Shoppers and bicycles on Ree Straat in the Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) in central Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Amsterdam’s ‘Nine Streets’ shopping district

Ask a local and they’ll tell you Amsterdam’s Nine Streets (Negen Straatjes) area is known primarily for its stylish boutiques and designer stores. The district occupies a fairly central location and has a chic, laid-back vibe plus a host of cosy cafes. You don’t need to be an avid shopper to be enchanted by this part of the Dutch capital.

The Nine Streets offers a far different shopping experience to the high street stores on and around Kalverstraat, which runs southwards from Dam Square. Walk west of the Royal Palace and within a matter of minutes – five at most – you’ll cross the Singel canal and be heading along Gasthuismolensteeg, which leads onto Hartenstraat then Reestraat, the northerly most trio of streets. Wandering here is by no means merely about shopping, it’s just as much an insight into the heritage and soul of the city.

Facades from the Dutch Golden Age

Look upwards and you’ll see brick facades and ornate gable ends dating from the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, when wealthy merchants invested money made from overseas trade in homes and business bases. Over recent years apartments in this area of Amsterdam have once again become desirable and property prices have spiralled upwards.

Part of the allure of the Nine Streets is you’re never far from the broad waters of the Herengracht, Keizergracht and Prinsengracht canals, which loop around the city’s core. In August 2010 Amsterdam’s canal ring was inscribed onto UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Strolling along allows you to observe locals out with friends on pleasure boats and catch snippets of commentaries from low-slung barges touring the tree-lined waterways.

Dining and drinking by Amsterdam’s canals

In fine weather you can stand by bicycles chained to the railings of gently arching bridges and capture photos. Should it rain you may be able to grab a window seat in the Koffie Huis de Hoek, Pancakes Amsterdam or the De Struisvogel Restaurant, just three of the many cafes and eateries on the Nine Streets. Several places list their specials on chalkboard menus and enticingly display freshly baked cakes.

Tourist attractions such as the Anne Frank House and Westerkerk, where the artist Rembrandt van Rijn is buried, lie just north of the Nine Streets, allowing you to combine browsing shops with sightseeing. On the Keizergracht you’ll see the elegant, Classical façade of the Felix Meritis House, where regular concerts and cultural events are held. At Brilmuseum, part museum and part shop, you can see historic spectacles and purchase vintage frames.

Sign for Ree Straat in the Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) in central Amsterdam.

Sign for Ree Straat in the Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) in central Amsterdam.

The origins of the ‘Negen Straatjes’ name

The district also encompasses Berenstraat, Wolvenstraat and Oude Spiedelstraat plus Runstraat, Huidenstraat and Wijde Hiesteeg. This explains why this part of the city has been known as the Nine Streets since 1997. Shopkeeper Djoeke Wessing, now 70, was the driving force behind the establishment of the area’s identity. She felt it needed to be recognised as a neighbourhood, in the same way as the nearby Jordaan. For her achievement, King Willem-Alexander this year decorated Djoeke with the Order of Orange-Nassau.

The evolution into a recognised district took around a dozen years and involved a lot of hard work networking between independent shopkeepers and tourism authorities. “There were nine streets, so I thought I’d just call it the nine streets – Negen Straatjes in Dutch. Nearly everybody was against the name. They said it was a stupid name. I thought it may be stupid but it tells exactly what it is,” says Djoeke. Despite reservations the name was ratified at a meeting.

Brand names and boutique stores

Over the past 18 years the area has evolved. Inevitably, there’s been an element of gentrification as rents have risen. That said, the Nine Streets remains an attractive hub with a broad mix of store types, some unique and charmingly small. You’ll see well-known brands such as Replay, Fred Perry and Marc O’Polo as well as the likes of Boekie Woekie, a shop run by artists to sell art books, and Mendo, where you can purchase art and photography books. Windows displaying antiques, vintage goods, art, jewellery and watches, delicious looking chocolates plus designer household items make this a great place to browse for ideas and inspired purchases.

Two years ago the opening of a Karl Lagerfeld concept store on Hartenstraat reinforced the notion that this is a trendy district popular with the young and discerning shoppers. It’s also evolving into a sought after place to stay and is the site of the Dylan Hotel Amsterdam, a boutique five-star property with 40 rooms and a Michelin-starred restaurant, Vinkeles.

The Nine Streets remain bustling and vibrant. The patter of footfall and hubbub of conversation reverberates and is part of their distinctive allure.

Further information

See the Nine Streets and de Negen Straatjes websites for more information about what there is to see and do in the area.

For more about the attractions of Amsterdam see the Iamsterdam website or the Holland page.

A busy shopping street in the Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) in central Amsterdam.

A busy shopping street in the Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) in central Amsterdam.

Terracotta roof tiles in the old town of Sommieres, France

Responsible Tourism in Sommières, France

Sommières, a small town in southern France, has long been a popular summer holiday destination. The town is embracing responsible tourism and providing visitors with opportunities to experience regional flavours and meet local people, as I discovered during a visit in June.

Responsible tourism helps boost the regional economy by encouraging outsiders to ‘think local’ and spend money at independent businesses. In the case of Sommières this could be at the stalls of the popular Saturday morning market, which draws 20,000 visitors every week of the holiday season, or in shops on the narrow streets of the old town.

Just as social media popularises the concept of engaging and interacting with virtual networks, responsible tourism also fosters exchanges with local communities. The goal, locals explained to me, is for people to take home deeper, more meaningful impressions of Sommières and the surrounding region.

The Passion Terroir network

One responsible tourism initiative active in and around Sommières is Passion Terroir, a network of people drawn from Languedoc’s hospitality industry. The group was founded in 2010 to fast-track connections between tourists and locals while introducing the best of the region’s produce. In addition to guesthouse owners and hoteliers, Passion Terroir has food and wine producers, sommeliers and restaurateurs.

Members are able to provide visitors with informed suggestions on where to go and what to do, meaning authentic insights into the region’s heritage and positive dining experiences. This is thanks to the recommendation of tried and tested places that are held in high regard locally.

Additionally, throughout the summer, weekly meetings are held at vineyards and guesthouses within a 20km radius of Sommières. These enable winemakers to showcase their produce while attendees bring regionally produced food to share at a buffet. This means people get an opportunity to socialise while pairing wines with the flavours of foodstuffs such as pincholine olives, grown in Villevieille, and Pélardon goat’s cheese, produced up in the nearby Cévennes Mountains using the milk of animals feeding on wild plants from the garrigue scrubland.

Wine tastiing at the Domain Masserou at Sommières, France.

Wine tasting at the Domain Masserou at Sommières, France.

Meeting with local winemakers

The meetings provide visitors opportunities to come face-to-face with winemakers such as Hervé Sauvaire, who operates a 28-hectare vineyard that’s been owned by his family since 1660. The vaulted stone cellar of the Mas de Reilhe farmhouse is typical of the venues used for Passion Terroir’s meetings. After visiting an estate and hearing how the wine is produced, people often feel inclined to make purchases.

In a region with numerous wine estates and a high annual output, winemakers have had to become innovate in order to stand out and boost custom. The Domaine de Massereau opened a campsite in 2006, to create a market for the estate’s wine, which is sold in the site’s shop and at its gourmet restaurant, La Source.

The property recently became France’s first five-star campsite and the facilities include two swimming pools, a sauna and massage area plus courts for playing a variety of sports. The Roc de Massereau Adventure Park, featuring a high-ropes course and zip-lines, is also on the estate, which is located by a loop in the River Vidourle. The result encourages families to stay local, despite the nearest Mediterranean beaches being 30 minutes away by road.

Cycling and walking in the Gard

Increasingly, the Gard is proving a popular destination with walkers, cyclists and riders keen to mount one of the region’s white Camargue horses. Marked trails make navigation through the countryside easy.

One of the newest routes is the 21km voie verte, meaning the ‘green way’, which cuts through the Domaine de Massereau, along what was once the Sommières-Nîmes railway line. The route passes by the town’s former station, which was renovated last year and now hosts the 23-room Hotel Estelou, whose lobby displays monochrome photos of the building in operation during the early 20th century.

The voie verte’s three metre wide tarmac surface is open to use by all forms of non-mechanised transport. Additionally, circular cycling routes, such as Les Olivettes (21km) and Le Vidourle (34km), provide rural impressions but bring riders back into Sommières.

Maintaining Sommières’ heritage and architecture

It’s worth exploring the picturesque small town, which grew up alongside the River Vidourle during the Middle Ages and today houses 4,500 residents. One of the most photographed locations is Sommières’ arched bridge, built in the 1st century by Roman engineers. Le Printemps des Pierres de Sommières is an association dedicated to maintaining the municipality’s buildings and heritage. This encompasses everything from erecting Olde Worlde style shop signage to major restoration projects.

During June Sommières’ hilltop castle opened its renovated royal chapel to the public, with a new interactive interpretation centre. Visitors can gain insights into the town’s history, including how King Louis IX made the castle his in 1248. The 25-metre high tower provides fine views over the terracotta tiles of rooftops in the town centre and surrounding hinterland.

Thanks to local initiatives, visitors have reasons to stay and explore the streets and countryside below.

Further information

See the Sommières Tourism Office and Gard Tourism websites. Also view the Rendezvous France website.

Getting to Sommières

After travelling from Newcastle to London on the Virgin East Coast line, Stuart travelled from London to Paris on the Eurostar, then from Paris to Nimes on France’s high-speed TGV train. Rail fares from London to Nimes start at £121 for standard class returns. To book visit, call 0844 848 5848 or visit the Voyages-sncf Travel Centre at 193 Piccadilly in London.

The voie verte (green way) cycling path near Sommières, France.

The voie verte (green way) cycling path near Sommières, France.

Wheels of cheese for sale at Gouda Cheese Market in Gouda, the Netherlands.

Gouda Cheese Market

If you enjoy cheese plus insights into regional heritage and culinary traditions then make a note to visit Gouda’s long-established cheese market next summer.

On Thursday mornings from the beginning of April until the end of August  (except on Ascension Day and subject to the weather being fine), people from the Dutch city don traditional costumes to convey how the market was in bygone times. You’ll see about a dozen people dressed as farmers, cheese shop owners wearing white jackets and flat caps plus maids in lace bonnets and red aprons.

Traditional costumes and lots of cheese

Men recreate intense price negotiations between cheese producing farmers and buyers. Staying true to the process used to agree prices prior to computerisation, the men stand facing each other, between approximately 700 of the cheeses being traded. As the price fluctuates they slap hands. The dramatic scene was played out countless times over the centuries. Changes of even a duit, the smallest unit of Dutch currency in former times, could make a marked difference to the quality of life of a farmer’s family. When the men reach a mutually agreeable price they shake hands to seal their deal.

The city’s name is synonymous with one of the world’s most popular cheeses because farmers from outlying villages have been trading at its market since at least the 17th century. Some estimates suggest that more than half of all the cheese consumed around the world is Gouda in style. Cheese lovers in South Holland like to argue that the original is best and say it’s down to the lush, mineral-rich grass of fields near Gouda.

Insights into Gouda’s history

The  cobbled marketplace is dominated by a Gothic town hall constructed in the mid-15th century after fire razed much of Gouda in 1438. It was built of stone, away from other buildings, to minimise the risk of damage by fire. The town hall provides an impressive backdrop to photos of the cheese market and its balcony – once use to hold public executions – gives fine views of wheels of yellow cheese laid out in lines below.

As you browse stalls, your eyes may be drawn to the carillon on the town hall’s east face. It depicts Floris V, who granted Gouda’s town charter in 1272. Mechanical figures circle the carillon two minutes after each half hour. The timing helps avoid a cacophonic clash with the bells of Sint-Janskerk.

Size isn’t everything but if you’ve got it, why not flaunt it, according to well-worn phraseology. Gouda’s residents certainly aren’t shy about promoting the fact they have the longest church in the Netherlands (measuring 123 metres). Once you’re finished at the market, or for respite from summer sunshine, it’s worth stepping inside to view the church’s 72 stained glass windows, several of which date from the 16th century.

Gouda Cheese Market takes place in front of the Gothic town hall in Gouda, the Netherlands.

Gouda Cheese Market takes place in front of the Gothic town hall in Gouda, the Netherlands.

Gouda’s Weigh House and museum

As Gouda grew, so too did the municipality’s privileges, including the right to weigh merchandise, including cheeses, and levy taxes. Only a handful of cities were permitted to do this, so it helped consolidate Gouda’s image as a thriving market city. The council wanted a building that would serve the practical purpose of housing scales and simultaneously impress onlookers. Consequently the architect Pieter Post was commissioned to design the Goudse Waag, Gouda’s Weigh House, which opened in 1668.

The upper floors house a compact Cheese and Crafts Museum, providing an overview of the building’s long history and the process of making Gouda cheese via a film and artefacts collected from nearby farms. You can also see the original sculpture that once adorned the façade, ravaged by three centuries of weather and darkened by air pollution from industrial Europe’s chimneys. The scene depicts officials entering the weight of cheese changing hands into a ledger, so taxes could be collected.

Big cheeses and horse drawn carts

On market days you can observe the huge, counter-balanced wooden scales in operation. Wheels of cheese, each weighing up to 12.5 kilograms, are stacked on the pallet-like balances before being loaded onto horse-drawn carts by lads who throw and catch the wares.

You can pop on the scales to be weighed, a figure that’s provided in pounds (the equivalent of 500 grams, rather that the lighter Imperial measurement). Perhaps, in the name of vanity, this is best undertaken before devouring tasters of the cheese at stalls around the market. The cheese sold by gradations of maturity. The categories range from soft, mild Jong (young) cheeses to firm, markedly riper and significantly darker Oud (mature) cheeses.

Gouda cheese from the farm

Alternatively, to buy cheese you could head directly to a local farm. Kaasboerderij Schep at Bergambacht offers guided tours during which you’ll see the cows, their rotating milking station and have a chance to step inside the modern factory. Farmhouse cheeses weighing up to 60 kilos are produced using traditional methods and ingredients, including unpasteurised milk. Those produced at Kaasboerderij Schep were named the tastiest in the Netherlands in 2010.

Gouda’s colourful market and historic weigh house help provide insights into how the city became one of the world’s foremost names in the cheese industry. Visiting provides food for thought and opportunities to stock up on provisions.

At the risk of eliciting a groan, your could even to say that visiting Gouda Cheese Market proves that not all cheesy tourist attractions are necessarily tacky.

Tips for getting to know Gouda

The free xplre Gouda app provides more information and suggests routes around the city. If you haven’t downloaded it before visiting Gouda then use the free Wi-Fi at the market place.

Alternatively, you can book a 90-minute guided tour of the city (€3.50 per person in advance or €4 on the day) led by a member of Gouda’s Guild of Guides.

See the Welcome to Gouda and Holland websites for more information on the city and cheese in the Netherlands.

Buying cheese in Gouda

On non-market day you can still taste samples and purchase cheese from the shop in the Weigh House (Markt 35), the Gouds Kaashuis (Hoogstraat 1) and ‘t Kaaswinkeltje (Lange Tiendeweg 30), which stocks only farmhouse style cheeses. Koetshuysch Kaas (Korte Groenendaal 8) has regional as well as international cheeses.

Men slap hands during negotiations at Gouda Cheese Market in Gouda, the Netherlands.

Men slap hands during negotiations at Gouda Cheese Market in Gouda, the Netherlands.

The Porsche showroom at night in Stuttgart, Germany.

A city break in Stuttgart, Germany

Stuttgart is one of the seven German cities that counted more than one million overnight stays by foreign visitors in 2014. So what is it that drew them to the capital of Baden-Württemberg?

The city centre is compact and easy to explore on foot. Königstrasse, on which you’ll find many well-known high street stores, is Germany’s longest pedestrianised shopping street. The Classical style Königsbau Passagen was developed into a multi-storey shopping mall in 2006. Its food lounge, on the second floor, offers two hours of free wi-fi access.

A series of interconnected parkland runs from Schlossplatz, a centrally situated square, and the nearby Schlossgarten, the palace gardens, to the River Neckar. It’s a good area to run in if you’re staying in a city centre hotel on business and want to get out into fresh air at the start or end of the day.

Stuttgart’s Museums and Art Galleries

You’ll find a number of museums and art galleries clustered around the city’s core, providing you with plenty to look at if you’re visiting for a weekend of history and culture. The Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (Stuttgart Art Museum) and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (State Art Gallery) are two of the most popular starting points for art aficionados. The Haus der Geschichte Baden-Württemberg introduces the modern history and heritage of the region. The Landesmuseum traces that history back to prehistoric times.

Locals like to say their city lies between woodland and vines. If you hire a car you can soon be walking on estates in the Württemberg wine producing region, one of 13 demarcated production areas within Germany. Some of the region’s best wines are produced by Weinmanufaktur Untertürkheim, from where you don’t have far to drive reach the Sepulchral Chapel on Württemberg Hill. The views over the Neckar Valley and Stuttgart are second to none, one of the reasons why King Wilhelm I, who is buried within the chapel next to Queen Katharina, loved this spot.

The Mercedes-Benz and Porsche Museums

If you enjoy automotive history then plan at least a couple of hours to tour the Mercedes-Benz Museum, which traces the history of the motor car from its invention to the present day. The Porsche Museum is also impressive and warrants a visit for its bold, contemporary design.

If you enjoy good food and drink then plan time to browse stalls within the Markthalle, an Art Nouveau style market hall designed by Martin Elsässer and opened in 1914. With fresh produce, meats and wine it’s a good place to stock up for a picnic. The market’s glass ceiling provides natural light.

Stuttgart’s Stauffenberg Memorial

The Stauffenberg Memorial stands in memory of two brothers, Claus and Berthold von Stauffenberg, whose experiences during World War Two resulted in them making an effort to overthrow the Nazi leadership. They plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler by detonating a bomb at the Wolfsschanze bunker in East Prussia (today Poland) on 20 July 1944. The events are dramatized in the film Valkyrie, in which Tom Cruise plays the role of Claus, Graf von Stauffenberg. The brothers were both executed for their role in the plot.

The memorial is located in a bunker-like, vaulted room within Stuttgart’s  Altes Schloss (Old Castle). From 1909 until 1919 the Stauffenberg brothers lived in the castle as their father held the position of Oberhofmarschall, Grand Marshal at the Court of King Wilhelm II of Württemberg.

The thick walls of the former castle archive bear the scars of war. The memorial tells the life story of the two lads, who went on to successful legal and military careers. The exhibits include photos and the cello that Claus played before being maimed in North Africa in 1943.

Bathing in Stuttgart and Bad Cannstatt

Approximately 22 million litres of mineral water flow from 19 springs in Stuttgart, meaning the city has the most plentiful supply in western Europe. MineralBad Cannstatt, Mineral-Bad Berg and Das Leuze mineral baths are three municipal baths with swimming pools, sauna and wellness areas.

Koenigsbau-Passage shopping mall by the Christmas Market next to Stuttgart's Schlossplatz.

Koenigsbau-Passage shopping mall by the Christmas Market next to Stuttgart’s Schlossplatz.

When to visit Stuttgart

If you enjoy beer and beer festivals then you may want your visit to coincide with one of the annual events held at the riverside site known as the Cannstatter Wasen.

Stuttgart Spring Festival, known in German as the Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest, takes place from 16 April to 8 May 2016 and lays claim to being the biggest festival of its kind in the world.

The Canstatter Volksfest is the world’s second largest city festival, after the Munich Oktoberfest. Both are autumn events, running from September into October, and feature funfairs as well as beer tents. Stuttgart’s festival draws around four million visitors a year.

Roughly the same number of people visited the city’s Christmas market in 2014. Stalls were set out in the city centre, running from Hirschstrasse, through the marketplace by the town hall, then along Kirchstrasse to Schillerplatz, between the Old Castle, which houses Baden-Württemberg’s state museum, and the Old Chancellory building.

The Christmas market was first mentioned in documents dating from 1692 but it’s thought to be significantly older. The 2015 market will be held from 25 November until 23 December.

Getting to Stuttgart

The city’s central railway station is in use and currently undergoing major redevelopment, part of the Stuttgart 21 project, whose vision is to make Stuttgart a regional transport hub with high-speed connections to other European cities.

A number of international airlines operate flights to and from Stuttgart Airport. I flew to the city from Newcastle via British Airways’ London Heathrow hub.

Further information about Stuttgart

Find out more about the city and surrounding area via the Stuttgart Region website.

See the Tourism Baden-Württemberg website for information about the surrounding state and Germany Travel for more about the country.

Market day in Stuttgart, Germany.

Market day in Stuttgart, Germany.

Chez Leon restaurant in Brussels, Belgium.

Mussels in Brussels at Restaurant Chez Léon

Britain has its fish and chips, Germany has Currywurst mit Pommes while in Belgium the ‘must-try’ national dish is surely mussels with fries. To do that I headed to Chez Léon in the heart of Brussels.

The long-established restaurant is a five-minute walk from the Belgian capital’s iconic Grand Place (Grote Markt), the cobbled market place whose ornamental, Renaissance facades were restored after being bombarded by French artillery in 1695.

Key attractions in central Brussels

I headed to lunch after strolling through the airy Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (Koninklijke Sint-Hubertusgalerijen), a 19th century shopping arcade whose shops have beautifully arranged show windows. Resisting the temptation posed by handmade chocolates in the Neuhaus store, I turned out of the arcade and onto the rue des Bouchers, which is also known as Beenhouwerstraat. Streets in Brussels carry both French and Flemish names.

Prior to travelling, I’d read much about the complex tensions between French and Flemish speakers in Belgium. For all their differences the two groups appear to share an appreciation of good food. Brussels has a thriving café culture and restaurant scene. French and Flemish influences make the country’s cuisine worth exploring.

Evening on the Grand Place ( 'Grote Markt' and 'La Grand-Place') in Brussels, Belgium.

Evening on the Grand Place ( ‘Grote Markt’ and ‘La Grand-Place’) in Brussels, Belgium.

Ordering Belgium’s national dish

As you’d expect in a capital city, there are numerous touristy spots to try the national dish. Ask for moules-frites or mosselen-friet if you want to try ordering mussels with fries using the local lingo. It struck me that within Brussels the French name seems more popular for this dish.

Chez Léon draws plenty of passing trade, after all its centrally located. A red and green striped canopy and outdoor tables help give the restaurant an appealing look. It’s the kind of place that locals as well as tourists visit for lunch. It’s mid-priced and known for quality seafood, including grilled sole meunière.

The history of Chez Léon

The restaurant was recommended when I said I wanted to try good mussels with fries. They’ve certainly had plenty of practice making them in the kitchen of Chez Léon, which first opened its doors in 1893. Its proprietor, Léon Vanlancker, already had experience of running the A la ville d’Anvers restaurant, a couple of doors along at 14 rue des Bouchers, and moved to establish Friture Léon. It’s been known as Restaurant Chez Léon since 1953.

Dressed in black trousers, a white shirt and a long green apron, my waiter, André, greeted me and bid me to follow him across the dining room’s stone floor to a table with a green-checked table cloth. Under wooden ceiling beams I noticed a sign reading ‘Chez Léon 1893 Friture Bruxellaise’ and pink neon advertising Grimbergen beer. Others, on the wood-clad walls, mentioned Moules à la Crème and Moules à L’escargot.

A pot of mussels.

A pot of mussels.

Traditional Belgian cuisine

For the benefit of tourists the menu at Chez Léon highlights traditional Belgian dishes with the a little black, yellow and red tricolour. It lists 14 different styles of mussels. The most popular, according to André, was Special Mussels, whose recipe remains secret. He divulged it features Belgian beer.

The country is, of course, famed for its beers. The restaurant has served its own brew, Léon, since 2001, so I ordered a glass. It’s a refreshing, rounded beer with plenty of flavour.

For my starter I spurned the calf’s brains tartare and frogs’ legs with garlic in favour of shrimp croquettes. They breadcrumb-covered, hand-rolled croquettes came with dark green, deep-fried parsley, whose colour and crispy texture reminded me of seaweed.

Between courses I noticed a good number of the tables were occupied, giving the restaurant a lively feel. A mixed group opposite me appeared to be discussing work. To my right a group of American tourists laughed together while comparing the photos they’d taken in Brussels. All told, the restaurant has an informal look and feel.

The kitchen is semi-open, featuring white glazed tiles. A black and white portrait of a chef in a gilt frame hangs to the left of the busy workplace. I kept glancing over, anticipating the arrival of my main course.

When the pot of mussels arrived they proved tender and the sauce tasty. The fries were chunky with a crisp surface texture.

As I left the restaurant I couldn’t help but think of Men at Work’s song Down Under. Six foot four and full of mussels, I headed out satisfied and ready to explore more of Brussels.

Finding Chez Leon in Brussels

The original Chez Léon restaurant is located at 18 rue des Bouchers 18 (Beenhouwerstraat 18) in central Brussels. Call +32 (0)2 5111415 to reserve a table.

Getting to Brussels

London and Brussels are connected by direct Eurostar rail services. Direct journeys take just over two hours. For bookings and more information see the website or call the Voyages-sncf Travel Centre (193 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EU) on +44 (0)844 848 5848.

Information on Brussels and Belgium

Find out more about the city via the Visit Brussels website. Also see the Belgian Tourist Office and Visit Flanders websites for travel ideas.

The window of the Chez Leon restaurant in Brussels, Belgium.

The window of the Chez Leon restaurant in Brussels, Belgium.

Penshaw Monument at night - a well-known Sunderland landmark.

Exploring England by rail: Sunderland

Penshaw Monument, arguably Sunderland’s best-known landmark, resembles a Greek temple. As you stand on Penshaw Hill you might quietly wish the weather was more like Greece’s.

Even on seemingly calm summer days wind often whips between the columns of the monument, which was built in the 1840s in honour of John Lambton, the Earl of Durham and a Governor-General of Canada. If you have a head for heights you can head to the top of the National Trust-run property on weekends and bank holidays from Easter until the end of September. It’s a good spot to gain an overview of the surrounding area.

I grew up in Sunderland and currently live in the city. Friends have even suggested that was a factor in me becoming a travel writer, joking it was the only way I was going to get into Europe, given the perennial lack of success of Sunderland’s football club.

Touring Sunderland’s Stadium of Light

What do they know? The club have, in fact, won England’s league title six times, albeit most recently back in 1936. If you enjoy football, find out more about the club’s history during a tour of the 49,000-capacity Stadium of Light, whose first league game, during the 1997-98 season, saw Sunderland beat Manchester City 3-1.

From there it’s a short walk to Monkwearmouth Station Museum, a Victorian railway station with a Classical façade. As you’d expect, the museum provides insights into the history of transport but also hosts temporary exhibitions on aspects of regional heritage. In 2014, to coincide with the centenary of the beginning of World War One, propaganda posters were put on display.

The beach at Sunderland

In fine weather you could head to the coast and walk along the promenade between Roker and Seaburn. Kick off your shoes, if you don’t mind the chill of the North Sea, and scrunch golden sand under your feet while plodging along the shoreline.

To gain insights into Sunderland’s urban history head towards the East End, the site of Holy Trinity Church, which was consecrated on 5 September 1719. Inside the Baroque-style church you’ll see a statue of Robert Gray, the rector between 1819 and 1838, a man who played an active role in civic matters plus a painted font. A plaque in the foyer records the heroics of local man Jack Crawford at the naval battle between British and Dutch ships at Camperdown in 1797.

Within Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden you can learn about the history of the city and see artefacts relating to the region’s industrial heritage. The art collection includes paintings by L.S. Lowry, who spent time painting in the North-East. The domed winter garden, always a good place to warm up if it’s cold outside, houses around 2,000 plant and tree species.

When to visit Sunderland

Around a million people visited the city during the 2015 Sunderland International Airshow, held from 24 to 26 July. The RAF Red Arrows are a regular fixture at the annual event, which features aerobatics, parachute displays plus flypasts by historic and contemporary aircraft.

The Royal Air Force Red Arrows fly past Seaburn Lighthouse during Sunderland International Airshow.

The Royal Air Force Red Arrows fly past Seaburn Lighthouse during Sunderland International Airshow.

Quirky but true

The origins of Sunderland’s name are said to hark to medieval times and refer to the ‘sundered land’ across the River Wear from the Wearmouth-Jarrow monastery on its north bank. Coincidentally, in Hindi the word ‘sundar’ means beautiful. On several occasions while in India I mentioned I came from Sunderland and people muttered “ah, a beautiful place”.

The erstwhile monastic land is now the site of the University of Sunderland’s St Peter’s Campus, named after St Peter’s Church, which has 7th century origins. The first stained glass windows in the country were made for the monastery, of which the church was once a part. This explains why you’ll find the United Kingdom’s National Glass Centre in Sunderland.

It’s beer o’clock

If you like real ales and a ‘proper pub’ atmosphere head to The Kings Arms in Beach Street, Deptford, across the River Wear from Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. The long-established, laid-back pub has a wood-panelled bar and a couple of fires to sup beer by on chilly evenings. If you like football memorabilia check out the photos and illustrations on the walls, where you’ll also see an example of the wooden seating once used in Roker Park. It’s a great spot for a pre- or post-match pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord or one of the regularly changing guest beers, many of which come from breweries in Durham and Northumberland. If it wasn’t for the lack of an apostrophe in its name I’d be tempted to name this place as the perfect pub.

The Dun Cow (9 High Street West) stands opposite the Sunderland Empire theatre, so is well-located for meeting ahead of shows. The Edwardian pub underwent major restoration works in 2014 and it’s worth popping in to take a look at the intricately carved woodwork behind the bar. While you’re there you might as well sample the hand-pulled ales. There’s a decent selection, as you’d expect from a pub that’s part of the Head of Steam chain.

The Edwardian facades of the Sunderland Empire theatre and Dun Cow pub.

The Edwardian facades of the Sunderland Empire theatre and Dun Cow pub.

Where to eat in Sunderland

I enjoy the food served in the National Glass Centre’s Brasserie (Liberty Way; tel. +44 (0)191 5155555), a bright, modern restaurant by the north bank of the River Wear. I’ve dined here a number of times and like the fact the food is well-presented while the atmosphere remains informal. If you’re with a group the grazing platters are good option to share. Regional cuisine, such as fisherman’s pie, plus Mediterranean-influenced dishes are among the items on the menu.

If you’re in the vicinity of Herrington Country Park swing by The Stables (McClaren Way; tel. +44 (0)191 5849226) for lunch. Better still, book a table well in advance and hope you pick a fine day for a walk in the landscaped park – if not you can experience an afternoon of real ale. This is a country pub packed with bric-a-brac and atmosphere. The menu includes modern British dishes as well as tasty international bites. The chicken liver pate and mussels in Thai sauce are two standout options.

How to get to Sunderland

Grand Central runs a direct rail service between London Kings Cross and Sunderland. The journey takes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes.

The journey from Newcastle International Airport to Sunderland takes 52 minutes on the Tyne and Wear Metro. The Metro takes 27 minutes to get between Newcastle Central Station and Sunderland.

Where to stay in Sunderland

Rooms at the Travelodge Sunderland Central hotel (Low Row) place you in the centre of the city.

The Sunderland Marriott Hotel (Queens Parade), on the seafront at Seaburn, is the city’s only 4-star property. The 82-room hotel has a pool and fitness room plus an on-site restaurant and bar.

Further information

See the SeeitdoitSunderland website for further ideas on what to do and where to go in Sunderland.

The National Glass Centre in Sunderland, England.

The National Glass Centre in Sunderland, England.

The reconstructed Roman fort at Pohl, Germany.

New old-fashioned food at Pohl Roman fortlet

It’s lunchtime at Pohl in Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate and the food being served is new to me. The recipes, though, were written down over 1,600 years ago. Today’s cuisine is Roman.

That’s fitting as I’m sitting in the café-restaurant of Pohl’s Roman fortlet, a reconstruction of one of the fortifications that marked the frontier of the Roman Empire in German territory from around 85AD to 260AD. The Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes runs 550km through the country, between Bad Hönningen on the River Rhine and Regensburg on the River Danube, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.

Germany’s scenic Limes Road

A scenic tourist route, the Limes Strasse (meaning ‘Limes Road’), runs close to the site of the ancient frontier. The road runs for more than 700km and passes through more than 80 towns. I’m driving northwards along a section of the Limes Road.

Archaeological evidence of an earth and timber fortlet was first unearthed at Pohl in 1903. The replica that I’m in was built near the original site and opened on 1 October 2011. It’s now a community-run open-air museum.

Pohl’s reconstructed Roman fortlet

Care was taken to make the fortlet as authentic as possible. Wild flowers and long grass now grow on the earth ramparts forming the outline of the site. I’ll take a look at the main hall, barrack rooms and Pohl’s display of Roman artefacts after lunch. A tour of the site will have to wait. Even an army marches on its stomach, as Napoleon Bonaparte said.

I’m dining with Michael Rodschinka who normally works at the reconstructed Roman watchtower at Idstein. A similar tower stands outside of this fortlet. In excess of 1,000 watchtowers once stood along the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes, which also featured a series of ditches, more than 90 forts plus either a palisade or three metre high wall.

Reconstructed Roman tower by the fortlet at Pohl, Germany.

Reconstructed watchtower by the Roman fortlet at Pohl, Germany.

A Roman legacy in Germany

Mulsum, a slightly sweet, herby drink is served. It’s a blend of wine and honey and tastes reminiscent of mulled wine. Mr Rodschinka explains it was served to welcome guests or as an aperitif. To my surprise he also tells me it was forbidden for women to drink wine in Roman times.

I hear how Roman demand for wine resulted in vines being planted in the Moselle Valley and Rhineland, regions that continue to produce wines.

The food is served on brown crockery, similar to that used by the Romans. The starter includes dates cooked in bacon jackets plus portions of lightly seasoned liver sausage and moretum, goat’s cheese with herbs. We spread them on freshly baked flat bread.

Roman food with a German twist

Mr Rodschinka tells me how the Romans would have integrated local ingredients into their diet. “There’s lots of hazelnuts in our region and to sweeten things they always used honey,” he adds. Fruit such as apricots were also used to sweeten dishes and provide flavour.

I hear how apples would have been served in autumn with pork. The troops based at Pohl would have been able to hunt wild boar.

The main course, Roman goulash, proves delicious. I’m so impressed I ask the cook for the recipe. Thankfully, she was willing to share her secret.

Tucking in, I look forward to exploring the fortlet and getting my teeth into more of its history.

Roman goulash served Pohl in the Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.

Roman goulash served Pohl in the Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.

Recipe – Roman Goulash (Pork Ragout with Apricots)

The recipe originates from the Apicius cookbook, recipes collected and set down for posterity at around the turn of the 4th and 5th centuries – long after Imperial Rome’s authority had collapsed in Germany. Though the book lists ingredients it does not specify quantities, so if you want to experiment or change things about to suit your palette then, of course, feel free to do so.

Paprika, which gives traditional Hungarian goulash its bite, is derived from the spicy capsicums that were introduced to Europe from the New World in Iberian ships during Early Modern times. Roman citizens would not have known them.

During the height of the Roman Empire black pepper would have been carried to Europe from the Orient and was an expensive, luxury item. Some economic historians suggest the eastward flow of gold and silver was a factor in Rome’s decline and fall. So, delicious as it is, perhaps dishes such as this one contributed to the abandonment of Pohl in the second half of the third century?


750 grams of chopped pork

Olive oil for frying

2 onions

¼ litre of white wine

60 ml of sherry or Marsala wine

100 grams of dried apricots

2.5 tablespoons of fish sauce

2.5 tablespoons of honey

2 tablespoons of vinegar

1.5 tablespoons of dried mint

1.5 tablespoons of cumin

1 tablespoons of chopped dill

½ tablespoon of crushed black pepper


  1. Fry the pork in olive oil until it is brown. Set to one side.
  2. Fry the chopped onions in olive oil until they are clear then add the wine and fish sauce.
  3. Slowly stir in the fried pork and its juice.
  4. Crush and blend the spices using a pestle and mortar, then add them to the pan and braise for 30 minutes. Add water if necessary.
  5. Slice the apricots and add along them with the honey, braising the mix until the meat is tender.

Serve with freshly baked bread.

Millstone and stove in a barrack room at Pohl Roman fortlet.

Millstone and stove in a barrack room at Pohl Roman fortlet.

Further information

See the Pohl Roman fortlet website for information (in German) on opening times and entry prices.

View the German Limes Road website for further information on its route and history.

For more about the country as a whole take a look at the German National Tourist Board website.

Getting there

Pohl Roman fortlet (Kirchstrasse, 56357 Pohl) is in the Rhineland-Palatinate, 50 miles (80km) from Frankfurt International Airport. By car the journey takes around 60 minutes.  Follow the B260 from Wiesbaden in the direction of Koblenz.

Courtyard of Pohl Roman fortlet in Germany

Courtyard of Pohl Roman fortlet in Germany.

Grilled aubergine topped with mozzarella cheese and haskapa berries. Recipe included.

Discovering haskap berries in Nova Scotia, Canada

One of the key reasons I love travel is it provides opportunities to explore the flavours of a place. That encompasses eating in restaurants, trying local snacks and looking out for products I don’t see in shops and markets back at home.

Recently, while driving towards the historic coastal town of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia, Canada, my guide, Pam, pointed out a field with neatly arranged rows of bushes, about waist high. “Over there’s a farm growing haskap berries,” she uttered.

“Has-what berries?” was my response. I have to admit, I’d never previously heard of haskap berries.

Haskap berries – the next big thing?

Pam explained the berries originate from Siberia and thrived on Japan’s northerly Hokkaido island, the location of the world’s first commercial haskap farming. Farmers in Canada realised the climate and terroir of parts of Nova Scotia are also well suited to growing haskap. The berry is still being cultivated on a relatively small scale but, apparently, there’s excitement things could be set to take off.

Some people believe the berries will prove “the next big thing” in terms of healthy eating. At the 2013 World Juice Awards haskap was named “Best New Juice”. Haskap is regarded as a super-fruit due to the fruit’s high levels of antioxidants. The berries – which are blue and grow to around an inch long – contain high levels of vitamin C, phenolic compounds and anthocyanins.

Jamie Oliver in Canada

A life-size cut-out of Jamie Oliver greeted us at the Sobeys supermarket we popped in with the intention of purchasing a bottle of the juice. The British chef has a partnership with the Canadian supermarket chain, to promote eating healthily. I couldn’t help glancing up at banners bearing his image, hanging from the ceiling, as we sought out the supermarket’s Taste of Nova Scotia stand, showcasing products from the province.

Rather than buying just a bottle of the juice, I eventually picked up a box entitled the Haskap experience, holding a 150ml bottle of juice, two ounces of jam and 50 grams of dried berries. The packaging showed the measurements just as I’ve written them here – a mixture of metric and imperial.

The juice and dried berries are dark blue in colour. I found their flavour pleasantly tangy. It made me think of a combination of blueberries, blackberries and cranberries. Would I seek out the juice again? Yes. I look forward to seeing it on shelves of stores in the United Kingdom.

Grilled aubergine topped with mozzarella cheese and haskapa berries served with wine.

Grilled aubergine topped with mozzarella cheese and haskapa berries served with wine.

Recipe – Grilled aubergine with haskap berries and mozzarella

I came up with the following recipe for using haskap berries. It may be slightly unusual to use fruit in what is essentially a savoury dish, but the combination proved delicious.


1 Aubergine (Eggplant)

Mozzarella Cheese (150g)

Haskap berries (30g)

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to season


  1. Cut the aubergine into slices up to 1cm thick.
  2. Brush olive oil onto the aubergine. Work quickly to avoid it soaking into the aubergine’s flesh.
  3. Place the aubergine slices with the oiled side up under a hot grill and cook until golden (c. 4 minutes).
  4. Turn the aubergine slices and grill for a couple of minutes.
  5. Season the aubergine with salt and pepper.
  6. Add chopped slices of mozzarella. Top with haskap berries. Replace under the grill until the cheese has melted.
  7. Serve while warm, either alone or with an accompanying salad.

Further information

Find out more about haskap berries and products via the Haskapa website.

Discover more about the province in which the berries are being produced via the Tourism Nova Scotia homepage.  For more information about the country as a whole, see the Explore Canada website.

Getting there

Stuart flew from Gatwick Airport to Halifax, Nova Scotia with Icelandair, via the airline’s Keflavik hub. See the Icelandair website for information relating to flight availability and prices.

Grilled aubergine topped with mozzarella cheese and haskapa berries.

Grilled aubergine topped with mozzarella cheese and haskapa berries.

Modern skyscrapers and Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

A stopover in Doha, Qatar

Doha, the capital of Qatar, has undergone marked expansion in recent years. Its heart remains the area around Souq Waqif, an Arabian bazaar, and the Corniche, a 7km waterfront, both of which can be explored on foot if you plan a stopover in Doha.

Around 900,000 people now live in the city yet the journey between the Corniche and the airport takes a mere matter of minutes. Qatar tops the International Monetary Fund’s table of world nations ranked by Gross Domestic Product per capita. As you might expect from that indicator of economic clout, the road infrastructure here is good.

Budding into the Persian Gulf

It doesn’t take long to reach anywhere within Qatar. The country’s landmass – a rosebud-shaped peninsula – juts from Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf. It measures just 160km from north to south and half of that from east to west.

Locals might tell you Doha is actually a cluster of self-contained cities. If you spend more than a couple of days here you’ll be able to tour the likes of Hamad Medical City, Education City and the waterfront development at Lusail City. If grand engineering projects are your thing then you’ll be impressed by the four million square metres of land that have been reclaimed to build Pearl Qatar, where high-rise buildings tower over circular marinas.

Modern skyscrapers form the skyline of Doha, Qatar.

Modern skyscrapers form the skyline of Doha, Qatar.

Doha’s hotels, museums and shopping malls

Temperatures regularly soar beyond 42°C during July and August, the hottest and most humid months, meaning it’s best to spend the middle of the day in air-conditioned buildings. You can seek refuge from the heat in hotels, museums and shopping malls.

Locals tend to take their exercise early in the morning or around dusk. The Corniche is popular with walkers and joggers. Even if you’re not feeling sporty it’s worth heading to the waterfront to look over the shimmering bay towards a skyline featuring thrusting skyscrapers with modern designs.

The foundation of modern Qatar

The man recognised as the founder of modern Qatar, Sheikh Qassim Bin Mohamed Al Thani, would probably be unable to recognise the modest settlement he knew as Al Bidda. On 25 March 1893 he successfully led Qatari tribes into battle against Ottoman forces at Al Wajba. His successors continue to rule. For a time Qatar was a British Protectorate but has been an independent nation since 3 September 1971.

Prior to the discovery of oil here, the people who lived along the coast would have eked a meagre living from pearl diving, fishing and making purple dye from murex sea snails. A number of PADI-affiliated scuba diving centres are based in Doha, meaning you can explore the warm waters of the Gulf, providing you have adequate time ahead of your flight. If you prefer the water’s surface you can book a tour on a dhow, one of the wood-built Arabian boats formerly used to trade goods.

Night in Doha, Qatar.

Night in Doha, Qatar.

Shopping in the Souq Waqif

They once brought in spices, silks and cotton. One of the highlights of a visit to Doha is a stroll through the narrow, covered lanes of the Souq Waqif. Clothing, souvenirs, household goods and pets are all sold on the stalls of the bazaar, which remains open until around 10.00pm.

Depending on when you visit you might see women selling deliciously aromatic, homestyle food outside the souq. It’s worth buying a portion to dine outside on the lawns by the Corniche or in Al Rumeila Park. Picnics are a popular pastime here.

Jewellery in the Gold Souq

For a different perspective into Qatari heritage wander over to the Gold Souq, which is a great place to view intricately crafted sets of bridal jewellery and examples of Bedouin style silver. No sales tax is levied on purchases.

Don’t be surprised if you see the occasional bird of prey too. Falconry shops sell hoods, fittings and gloves for handling the birds. They may even have a falcon or two in the store. The owners have become accustomed to intrigued foreign visitors popping through their doors and taking photographs.

The Museum of Islamic Art

For insights into the region’s cultural heritage head to the Museum of Islamic Art, situated on a man-made island by the Corniche. The iconic building opened in 2008 and was designed by I.M. Pei, the architect whose opus includes the Louvre Pyramid in Paris.

A dhow sails past the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

A dhow sails past the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

If you enjoy contemporary art then the Arab Museum of Modern Art may be your thing. Alternatively, if it’s ornately finished handicrafts you appreciate, you could arrange a visit to the compact Weaponry Museum. Swords and curved khanjar daggers dating from the 16th century onwards are displayed. One of the khanjar’s belonged to the Thomas Edward Lawrence, the Briton played by Peter O’Toole in David Lean’s 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia.

In the downtown area you’re now more likely to see robed Qatari men climbing into powerful four wheel drive vehicles than onto the backs of camels.

There’s much to experience and observe in Doha. If you haven’t yet been it’s a rewarding place to break a long journey as you fly through Qatar Airways hub.

Things to do in Doha

  • Play a round at Doha Golf Club. Peter Harradine designed the 7,374-yard championship course, which was opened in 1997.
  • Get active and explore the landscape. Book an off-road desert safari in a four wheel drive vehicle. Alternatively, try quad biking or sand skiing.
  • Find out about aspects of calligraphy, Islam and Arabic at Fanar Qatar Islamic Cultural Center.
  • Keep your eyes open for news about the opening of the new National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel.
  • Visit the Ethnographic Museum in a building known as Wind Tower House. Dating from the 1930s it utilises traditional air cooling that was once widespread in the region.

Further information

See the Qatar Tourism Authority website.

Traditional wooden dhow boats in the Cornich marina, at sunset in Doha, Qatar

Traditional wooden dhow boats in the Cornich marina, at sunset in Doha, Qatar

Cheese served with artichoke, lemon, wood sorrel and clover at the Restaurant de Jong in Rotterdam.

Talking Taste: Restaurant de Jong, Rotterdam

“When I was 21 I came back to Holland and I opened my first restaurant,” says chef Jim de Jong as we chat in the arched dining room of Restaurant de Jong in Rotterdam.

The 27-year-old reveals he spent time working at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, for Gordon Ramsay and also in a Montpellier restaurant with two Michelin stars before returning to the city where he grew up.

Restaurant de Jong is Jim’s second business venture and is proving popular. It proves tricky to get a table on Friday and Saturday evenings unless you reserve a couple of weeks in advance. You might be lucky if you call on a weekday but even then it makes sense to book a week or so ahead.

Tasty, attractively presented food

The dishes created by Jim and his team are beautifully presented – the kind of food you see posted on Instagram and wish was yours. I’ve just enjoyed a cheese-based tasting menu and I’m looking forward to reviewing my photos of his carefully arranged dishes. Edible flowers added dashes of colour. The flavours and textures were just as satisfying as the appearance of the food.

This isn’t the kind of place you visit and order a la carte. It’s possible the dishes served will differ each time you come here. Diners are faced with a simple choice when ordering at Restaurant de Jong – the vegetable or non-vegetable menu. Each consists of four courses. The waiting staff ask diners if they have any allergies or dislike anything and the team at work in the open kitchen prepare dishes accordingly.

Close to Rotterdam’s Centraal Station

When I arrived the sun was streaming down on tables out on the terrace. The restaurant occupies space below an old railway arch and is within easy walking distance of Rotterdam’s recently opened Centraal Station.

“The north part of Rotterdam is very up-and-coming. There’s a lot of young entrepreneurs and young people starting businesses here. I grew up in this part of the city, so there’s a lot of engagement with this place,” says Jim with enthusiasm.

Chef Jim de Jong at Restaurant de Jong in Rotterdam.

Chef Jim de Jong at Restaurant de Jong in Rotterdam.

Vegetables but not vegetarian

“We want to give a stage for vegetables, to make vegetables more popular without being a vegetarian restaurant. We never speak the word vegetarian or of a vegetarian menu in this restaurant. We don’t use tofu or tempeh, it’s just vegetables,” he explains.

This fits with Jim’s view on nutrition: “I think that, globally, we should eat less meat. So if we use meat we use very good meat – organic and we give small portions. We give a lot of vegetables and it seems to work quite nice.”

“One of my heroes is still Alain Passard, from Paris, but also the Scandinavian guys from Noma,” he answers when I ask about his influences. Jim explains the food served in his restaurant reflects a mixture of cuisines, including Dutch and Nordic cooking.

I learn the cheese-based menu I’ve just enjoyed was only created today. Jim left the choice of Dutch cheeses to his regular supplier, tasting them in the morning and combining them some of the other products on his menu.

Tasting and creative cooking

“When I taste the Bergens Blonde cheese it tastes a bit like the sea. I immediately think of asparagus. Some connections in my mind result in these dishes. For every chef it’s different – it’s like tasting wine. It’s also your memories of things from your childhood or along the way. That’s why every chef should make his own dishes. If you copy things when you’re a chef you’ll probably end up being not so good. You have to put on the plate what’s on your mind. That’s what we do every day here. We freestyle,” says Jim passionately.

“There are also dishes that evolve. We have several that contain a hummus of broad beans…We have one dish that’s based on two ingredients, asparagus and Kalamata olives, which is a very good combination…We have a skeleton, some things on the menu that stay the same. We need some stability. Two, three, four dishes a day change,” he adds.

A broth made from goat's cheese served with shallots, radish flowers and pickled onion served at Restaurant de Jong.

A broth made from goat’s cheese served with shallots, radish flowers and pickled onion served at Restaurant de Jong.

Seasonal and local produce

I’m keen to find out if Jim has a signature dish.

“We have a steak tartare but made from tomatoes. The structure of the tomato’s flesh is almost the same as meat. People know when the tomato season starts we’ll put this on the menu,” answers Jim.

“The season is very important. Products are always better when they are in season. When you buy local, let’s say tomatoes, I buy them from a farmer not far from here. I buy them directly so I tell him to pick his tomatoes when they are almost falling off the plant. If you buy them from France, Italy or further away they pick them when they are green, so there’s no flavour to the tomatoes,” he explains.

“I’m not really religious when it comes to local. I think when the sunshine is better and more, in Italy for example, the peaches growing there have more intensity, so I can buy them. It depends on the product. We have a very good soil for legumes – beans – potatoes and carrots. So you have to know which vegetables or fruit to buy locally and which is best to buy elsewhere,” says Jim.

The food Jim has served at Restaurant de Jong made a positive impression and I’d be happy to return to see what’s on the menu.

Restaurant de Jong

Restaurant de Jong is at Raampoortstraat 38, 3032 AH Rotterdam. Call +31 (0)10 4657955. At the time of publication the four course menu is priced at €45.

Getting there

Restaurant de Jong is within walking distance of Rotterdam Centraal railway station. Rail fares from London to Rotterdam start from £116 per person for a standard class return. The journey takes from 4 hours 4 minutes. To find out more or make a booking see the Voyages SNCF website (Voyages-sncf Travel Centre, 193 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9EU; tel. +44 (0)844 8485848). Direct trains between Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport and Rotterdam Centraal take from 27 minutes.

Further information

Find out more about the city on the Rotterdam Info and Holland websites.

Goat's cheese served with white asparagus and samphire at Restaurant de Jong in Rotterdam.

Goat’s cheese served with white asparagus and samphire at Restaurant de Jong in Rotterdam.