’s going good and I think it’s what’s called investing for the future. After all, I am not getting any younger. Money should go where there there is a probability of return. Operative word is probability.

So why am I back in this space suddenly?

Well I miss blogging…writing. A few days ago I posted on Facebook about how I long for writing just for the purpose of satisfying the need to express. One of my friends commented that he thought that’s what I do for a living. And I replied that it’s different. When a passion turns into a job, it becomes much more difficult particularly in writing. It has an entirely different purpose now, my regular writing. I am writing for an audience. In The Weekend Traveller, I am free to write whatever I want without the purpose of pleasing, explaining or satisfying.

And I want to go back to writing freely, at least once in a while here.

Third time’s a charm – weekend getaway in Barcelona

Friday, November 29, 2013 2 , Permalink

They say third time’s a charm and maybe it’s true. The first two were for work and even though the third was a mix of business and pleasure, I was able to thoroughly enjoy the city. This time, I brought the husband along for the much desired photos (without twisting my neck for selfies). It was his first and it’s my third time this year, fourth time since July 2012. And we both enjoyed Barcelona very much.

But I would not wax sentimental to this proud Catalan city. Barcelona is different from the other cities I have been to. Here I don’t feel the need to SEE anything. I am happy just soaking in into the Spanish atmosphere, drink copious amount of sangria as early as 12 noon, eat tapas for dinner and just enjoy the company of the people who have become so dear to me in the last five months.

In Barcelona, I do not need to rush.

One afternoon, husband and I decided that we want to see the Sagrada Familia cathedral. It was a beautiful day, chilly but the sun is shining and the city evokes it’s typical siesta ambiance. So after finishing sangria and coffee, we lined up for tickets. Five minutes later, after realizing it would take another 30 minutes before we get our tickets, we left the line and decided to get ice cream from  the gelateria across the street. After all, neither of us care so much about church interiors – me because I do not think I’ll find anything more beautiful than the church of Spilled Blood in Peter and the husband just because it’s not his kind of visuals.

Just today, while looking at all the photos, we realized that he did not have a single picture of Park Guell without our beautiful model. Because that’s Barcelona – we didn’t have to practice our professions. We were just there to enjoy the Spanish lifestyle in one long weekend getaway.

True beauty – Bergen, Norway

Sunday, September 8, 2013 2 , Permalink

 

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It had been several months since I’ve last written here. I guess that is how it goes when you one has many passions and are busy with travelling, that kind of travelling where you try to enjoy the places you visit instead of planning your next blog post.

I am looking at a rather run-down Hanseatic building across my hotel room in Christies Gate in Bergen, Norway while writing this post. In a couple of hours I am flying back to the Netherlands after (hopefully) a fruitful business trip. Bergen is such a beautiful city, pretty as a button and that is probably the reason why I am blogging about it.

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When I arrived on Thursday evening and walked towards one of the wooden houses in the Bryggen wharf to make my powerpoint presentation, I thought that Bergen looked familiar, that I have seen a city like this before. I was not entirely wrong because Lubeck, another pretty place in Germany, is also a Hanseatic city. But I must say that between the two, Bergen gets the price for being the most beautiful. There must be a reason why this is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Apart from the old town, I was given the rare chance of visiting the estate of one of Bergen’s biggest shipping family. The family has a little boathouse that overlooks the fjord. The view from the window was breathtaking. It is that kind of serene beauty that makes you cry. The water was very calm, almost noiseless. Black pine trees around are giving the fjord a sombre atmosphere but little wooden houses dotting the horizon add a unique charm to the panorama. I imagined months of writing here or reading by the window and having a fine, glass of whiskey while the sun is setting but of course that would be impossible.

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Last night, when I settled on my tiny bed after a day of walking around Bergen, I browsed through the photos that I took. Of course, Bergen being itself, colorful but almost always overcast and raining, most of my photos lacks good lighting. But for the first time I did not care.

True beauty would be impossible to capture even with the most expensive or advanced camera. Beauty is not only seen but felt. Most especially felt. A person must feel that connection between himself and the place in order to be able to really say that one thing is beautiful. And no amount of technical settings or technology would be able to translate what the naked eye sends to the brain whenever it sees something that pleases it, especially when it is as gorgeous as a place like Bergen.

In Dresden – how I traded dinner for a concert

On my second night in Dresden, I was wandering around Frauenkirche (Church of our Dear Women) in Dresden’s Old Town, looking for the famous Kunst-Cafe Antik which was recommended by many because of it’s unique ambiance. Of course in the tradition of my geographic ineptness, I got lost. I tried following An der Frauenckirche street but it disappeared into Munzgasse street and I didn’t know where else to go. I was already on my 4th loop, tired and hungry, having survived the day with only four pathetic pieces of sushi from a pseudo Japenese restaurant along Wilsdruffer street.

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I was ready to give up and walk into the closest restaurant when I noticed a group of old people lining up in the entrance. The church closes at 4pm so I thought there must be a special event scheduled that night. I also saw young men in tuxedo, ushering those who are entering the church.

Near one of the doors I read the poster which has the words “konzert” and “gedenken”. I knew that it was a commemoration concert so I asked one of the lady usher how much the ticket was and if it’s still available. Apparently there were not so many enthusiasts that night and I was able to secure a ticket for €24 euros, momentarily forgetting my growling stomach.

In photos – weekend in Limassol, Cyprus

Last year in autumn, I made one last business trip to Cyprus. It was already Nevember but the weather in Cyprus was still between 20-23 degree Celsius sometimes even warmer so I was able to enjoy a little more of summer before my sub-zero adventure in Russia.

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We rented two apartments at Avalon Traditional Village Houses, a beautiful property tucked in the small town of Phasoula. I think we were the only tourists in the village that weekend. Finding the property in the middle of the night proved to be a very difficult and dangerous task but we were able to check in alive.

This was my view while working on a presentation in the morning. Don’t be fooled though, the water was ice-cold and I did not want to freeze my buns off.

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My first brunch was this huge serving of fish mezze at Angelos Fish Tavern. I was hesitant at first for fear of allergic reactions but this seafood spread was very fresh and I did not get a single rash after devouring them. My favourite would be the grilled octopus drizzled with olive oil, still tender but very meaty. They also served at least half a dozen dips but I was already happy with my vinegar dip, just like at home. Sayang walang toyo.

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After a series of meetings in the morning, we unwind and followed one of Limassol’s wine trail. That was the view going up to Omodos. Since it was already November, most of the grapes have already been harvested. But there were still some wild ones scattered on the side of the roads and they were very, very sweet. If I had a plastic bag with me, I would have picked some wild grapes and bring it back to the apartment.

In one of the wine villages, we were offered to sample the goodies served in this small store – biscuits, wines and a shot of Zivania, a Cypriot distilled alochol that my boss wanted to take home. But the seller denied him and said it is illegal to bring the alcohol outside the country. We only found out later that it’s only illegal if the alcohol content is too high – which was the case of the one they have in Omodos.

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On Saturday morning we asked the owner to prepare us a traditional Cypriot brekfast. Breakfast was not included in the room rate so it must be requested the night before. She prepared and cooked a feast personally, with fresh halumi cheese, olives, fruits, bread and freshly-squeezed orange juice.

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We stopped by the Cyprus Wine Museum in Erimi Village before heading to the airport. Of course yours truly could not leave without sampling the wine. Maria was a charming sommelier and very proud of the Cypriot wine varieties.

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We also visited some archeological sites. This was in the Graeco-Roman Theatre at the Kourion Village. Lots of interesting information especially about the intricately-designed tiles used in the floors of the Roman baths.

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I did a little color-blocking style on my last day. I thought it would be a nice pop up against the soft colors of Cypriot’s old architecture. This was in front of the Orthodox church in Phasoula.

I hope I’ll have time to blog about my weekend in Cyprus in the coming days. My stories are piling up but so does my work. Of course there are no apologies but in the meantime, please enjoy the photos.