Sergio Herman is probably one of the most influential chefs of the moment. Despite having studied at the Hotel-school in Bruges and spending some time in the kitchen of a small restaurant in the region, he didn’t work in many kitchens, other than that of his family’s restaurant in the small town of Sluis, around 15km north-east of Bruges. This is, most likely, one of the reasons for his very unique style. If one were to describe it, a few words might characterise it: Clear, clean flavours, complex textural plays, modern appearance and techniques, pure, light, entertaining with a healthy dose of Asian elements. The small restaurant’s rooms reflect these traits beautifully, as they are well lit, and contemporary and sparingly furnished.
The service is very good, but certainly isn’t very happy about someone who doesn’t drown himself in wine as we were asked at least three times if we didn’t want anymore wine. Apart from this, it was friendly, warm and efficient.
The bread is quite special. There is only one kind, not made in the restaurant, but made by a certain Monsieur Croquet from Lille. Just to give you an idea about how much he cares about his bread: Whenever he goes away, he takes the culture with him to monitor its development. The butter was from Bordier in Saint-Malo which says enough.
The meal started with a procession of amuses. First up, were the Chips de legumes, crème de laitue et sauce BBQ. All of them were very tasty, each taste coming through very well with the lettuce cream and BBQ sauce complementing them beautifully. The fact that two of them weren’t simply dried pieces of vegetables, but made by a more complex way shows that no shortcut is taken in this kitchen.
The next element came on a very pretty plate: Sandwich de saumon en gelee de moutarde et d’aneth. Salmon, cured in house, a jelly of the very Germanic sweet mustard and dill were a nice play on a classical combination. Yet again, the different elements came through beautifully and were remarkably present without overpowering the others.
The third piece came on a remarkable piece of Crockery by Piet Stockmans, which you also see in a very good Monegasque restaurant. The Couteau marine au codium was a dive into the sea: The fine iodine tastes of the razor clam and samphire in combination with the Asiatic vinaigrette turned this into the third remarkable miniature.
Following these three came the fourth (obviously!): Boulgour a la crème de carottes, salicorne et coques. Spectacular use of the Boulgour, which came in two textures, one toasted, one normally cooked. The smooth, velvety carrot and samphire creams gave it a little creaminess, whilst the cockles were once more, of extraordinary quality and freshness.
Sardine, legerement fumee et artichaut surgelee. A remarkable piece of Sardine, paired with lemon gel, artichocke ice cream and puree. All of the tastes came together in a coherent, if rather classical dish.
The sixth amuse, Tomate, basilic, anchois, et olives was a play around the classic Mediterranean pairing of tomatoes (marinated), anchovies (creamed), olives (creamed, marinated and as a cake) and basil (as a snow and naturally). Being such a classic taste, it was rather unsurprising that these elements worked so well together.
Huitre, vinaigrette au kaffir et yaourt Thailandais was the seventh and last of the amuse-collection. It was also by far the best. The extraordinary oyster from Zeeland, different toasted grains, Thai-yoghurt and vinaigrette created a very complete bouchee. All of these were of extraordinary quality and made clear that this kitchen turns out some of the most original and complex food in Europe.
The actual menu started with the Coquilles Saint Jacques marinees, ficoide glaciale, bergamote, fenouil et vinaigre de chardonnay. The many different elements went remarkably well together and provided a refreshing, start to a long menu. All of them were of supreme quality and were represented in several forms, giving you different textures and tastes with every bite. Excellent.
Following this came a dish that Laurent already tried earlier this year. Langoustine legerement fume et marinee, lard chinois laque, betterave rouge et radis. First, the langoustine was of absolutely outstanding quality: Firm, nearly crunchy, perfectly cooked, very lightly smoked and beautifully seasoned. A second preparation featured raw langoustine wrapped in beet. With it came different structures (a word Herman likes to use) of radish and beets: Meringue, raw, jellified, marinated and as a vinaigrette. The raw, unseasoned radish and beet slivers were very unpleasant, as were the jelly cubes. They were just unbelievably dry- cut too long in advance – and overpowered the remaining bits. The meringues and pork fat provided some sort of reconcilement. The logic behind the dish did escape me, as I’d rather have the two langoustine preparations, the pork and sauce on its own. Outstanding for the langoustine, unpleasant for the vegetables.
Herman being Herman, the next dish was back on the level that one expects of him. The Crumble de foie d’oie featured various textures (terrine, cream, icea cooled, dried) of foie gras, Pedro Jimenez and apple, that created the unbelievably strong foie flavour with about any possible texture. Excellent.
The next dish was even better, featuring a local ingredient. Huitre de Zelande au concombre, artichaut et pourpier, vinaigrette de fleur de sureau, en croquette. The main plate was certainly one of the simplest dishes of the whole menu and didn’t need the textural gadgets the others had. The meaty oyster was simply poached, covered with a dollop of sabayon, accompanied with the vinaigrette, marinated cucumber cream and cucumber, artichoke cream and a few leaves of different herbs. The accompanying crisp is a Herman classic, that I already had tasted a year earlier. It is the most pure, refreshing oyster taste encapsulated in one mouthful. Here, the shell is made out of oyster juice, filled with oyster and apple salad and topped with oyster shots (iced oyster). Both of these were terrific.
Next up were two more local ingredients: Asperges blanches de Zelande, jaune d’oeuf legerement fume, crème de morilles et macaron a la biere, homard et jus de Bernardus et citron vert. The combinations in this dish might be a bit strange (caviar, truffles, morels, lobster, beer, asparagus?), but did work if eaten in parts. The farmed Italian caviar was rather forgettable, and barely noticeable on the egg yolk, which had a most interesting texture (in a good way). The lobster was slightly overcooked and therefore a bit rubbery, but the tartar inside the macaron was cooked just right. The morels obviously went well with the egg, asparagus and lobster but lacked a bit of punch. The truffle coulis was more of a decoration than anything else. The problem in this dish were not the many pars, which did go quite well together, but rather, the egg yolk overpowering the other elements. Overall good but nowhere near the two previous dishes.
The following dish mad up for it, as it was arguably the best savoury dish of the entire meal. Couscous epice au crabe, crambe maritime et zostere, vinaigrette de finger lime et jus de crabe et epices. This was truly spectacular. Real 3* food. Even if you didn’t find any couscous but boulgour in this plate, the whole thing was just a real pleasure to eat. The creamy, rich bisque, sea-grass, sea-cabbage, boulgour (again toasted and normally cooked) delivered a coherent dish that had strong shellfish flavour in its best form. Divine.
Unfortunately, the main course was unbelievably weak. Agneau de Lozere, barbecue aux tomates et assortiment de courgettes, burrata, basilic frais et roquette, jus d’agneau epice.Not only was the lamb partially completely overcooked (grey and dry), but also was it far from being anywhere near tender. The little fat, was nicely caramelized but had not been re-crisped after resting, which shows that the kitchen can be sloppy at times. The strangest thing was that they had forgotten to plate the burrata and tomatoe jelly, which was brought only after we had finished the dish. We then were left with empty plates and the little cup of burrata and olive oil. Something like this just shouldn’t happen, having a badly cooked piece of meat, and such a mistake in plating just doesn’t give the diner the best impression of the dish. The vegetables were fine, but far from being great (after all, tomatoes are far from being in season). One should praise the lamb jus, which was very good. Sadly, the whole dish was poor.
The savoury part of the meal being over, it was time for the three desserts, Herman serves at the end of his menus. The first was Chocolate Rocks, galangal, menthe et citron vert. The chocolate mousse under the chocolate dusting had the most creamy, airy texture, which was complemented beautifully by the custard it enclosed. The mint sorbet sitting on a cocoa sable gave a refreshing little bon-bon that provided the needed acidity. Very good.
The second dessert was the best: Blanc pur, riz, coco et cheese-cake, mangue epicee. A smear of cheesecake cream was covered with a few towers conceiling a coco-macaron, a little ball of white cocolate filled with mango jus and a rice pudding with coco-sorbet and crumble. This was as good as I had remembered Herman from last year, speaking to all of the senses in equally high terms. Outstanding.
Trois herbes, basilic, citron-melisse, verveine, fleur d’oranger transparente et poudre d’amande. This was an interesting play on textures and tastes of herbs, resulting in another very good dessert.
The countless post-dessert snacks were all very, very good and finished the meal in the best of ways.
All in all, I had very great expectations for this meal. After all, the dinner I had here a year ago was truly inspiring, to this you had to add that the whole driving took 7hrs and the restaurant had received rave reviews recently. What did this 6hr lunch make me feel?
There was certainly some truly amazing food. After all, the crab, amuses, foie, oysters and scallops were outstanding: High-quality ingredients, complex but perfectly balanced combinations, technical perfection and a highly innovative approach to cooking.
The langoustine itself was also a fantastic piece of shellfish but the dish itself couldn’t match the beautiful presentation.
Then, there was the lamb. And that lamb was bad. I don’t believe I ever had such a thing happen to me, not even in a bistro. Bringing the lost part of a dish after having eaten the whole thing really doesn’t make any sense to me. Also the fact, that the lamb was of such poor quality really made me quite mad, as Herman can deliver some spectacular meat dishes.
It’s this sloppiness that scared me a bit. The other thing was the trend of using a lot of sweet, sugary elements in the savoury cooking, which was quite a prominent feature in most of the amuses and some of the courses here too. Not that I didn’t enjoy the meal, the highs were high enough to let me love the place, but the lows were quite low for a three star. Herman just really doesn’t seem like a sloppy cook, nor is he one who needs to search for beauty over taste. It was just sad, that the garnishes of the lamb and especially of the langoustine, were very pretty but rather bland on the palate.
I hope this was just a bad day, as I really like this restaurant. Seeing Herman go down from here would be an enormous pity, as he is one of the most talented chefs in Europe. One who developed a truly unique style, that makes sense and isn’t only enjoyable after hours of research.