Peter Goossens is without doubt the best and most famous chef in Belgium. Besides his 3* (19,5/20p in Gault Millau) in Kruishoutem, he also runs the MuseumBrasserie in the Bozar in Brussels and appears on TV. Interestingly, other chefs don’t despise him nor is there any negative criticism from the guests’ side. Some of his colleagues even name his restaurant, when asked about their favourite one. This doesn’t facilitate the reservation process in the least. I thus considered myself lucky to have finally secured a booking for a Wednesday lunch, after two years of patience.
The restaurant sits on top of a hill overlooking the “Flamish Ardennes”. The few hills, of inconsiderable height, allow the guests to have a lovely view over the plat pays that surrounds the house. This terrace is equally beautiful as that of In de Wulf, and invites you to take a most enjoyable aperitif or digestif. The old farmhouse is relatively small, but is most charming. The 11 tables are spread between 2 rooms with low ceilings and white walls. The walls are hung with paintings by rather well known Flamish artists.
On the table, one finds the essential elements, but no more. The whole is very stylish and most appealing. Note, that they introduce little details everywhere. From the now nearly omnipresent stool for handbags to a choice of six knives for your meat course, one gets the impression of this being a serious restaurant.
The bread quality varied (in terms of crusts). A baguette and a few other types where stunning, with great crusts and airy centre. Other types (notably three breads done with three Belgian beers) had a overpowering bitterness. The butter was good, and in addition one has a choice of around 10 olive oils was provided upon request. This last bit was a nice touch, even if nearly no one made use of it (we’re in a butter eating region after all).
The first few bites arrived promptly: A toast with a piece of marinated salmon and an ox tail nem were delectable. Both were done with high quality products and well prepared.
The following marinated herring with many flavours playing around it was of the highest quality. These bites make clear that we aren’t in the most lazy of places, as they are more complex than whole dishes at other restaurants. Very good.
The following amuse was most interesting. A beef carpaccio was topped with cured hamachi and paired with wasabi ice cream. This could have been a stunning combination but the beef and fish were too cold and a little underseasoned to make their taste come through. It therefore tasted a little thin. The combination however, worked beautifully and provided a refreshing, amusing touch. Very good.
A bowl containing a bit of quinoa tinted green with herbs, parmesan cream and deep-fried frog legs was absolutely divine. The frog legs were of outstanding quality and the combination was terrific. It was rich, without being heavy, tasty, crunchy, creamy, spiced,… in short: all one wants. This was truly divine.
The amuse which followed was an onion soup and foam, a few bits of lacquered duck and a crisp of duck skin. This was very good indeed. The soup had great depth of flavour and was most pleasant. The duck was a bit overpowered by the soup, but otherwise, this was another very good little plate.
The last was based on crab, which came with a sorbet of grapefruit and sesame. This was perfectly balanced bitterness and acidity working against the iodine taste of the crab. A more refreshing and interesting little combination can hardly be made. Excellent.
Having driven a good distance, I added a few courses to the lunch menu (95euro) to make the whole thing worthwile. As I had already seen the long tasting menu (205euro) in a few reports, I wanted to try different dishes which seemed more interesting. I added one beef cheek and langoustine dish and a dessert. The prices in general are very Parisian here. Most starters are at 80euro with mains come at around 100euro. The wine list is fairly priced for a restaurant of that level.
The first course was Langoustine de Guilvinec/ cresson/ concombre/ avocat. This came in two parts. The hot part featured a sizeable langoustine, cooked on the plancha and topped with crispy bread. With it came some langoustine tartar, avocado cream, langoustine bouillon and quinoa. The second, cold part was based on a royale of langoustine, in which a few pieces of langoustine rested, “tagliatelle” of cucumber and a watercress jus. Both featured langoustines of absolutely fantastic quality. These beasts were not only big but also firm, nearly crunchy, tasty and perfectly cooked. This slightly crunchy texture of well-prepared langoustine meat is just one of the greatest things on this earth. You do not get this texture in raw preparations, which is why I prefer cooked langoustines. The hot composition was absolutely great. The flavours were strong, well balanced and absolutely harmonious. This was really outstanding. The cold part was much more focused on the cress and the cucumber, with the langoustine playing a secondary role only. This was not bad, as it was very fresh, and featured the great combination of cress and the langoustine’s iodine flavour. I preferred the hot part, but can’t really find anything to complain about the other neither. Excellent.
Next up was Cabillaud danois/ jeunes poireaux/ brandade/ crabe royal. This beautiful composition was a perfect example of the incorporation of regional elements into haute cuisine. The crevettes grises were fried in a tempura style batter resulting in a stunning mouthful, the cod was slowly cooked, which gave it relatively soft texture, the potatoes were both smoked and excellent and the leeks cooked al dente. Every element was expertly seasoned and prepared. The whole was a rather classic, but very tasty plate. The cod wasn’t of the outstanding quality I had expected and was outshined by the little shrimps, which I absolutely adored. Excellent.
The third course was an addition and came in two parts again. Ravioli de joues de boeuf braisees/ champignons de Paris/ roquette/ langoustine (50euro). This is supposedly a signature dish, which has been on the menu from pretty much the beginning of the restaurant. The combination is absolutely fantastic. The langoustine was the biggest piece I have come across. Easily as big as a lobster tail (a small one though), it had even more exciting texture as the one of the first course. It was just as Ducasse describes the texture of live langoustines in his Grand Livre de Cuisine: They are nearly crunchy, making them the finest crustacean. Combined with the compote of beef cheeks in the open raviolo, it was an affair of pure delight. I can’t really think of anything more gourmand than this. Such products and skilled cooking rarely meet, and if they do, the result definitely is worth a journey. In my case, it might have been the best 50euro I had ever spent. Truly divine. One of the best dishes I ever tasted.
I was rather surprised when a second plate appeared on the table. This second part of the beef cheek raviolo dish consisted of braised cheeks with cepes and onion tempura. Again, it was more than delicious. The cepes were extremely tasty and powerful and managed to come through, despite the beef cheek’s power. The combination worked even better than in the first part, as the cepes do have more flavour than normal button mushrooms. Excellent.
It was time for the main course.
Cote de Veau elevee sous la mere/ estragon/ petit-pois/ girolles.
The concept of this dish was terrific. All of the flavours were spot on. They worked beautifully and had great depth. The potato cubes were outstanding with great crunch and a creamy interior. The pea cream and peas were equally enjoyable. The only problem was the meat itself, supposedly the centrepiece of the dish. The veal had been cooked sous-vide, but was strangely dry and tasted very thin. This must have been a problem with my piece in particular, as I have heard others rave about this dish. The accompanying jus was on the tasteless side too, unfortunately. However, the braised veal cheek compote was very good, Good as a whole, could have been excellent, if the meat and jus were better.
To go on with the sweet side of things, I was served a little Mojito with a lime foam. This was refreshing, well-made and very successful.
Next up was an almond cream, an abricot jelly and a few drops of white chocolate and different fruits. I really liked this one, as it was fresh again, but had some nice textural variations. The little drops were also highly interesting in terms of texture.
The first dessert, from the menu was Banane/ fruits de la passion/ citron vert/ mascarpone. It came in two parts, with the main plate featuring a chocolate mousse, topped with a banana mousse. This construction was then crowned by some lemon ice cream and a few colourful dots. This was served with a chocolate Madeleine. I loved this dessert. The mousses had very airy, light texture, whilst displaying strong flavour. The ice cream perfectly balanced sweetness with acidity, and cooled things down a little.
The side dish contained banana mousse, passion fruit jelly, mascarpone mousse, sponge cake and chocolate crumble. This was just as good as the main plate, if not better. The combination worked marvelously well. One could everything together, mix a few elements, eat just one thing. It always worked. Outstanding dessert.
As I was a little hungry and had to drive 3 hours back to Luxembourg, I decided to go for another dessert: Chocolat Java 36%/ noisettes/ the vert/ vanille (25 euro).
This was another winner, I usually don’t take chocolate based desserts in restaurants, as they somehow manage to produce more or less the same thing with a little variation here and there. In this case the maitre d’hotel recommended it to me, so I followed his guidance. I was more than rewarded for my obedience. The hazelnut praline base was topped with a caramel ganache, milk chocolate mousse and crowned with a little vanilla cream, crunchy chocolate balls and sponge cake. With it came white chocolate ice cream, flavoured with green tea and a separate glass. In this glass I found chocolate mousse and raspberry marmelade, topped with vanilla drops and frozen raspberries. The glass was not bad at all, with good, vibrant flavours and textures. The real stars were the ice cream and gateau. The ice cream had perfect consistency, and the white chocolate/ green tea combination was heavenly. The gateau was better than most of the type I had tried so far. It had not only much more potent, strong flavours, but also featured nice textural touches (such as the drops, songe cake and various mousses and creams). All in all, this dessert was yet another outstanding creation.
Thinking this beautiful meal was over, I went outside on the terrace to enjoy my coffee. But, they don’t let you walk away like that here. Just after having been seated, I was presented with yet some more goodies.
First up was a vanilla brownie with salted caramel cream and hazelnut crumble. This was another brilliant miniature, where each flavour was spot on and beautifully balanced. On the left of it was a red berry, white chocolate combination which was nicely fresh, after the very indulgent brownie.
Also served were stunning beignets, which I absolutely adored. These were as light as air and simply brought me even closer to heaven.
The last part was by far the best I must say. The chariot de mignardises slowly made its way towards my greedy self. Such a thing is just the most enjoyable sight in a good restaurant. The selection here was impressive, by in terms of quantity and quality. Of course. I chose to try the two macarons, the éclair, the tarte au citron meringuee, the cannele, and the baba au rhum. The macarons were excellent, with a very good cream in each of them and a perfect balance between crunchy and soft. The éclair was also very successful and disappeared in a few mouthfuls. Following this I attacked the baba, which was a little too alcoholic. Having been treated to Ducasse’s version, this one was a little disappointing. Moving on, there was the cannele, a treat from Bordeaux, which I will always accept, if offered. Here, it didn’t fail to impress. It was perfect. In the same league, one found the tarte au citron, which I absolutely adored. It had the most impressive crunchy base I have ever found on a tarte with such a moist topping. The appareil was delightfully acidic and the meringue gave it some airy lightness. All in all, these were outstanding.
What a meal. I drove seven hours to get here and didn’t regret it at all. The cooking was modern, but based on outstanding products and didn’t go to far in hiding them. Only the cod was of slightly less impressive quality, as was of course the veal. Apart from that, everything was just outstanding. The langoustines will be remembered for their frighteningly fantastic texture, taste and size, as will the grey shrimp. The clearness in every plate (with exception of the main plate of the langoustine dish) was startling. The flavours weren’t muddy, but distinguishable in every sense. Nowhere was there a mistake in any possible way. I was especially impressed by the desserts, which were probably the first I had outside of France, which were as gourmand as those that I had in 3* there. I can’t understand why someone can’t produce good desserts outside of France, but in this case, I was, luckily, proved wrong. These were absolute masterpieces, which were on the same level as the savoury dishes.
Not only was the cooking faultless, but the service too. The young brigade knew how to take care of the guests. They all knew exactly how the dishes were made, and what they were made of, which is quite impressive. Also great was the décor. The tiny rooms were lovingly decorated, in a style which I most adore. This was somewhat in between rustic charm and very sophisticated, luxurious design. To cut a long story short, this is a must visit in the area, even if the prices are more likely to have been imported from Paris.