Milan Gataric

Once upon a time, Rotterdam’s biggest claim to fame was being Europe’s largest port. Today, the city is home to a treasury of bars, restaurants and museums that suggest modern-day Rotterdam has more to offer the world than just freight and transport. The city is also home to Milan Gataric, the owner of Restaurant Lux who returned to the Netherlands after spending the 2021 season at natural wine pilgrimage, Auberges de Chassignolles. The Serbian-born chef shares his favourite local addresses and adds further weight to the argument that Rotterdam might just be one of Europe’s next capitals of cool.
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Rotterdam Then and Now

I moved from Serbia to the Netherlands in 1999, and straight to Rotterdam. My father used to live here and Serbia in the former Yugoslavia was at war. The dining scene in Rotterdam has changed dramatically since. About eight years ago, it had its first boom. There were a bunch of good restaurants where you could drink really well for a very reasonable price. At some point, we started witnessing a polarisation where you had 10 Michelin star restaurants and otherwise simple bistros with basically nothing in the middle. Rotterdam was always known for having periods of stagnation between its peaks. The scene changed again about three years ago, and what we have now is a new, broader scene with a lot of good Asian places to dine in and more places where you can drink a good bottle of wine with your food, both of which I am usually after. 

Food and Film

What I really like about Rotterdam is that during the International Film Festival (late January to early February), the city really changes into a metropolis. The whole cinematic world is in Rotterdam and everything is boiling. One of my favourite places in the city is Kino, a cinema which also has a restaurant where many of my colleagues have worked. I really love cinema so I am often trying to combine my two passions. When I go to Kino on my day off, I get to watch a beautiful film, relax and enjoy myself. On the other side of the city is Lantaren Venster, another cinema connected to the film festival where I go to watch a film and have a beer. Close by is a Thai place I like called Deli Bird where you dine surrounded by a film crowd and eat amazing Thai food.

Asian Comfort Eating in Chinatown and Beyond

Rotterdam-West is a really spontaneous neighbourhood. I love that when you come out of Centraal Station, Chinatown is the first thing you see. You can eat really well there. On my day off I am searching for comfort and relaxation, and one of my top choices for that is also one of my favourite places in Chinatown, a Cantonese restaurant called Tai Wu. I enjoy its steamed oysters with black bean sauce, scallops and duck pancakes. You know: the Cantonese classics. As you walk farther away from Centraal Station, you begin going through all the exciting, diverse neighbourhoods where Indian, Moroccan, Turkish and other communities live and work. Each of these neighbourhoods has nice places to eat comfort food and I really appreciate having so many options around where I live. None of them are fancy: it’s just how I enjoy eating on my day off. There’s a Turkish pastry shop called Kaya Pastanesi that serves excellent lahmacun (Ottoman-inspired meat flatbread) baked on the spot. I really like a small Syrian place called Pistache Halab where I go to enjoy simple Syrian dishes from hummus and falafel to nicely-grilled kebabs. There’s a Moroccan butcher shop called Lakarusch that has excellent meat where you can also buy nice fruits and vegetables, and products like preserved lemon rinds and nice merguez. 

Modern Asian Cuisine and Open-Fire Cooking

Another place I really like to eat in is OX Rotterdam. The chef there is Alexander Wong and he likes to serve Asian-inspired dishes. You can order a decent bottle of low-intervention or so-called “natural wine” and enjoy a nice evening. An old colleague of mine is running a restaurant called Fermin which is focused on open-fire cooking. It works with lots of local farmers and cooks in a wood oven. Again, it has a nice wine list, which is very important for me. 

My Favourite Chef in Rotterdam and the Best Place to Dine in the City Right Now

My all-time favourite chef in Rotterdam is my very good friend and excellent chef Jim de Jong. He’s now the head chef at Restaurant Renilde, the new restaurant on top of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. It’s in a really beautiful spot in town which they’ve just finished building. You can dine amazingly on top of a collection of amazing art pieces, and that’s probably the best place to eat in the city right now. If you go there, Jim will make you a simply fantastic dish. He’s always cooking ‘carte blanche’ so the food will always surprise you and it will be paired with some amazing natural wine. 

Say (and Buy) Cheese

There is a beautiful cheese shop called De Kaashoeve run by a wonderful Armenian family. They sell an amazing selection of cheese, anything from rich local cheeses to excellent Comté.

My Third Passion

I’m also a musician so music is another thing I enjoy a lot. There’s a vinyl shop called Demonfuzz Records. It has an amazing collection of records. We only play vinyl at LUX and I buy a lot from that shop. The restaurant has existed for almost 30 years now and used to be a classic Italian restaurant. Lots of great chefs have worked there. It was a hangout for architects and artists back in those days. In 2013 I had the chance to take it over. I don’t focus on classic Italian cuisine anymore. I kind of have fun doing whatever I feel like doing. It’s an a la carte place where you can relax and order whatever you want: we don’t serve a tasting menu. We make everything from scratch and focus on low-intervention wines. During COVID we were running a bakery out of LUX and were enjoying our own baked goods. A lot of bakeries opened since COVID started but I was in France cooking at Auberges de Chassignolles for six months, so I need to go and try them all. 

Coffee, Bread and Ceramics

I really enjoy walking around my neighbourhood and stopping at Urban Espresso Bar to spend some time there drinking coffee and eating breakfast. There’s also a new little shop called Studio Unfolded that was opened by Sophia van den Hoek, a photographer I’ve been working with for a very long time. It’s kind of like a studio where you can relax with a nice coffee or tea and eat a good breakfast. You can also buy ceramics there or a nice book.

Photography Credit: Sophia Van Den Hoek

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