When Gert de Mangeleer contacted me via Facebook, I hadn’t really heard much of his restaurant. I had seen a few pics of recipes of his on the Flemish Foodies, and had known that he gained a second star this year, but that was about it. This meal was to be quite surprising as you shall find out. Hertog Jan is located in a quiet suburb of Bruges, and sits in a very pretty house. The restaurant is divided in a number of rooms, and must have around 9 or 10 tables. The kitchen, is not open, but can be seen through large glass windows. Tables are spacious, with very modern, Asian influenced elements here and there, and overall the feeling of the dining room is rather relaxed, but still quite chic. Service tonight was without faults, attentive, effective, quick and friendly.
The wine list here is fairly priced for a 2* in Europe, and is full of wines I didn’t know. However, as Joachim is the holder of the title best sommelier of Belgium, he’ll be able to guide you through the interesting list without problems. The only problem I found, was that most of the wines are rather young (say Cornas’ from around 2000), and not really approachable. However, I suppose that with time, this will become less problematic. Tonight, Joachim served a number of wines by the glass, of which I knew only three or four. What struck me was how well the wines went with the respective dishes. The most accomplished pairing was that of the eel with the Australian Semillon. This was a match made in heaven. Overall, I found the pairings to be very good. The meal tonight started with a glass of the house Champagne: Dehours brut, and a selection of small plates. First up was a Cherry Macaron with foie d’oie and coca cola crisp. A brilliant combination, that didn’t really resemble a macaron, but was a masterpiece in terms of flavour and texture. The cherry and cola gave the foie a sweet/sour background, which was great to start a meal like this one. Excellent.
Next up was a Foie d’oie cream with raspberry, yoghurt, lychee and roses. This reads a little like an Ispahan, to which goose liver had been added. Taste wise, it was one of the lightest, most refreshing foie preparations I’ve ever had. At the same time, the flavours were rather strong, and worked beautifully together. Very good to excellent.
Parmesan cream with tomato powder and olive oil. This was the weakest of all the amuses, at least in my taste. Whilst the flavours were there, and there was an interesting idea behind the dish, I found it to be a little dominated by the slightly heavy cream of parmesan. Good.
The nest one was great again: Pork rillette with peanut cream and pickles. I loved this. Effectively, it was a very well-made rillette, with an interesting addition of peanuts and the classic garnish of pickled cornichons. Very good.
Last came the best: Potato mousse with vanilla, coffee and mimolette cheese. This one was truly great. A very airy, light potato mousse was topped with some vanilla oil, and a grating of mimolette. The combination of these elements was absolutely outrageous, which I didn’t really expect. This was looking like the start to a rather promising meal! Excellent.
Sea bass: Marinated sea bass with cucumber, oyster flower, sea berry and ponzu sauce. First of all, one of the most intriguing dishes of the year for me. Everything was perfect here. The quality, seasoning and cutting of the fish, the ponzu dressing, the addition of the groseilles de mer, the herbs and all the other elements. The second point that struck me was the presentation. At first, one has only three little towers of marinated sea bass and cucmber. Nothing more. Rarely have I seen dishes, which were so complete, modern and at the same time distilled to the essence of what they should be. Outstanding.
Knoll Gruener Veltliner « Ried Kreutles » 2006 – Wachau, Austria
Next came the Green Perthuis asparagus: Green Perthuis asparagus with “Old Bruges” cream and grapefruit. A nicely sized asparagus came perfectly cooked with some cream made of vieux Bruges, marinated onions and grapefruit elements. Simple but, if the products are of such quality, and so carefully prepared, this is all one needs. A great asparagus, served in an incredibly light, and satisfying way. Very good.
Koehler Ruprecht Riesling « Klasstadter Saumagen » 2007 – Pfalz, Germany
Oosterschelde Lobster: Oosterschelde lobster with finger lime, sesame, wild sorrel and cray fish sauce. Half a lobster, from the Oosterschelde, which is said to deliver the best lobsters money can buy, and lies close to Bruges, came with a selection of herbs, some sesame crumble, finger lime and a creamy cray fish sauce. Light again, very fresh, due to the finger lime, this dish was simply delicious. The lobster was perfect, the sauce just strong enough to underline its taste, without being too far reduced, and the herbs giving interesting additional flavour. Great stuff!
Albet i Noya « elBlanc XXV » 2007 – Penedes, Spain
The following course also featured a product from the Oosterschelde: Eel: Lacquered eel with beet root, bergamot, dried Japanese plum and monkfish liver cream. A plate of strong flavours, Gert used fresh, rather large eels here. The accompanying monkfish liver cream had great intensity, and could best be described as foie gras of the sea. The eel itself, was very firm in terms of texture, and had great flavour. The beet root was just sweet/sour enough, to cut the richness slightly and made the whole thing very colourful. I loved this, and as mentioned before, the pairing on this one was unreal. Excellent.
Deen de Bortoli Semillon « Vat 3 » 2002 – South Australia
Morilles: Oxtail stew with potato cream, morilles and mushroom sauce. A ragout of oxtail was topped with a bit of potato emulsion, some morels, and Jerusalem artichoke sprouts. Hardly ever are restaurant dishes as satisfying and comforting at the same time. This was just very very fine comforting food, perfectly executed. Excellent to outstanding.
Domaine Gramenon « Les Hauts de Gramenon » 2006 – Cotes du Rhone, France
Limousin Lamb: Limousin Lamb with Zucchini, goat cheese, lamb and lemon sauce. A rack of lamb from the Limousin, was cooked to a beautiful pink, and served with a considerable amount of meltingly tender, tasty fat, which itself had a fragile, crunchy crust. On the side was some zucchini, and a bit of goat’s cheese. A rich jus was poured to finish the plate. This was another perfect beauty, and the taste was remarkable. I often find lamb to be rather underwhelming in restaurants, unless top quality is chosen, but here the fact that the fat was left on the meat made it even more tasty. The fat, combined with the crackling and rather lean meat made a very full, complex mouthful. The accompanying elements didn’t distract, and went very well with the meat. Excellent to outstanding.
Mercouri « Cava » 2004 – Peloponessos, Greece
We omitted cheese to start with desserts directly. First up was white chocolate with rice crispies, yuzu and coconut. Another picture on a plate, this was a dessert, of which all the elements had to be eaten together, as they complemented each other perfectly. The rice gave the crunch, the sorbet some cold, creamy element, and the yuzu gel an onctuous acidic part. A clever, refreshing little plate, which showed the very thoughtful composition of Gert’s plates again. Excellent.
With the desserts: Blandy’s Verdelho 10yr, medium dry – Madeira, Portugal
Combination of Pineapple, passion fruit, coffee and liquorice. Elements I wouldn’t have combined at first worked as if made for one and other. Again, this was an incredibly light, refreshing dessert, which only left you wanting more. Excellent.
The last dessert was the weakest, not bad, but a little less interesting than the previous two. Cranberries with yoghurt mousse and lychee granite. It was very very fresh, hardly sweet, maybe not enough, but a decent end to the meal. Good.
The following mignardises were by no means bad. Especially the deep-fried beignets were great.
Overall, this was one of the most interesting meals of the year. I hadn’t expected anything resembling this kind of technically perfect, and interesting cooking, so I was more than happy when one dish after the other turned out to be simply excellent. Products were carefully chosen, perfectly prepared, and prepared with great intelligence and thought. To add to this, service was exemplary, as were the wine pairings. A real revelation, which surprisingly enough, has had limited to none media coverage so far. Pack your bags and organise a trip to Bruges, eat here and at another up and coming place in Belgium, it’s worth the trip.
N.B.: I was invited by the chef to review the restaurant.