Inter Scaldes is a quiet Relais & Chateaux property on the banks of the Oosterschelde. This means that the restaurant has a great advantage, as some of the finest seafood comes from this estuary, which lies a few houndred metres away from the kitchen. When I visited the restaurant in April, the lobster season had just started, oysters were there, and a whole bunch of other good things were also present.
The restaurant today was empty, with just one other table taken, but that didn’t disturb me all that much. The room is not too bad, a little old, although it could do with a remake here and there. It still is pleasant enough, although not comparable with the beautiful room at Hertog Jan, De Karmeliet or that of Oud Sluis, to cite but a few in the region. Service was very good throughout the meal and we were warmly greeted from the start.
The wine list here is good, even Domaine d’Auvenay wines are to be had here, although the pricing is rather steep. We drank a Viognier La Rosine from Michel & Stephane Ogier, which was priced at a rather hefty 95euro (that’s a more than 4 times retail price). The wine lacked intensity, balance and only the last few sips began to be enjoyable as the wine started to open up. Such things are rather sad, but well… For red we had a bottle of a wine from Carcassone, whose name escapes me. I remember it to be very interesting and well made, although it too must have benefited from a rather nice price rise.
The meal started with a few nibbles. There was a rather useless tuile, and a few spoons filled with: Pear foam, nuts and raisins; Foie de canard, red beet jelly; Fish rillette with curry, Tosazu jelly. Most of them were harmless, although the pear foam was plainly sweet, without much flavour. The foie gras had an intriguing texture, and the rest was decent. There was nothing phenomenal about these, but they weren’t bad neither. Harmless.
The Amuse was: Royal of egg with smoked eel, cauliflower. The royale of eggs was flavoured with basil and rather tasty, especially the bits of eel were very tasty in it. Overall all this was more like it: Bold flavours, well seasoned and carefully cooked. Very good.
Our long menu started with CANARD PEKING: popcorn cream, quince, warm brioche. A Peking duck flavoured foie gras custard of some sort was hidden beneath a layer of popcorn foam and served with a spoonful of quince puree. Tastewise this one was interesting. The custard was very salty, and one really needed the quince to make the balance right (which the service advised us to do). If this was done, the taste was great, although either the custard or the popcorn cream made the whole thing seem a little cloying or heavy. I can’t share the enthusiasm of some of my convives on this, and must say it was no more than good.
Next came a first fish course: LEMON SOLE: puree of white turnip and burnt mustard, gravy of kombu. The overall taste of this dish was very enjoyable, although I hadn’t really discovered any burnt flavours in there, until I read the description… The problem here was the construction of the dish and the quality of the fish. The fish was alrgiht, but very mushy, without any remarquably great texture. In such a simple dish, it is primordial to use products of outstanding quality, or that are so impressive on their own, that the dish makes sense. To use a rather menial lemon sole, seems a little bizarre. This seemed like a weak course to me.
SEA BASS: poached in whey, curdled milk, sautéed orange, Bari olives provided a welcome change. This was spectacular. The sea bass was of fantastic quality. Cut from a very large fish, it was perfectly poached and it’s garnishes accompanied it marvelously. I really enjoyed this rather unusual dish, which really surprised me after such a mediocre start. Excellent.
The next course was a huge letdown to be honest, as my friend told me so much about its magnificence. TURBOT: poached in smoked milk, clove mousseline. Conceptually, the dish sounded more than interesting, although the problems became apparent rather quickly: First of all, it was the third course featuring cooked fillets of fish, the second of which, in which the fish was poached in a dairy product. Secondly, the fish was overcooked, and very dry and stringy on the outside. Also, the fillet was cut from a rather small turbot. Compared it to the monster we had at the Sportsman, or the fish Christian Bau, Christophe Moret or others serve, this really wasn’t all that outstanding at all. The mousseline was good, but overall this was another harmless dish, which in addition had a technical error. Poor for a 2* restaurant.
I had requested an oyster dish to be added to our menu, as this region of Holland produces fantastic oyster. Here it came: OYSTER: with green vegetables, tosazu, oyster foam. A play with a Belgian classic: anguilles au vert, this huitre au vert was served at 36 degrees Celsius, the temperature people such as Olivier Roellinger consider to be the best for the consumption of oysters, as they have the most complex taste at that temperature. The very meaty, large oyster sat beneath the green sauce/veloute and some oyster foam. It was brilliant, with bags of flavour and a really amazing mouth-feel. The green sauce was also very good, although maybe a tad to powerful for the oyster. However, considering the course this meal had taken, it seemed like a blessing. Very good.
LOBSTER: with yuzu, Maltese asparagus, Parmesan sauce. Now, Oosterschelde lobster is considered to be the finest of all lobsters by a very knowledgeable friend of mine. If it is well cooked it really is amazing (a proof of which I’ve had at Hertog Jan for instance). This lobster was also very good, although the dish really seemed like a home cooked dish. A bit of a decent puree, the lobster tail, very well cooked I must admit, and a rather watery sauce, which didn’t add much. Whilst very nice, I had expected much more from this course, what we had was rather boring and a little underwhelming. Good.
RAZOR SHELLS: from the Oosterschelde, jus perfumed with coffee, coconut. Ahh, finally another very enjoyable course. This was a nice, well thought out course, which I very much enjoyed. Very good.
The best course of the day was excellent, really excellent: SCALLOP: prepared in its shell with truffle and cauliflower. A scallop is trapped in its shell and then served with a cauliflower mousseline, a single cauliflower rosette and the cooking juices. This was great. The truffle had a very strong present flavour, which made the pairing of scallop/cauliflower/truffle work brilliantly. The quality and cooking of the scallop was also top notch. What I found rather bizarre, was that this was the second course, in which we had some vegetable that wasn’t turned into a puree (the first one being the single asparagus with the turbot). That certainly was welcome, as so many purees do get a little monotonous with time. Excellent.
PIGEON: with young carrots, Dai Dai ponzu, ginger sauce with lime. The pigeon here was perfectly cooked, very tender but lacked salt. The jus suffered from that exact same problem too, and would really have come together if a little more salt had been added. The carrots were tasty, if very much overcooked. Brilliant here was the little roll of cabbage. Overall it was a pretty good course.
‘BAL MASQUE’: apple and pineapple, vanilla foam, coffee bean ice cream with cardamom. A very pretty dessert, it was very good too. The flavours worked, the balance was there and it wasn’t too heavy. If one was looking for a problem, one could argue that the base of the sphere was much too thick, which creates quite an unpleasant mouth-feel. Good.
SOUFFLE: curd soufflé with Vanilla. Now, chef Jannis Brevet apparently bought an oven, especially created to cook soufflés for the rather impressive amount of 50.000euro. The soufflé we were served today was very good, that goes without question, but I can’t say that it was the best soufflé I’ve had in my life, as the Gavroche, Ledbury, Square or other restaurants manage to serve soufflés that aren’t worse than that.
Overall this meal really was quite a disappointment. Everything seemed to be alright, but rare were the dishes that got me excited. In fact, out of 11 courses (not counting amuses and nibbles), only 3 were very good or excellent. That is a pretty poor ratio. The problems were not so much in the technique or the products, although there were some issues with those too, but rather in the way most dishes and the menu were conceived. First of all, there was a rather large amount of puree-based dishes. These didn’t have any textural interest, and made no sense in the dramaturgy of the menu. Furthermore, most of the dishes seemed uninspired, without much that was interesting or exciting. This was all the more sad, as the scallop for instance was a real winner and showed that this kitchen is certainly able of very good food. From my experience, I probably won’t go back there, as there are too many other restaurants that are much more interesting, and easier to reach.