Relaxed, elegant gastronomy with a touch of gold – you’ve come to the right place at Restaurant Fred in Rotterdam. It’s not only with the interior that inspirer and chef Fred Mustert is going for gold. On the plate, too, he serves nothing less than the best. The dishes here are elaborated to perfection, with as much of an eye for details and aesthetics as for taste. All these facets provide a holistic experience that makes dining at Fred’s fascinating. We headed over with The Best Chef for a great conversation and a lovely lunch.
Exclusive, special and stylish
Two-star restaurant Fred celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018 by presenting a fully refurbished restaurant. The place was given a warm, contemporary interior with striking design elements such as the soft embossed wall coverings, the more than four-metre-long leather objet d’art with 24-carat gold leaf and the unique light fixture on the ceiling, which runs through the restaurant like a signature. A series of beautiful, regularly changing artworks provide the finishing touch. The collection consists of Fred Mustert’s own pieces, supplemented by works carefully selected by their rrt gallery. Interior designer Jeroen Smeele of Smeele Projecten in Rotterdam was responsible, together with owner Fred Mustert, for the design of the renovated restaurant.
The custom-made air-conditioned wine dome replaces a classic wine cellar at Fred. Right next to the wine dome, guests can have lunch or dinner at the private wine-table in a more intimate setting. This minimalist yet chic modern table is nicely integrated into the restaurant and provides an interesting interaction with the wines.
Another eye-catcher is the special cheese trolley for which Restaurant Fred is known and which has earned them several awards, including ‘Fromager of the Year’. The trolley and the cheese selection are so unique that with the new design, a place of honour was created for them at the entrance . Fred Mustert says: “The trolley is visible when entering the restaurant, and immediately provides something to talk about. The space in which it stands is air-conditioned and can be closed off odourlessly. I’m very happy with the result: together with Jeroen Smeele and his team we made something special out of it”.
When we discover another eye-catcher, we’re kind of flabbergasted. The toilets at Fred’s are very special. Even though we didn’t know that there are prizes for toilets too, these have been awarded several times already. Rightly so, as the fancy interior in the men’s room and the regal interior in the women’s room—with taps shaped like silver swans, 360° mirrors on the wall and rounded shapes everywhere—appeals to the imagination.
In conversation with Fred Mustert
Fred Mustert is the no-nonsense type of chef. This mentality is reflected in the way he talks and cooks: focused on the essence, on quality. It also explains why this chef from Gouda lost his heart to Rotterdam. “If you know your way around, it’s a very nice place. A working city. No nonsense,” says Mustert. We asked him why and how he likes to cook, what he loves and what is important to him. Questions that he answered in his own style, somewhat introvert, but passionate and relevant.
The Best Chef & Hungry for More (Chef’s Secret): How has your career path led to becoming the chef you are today, with your very own Restaurant Fred?
Fred Mustert: Gastronomy wasn’t something that was important at home when I was young. It was only during my training as a chef that I learned what enjoyment is and discovered how much I love to be in the kitchen. I realised that I love to experiment. To discover new, exciting combinations. I learned most of it from practice. After several years of cooking at Michelin-star level, I opened my own restaurant, La Vilette, here in Rotterdam. There, we had one star. After that I started looking for the locale for a new business and came across the building where we are now. In terms of location—not in the heart of Rotterdam yet quite central—and in terms of space, it was perfect. We took it on and started Restaurant Fred in 2010.
Chef’s Secret: How would you describe your cuisine?
Fred Mustert: My cooking style is based on classic French cuisine. That is the cuisine that appeals to me the most, which is in line with my education and that best suits the products I love. I do, however, give my own twist to dishes. I provide my creations with modern tones by using contemporary techniques. So the kitchen is not necessarily French, although French cuisine is still the basis. I’m always looking for the most beautiful products. They can come from all over the world. I also like Japanese products very much. In any case, the recognisability of the products is very important to me. You hardly ever come across mousses, gels or powders when dining here at Fred.
Chef’s Secret: How did you develop your own style?
Fred Mustert: By practising a lot. Never being satisfied with yourself. That’s the only way you can continue to develop, and only then will your signature emerge. Then it’s a matter of holding on to that unique style and continuing to develop it. That way, the dishes you taste here are creations that are typical for Fred. I don’t follow trends. I’m guided by the seasons, so by the most beautiful and the freshest products. My kitchen is also based on the right balance in acidity. In particular, citrus ensures that dishes are easily digestible. I’m always very curious about beautiful products. But I follow my heart and do what feels right to me. And that comes down to offering the best quality.
Chef’s Secret: Sounds like you always strive to do better and better?
Fred Mustert: Yeah. We offer quality. I’m not a commercial chef: I often buy ingredients that are far too expensive. But I can’t help it, because I’m always looking for the very best products. I want our guests to really savour our Michelin-stars. The first thing I said after being awarded the second one was ‘Guys, we’ve got work to do’.
Chef’s Secret: What are your favourite ingredients? Or which signature dishes do you serve?
Fred Mustert: Of course we have signature dishes and I do like to work with certain products, but it’s difficult to name them because there are so many. I especially look to work with products when they are at their best. If we use them to prepare dishes that last for a long time, then they become signature dishes, like the langoustine with melon and curry or the foie gras with scallops and Granny Smith. But quality comes first. If I can’t guarantee that the ingredients are top quality, I don’t serve them. Even if the guests would like to taste that particular signature dish, I only make it if I can fully guarantee the quality.
As far as the produce is concerned, I like seafood and all the spring vegetables. We serve extensive eight-course menus here, which, by the way, are chosen by around 99 percent of our guests. If you work with large menus, you have to adapt the dishes by serving small and light preparations. And of course fish and seafood are great for that.
Chef’s Secret: Dutch gastronomy is booming. Why is that, do you think?
Fred Mustert: In the Netherlands, we have indeed seen a lot of beautiful, successful hospitality businesses emerge. Not only do we score well in terms of cooking, but also in terms of architecture and design. You’ll find a lot of things here with an international allure and a contemporary, hip style. We can consider the Netherlands a trendsetter in this area. There is room here for more trendy concepts and cooking styles. If you think of other countries with a beautiful gastronomic tradition, they are often a bit more classic in approach, even if you look at the up and coming younger generations . In the Netherlands they’re more progressive.
Chef’s Secret: How do you work out new creations?
Fred Mustert: There, too, products take centre stage. When I think of a product, I get a dish in my head and then I just want to prepare it. It doesn’t work well for me if I think or write it out, because then I tend to make it too complex. So I try not to think about it for too long and I just get on with it.
Chef’s Secret: Where do you get your drive and motivation to keep going every day?
Fred Mustert: You just have to really like your job. Only then can you keep it up at this level. And I still really like it. The last steps to getting better are the hardest – that’s also extra motivation.
Chef’s Secret: What do you want guests remember about visiting Fred?
Fred Mustert: Whoever comes here to eat should remember that the quality was top notch. Quality also means continuity, because it has to be just as good every day. Furthermore, they just have to have a very nice experience. The experience is therefore also very important in our service. That’s why we work with several creations that are presented to our guests at the table, such as the mocktail, champagne or cheese trolley. By the way, I had most of those carts made myself because I have a certain image in mind and want to convey this to the guests.
Chef’s Secret: What are the ambitions here at Restaurant Fred?
Fred Mustert: Ah, typical tough question. Actually, we just want to get better every day. To stand still or stay at the same level is to decline. We want to grow in quality and service. We aren’t necessarily aiming for a third star, although that would of course always be a nice reward. So my ambition for the coming years is to remain the healthy company that we are and to become one step better in what we like to do: pampering our guests. Despite the fact that I’ve got many interesting projects and opportunities, my focus remains on the restaurant. I love to surprise our guests and to work together with the team every night to achieve the best.
‘Inspiration’ Menu, by Fred
Although you can also order a lunch menu or à la carte dishes at Restaurant Fred, almost all guests choose the ‘Inspiration’ Menu, which consists of eight courses. At Fred you can enjoy culinary delights with all your senses. The more you feel at home in the restaurant, the more you can enjoy the experience. Restaurant manager Axel Rosier knows how to take care of that like no other. Sleek, attentive service with a touch of humour, it fits in perfectly with the style and atmosphere at Fred.
We follow the chef’s suggestions and are surprised by a selection of his favourite dishes. But before we start eating, there is an aperitif. Those who opt for the alcohol-free choice are immediately treated to a fascinating performance. For us, the bartender prepares a mocktail with hibiscus, ginger beer, star anise and cardamom. Anyone who prefers the bubbly can also count on an impressive presentation, thanks to the champagne trolley with which various suggestions are presented to you at the table.
We start the menu with ‘eel in a green sauce’ Fred-style – that is smoked eel, sorrel and caviar. A rich, but fresh dish with a balanced acidity.
One of Fred’s signature dishes is built around raw scallops with foie gras, crème fraîche, Granny Smith and truffle. The apple provides a pleasant bite and a fine acidity in an elaboration that has a fuller style.
Another signature dish on the menu: a salt-sweet soft combination of langoustine, melon, coconut, celery and a soft curry vinaigrette.
For the main course, the popular Florentine Knives are presenteed to us. This allows you to cut the delicious, tender piece of Wagyu perfectly. The combination with pumpkin, celeriac and sweet onion is balanced and captivating.
Time for Fred’s famous cheese trolley. This impressive cart offers an amazing selections of cheeses, carefully pickced in collaboration with cheese masters Van Tricht from Antwerp and Tim Berkhout from Spijkenisse. Maître Axel Rosier is passionate about presenting the assortment, while skilfully putting together a plate for us.
A lovely presentation is also provided for dessert. Strawberry and yoghurt play the starring roles, in combination with three variations on red fruits as side dishes.
We conclude with a series of friandises, including fresh madeleines.
Fred Mustert’s cuisine is completely balanced in terms of taste, texture and presentation. The culinary concept at Fred’s restaurant excels thanks to the vibrant, stylish atmosphere, the special dining room presentations and the refined, top-quality dishes in which top produce plays the leading role.