This will just be a quick preview, the full article is to appear on new year’s day, when my new website will go online. However, since this meal was quite special I couldn’t resist sharing a few photos and comments with you.
Where was it? In Belgium, in one of my favourite restaurants of the country: In de Wulf. It was more than a year since I last ate here, so it was about time to go back. And indeed it was a decision no one with even the slightest interest in food would regret.
Whilst Kobe’s food was very good last year, it was certainly not at the level of two stars, yet. There were ups and downs in the menu: A truly terrific lobster dish, a very tasty eel and a sole provided the very finest moments of the meal, whilst a few squares of raw squid were pretty forgettable. This time, things were different: A consistency in the menu had emerged that was missing last year. Kobe has obviously worked very hard to present his guests with a truly unique experience. His constant effort bears fruits, as this meal was about to show. All of the 17 or so courses were at 2* level, and some hard to make better. We will have a quick look at some of the strongest, to leave some space for the full review later on.
The greeting in Dranouter was as warm as ever, meeting two Laurents there was also good fun, and after a little walk around the fields we were ready for the meal. Starting with a glass of Marcel Deiss’ Crémant d’Alsace (which was a bit thin, and lacked intensity for me) the wine list arrived. There, not much had changed unfortunately, the prices are still quite steep compared to London and some truly exciting choices were missing, but I just got the news that Belgium’s best sommelier, Wouter de Bakker, will advise Kobe on the list. So, the last “weakness” of In de Wulf will soon also be history. Great news!
The amuses were all fun, delicate and very tasty. Amongst the seven, the best was easily the pork crisp with herbs. This bite is truly great, as the balance of flavours and textures is just right!
Once at our table, the first highlight directly hit us: A raw marinated mackerel with gooseberries and cucumber was of the highest standard. Fresh, light, and full of delicate flavours, this starter was as good as it was beautiful. Of course, Kobe’s seafood is still of sublime quality, and this did not disappoint. Very good!
A modified and enhanced version of the lobster with buttermilk was also served. Again, the crustacean was perfectly cooked: tender, yet crunchy and it had tons of flavour. The combination with the buttermilk foam and herbs is terrific and so good that one doesn’t even miss a lobster jus. Outstanding.
Then, a plate of various young vegetables from the farms surrounding the restaurant struck my attention. This also showed what skill is present here. Each of the vegetables had its distinct taste, and worked beautifully with the others. The cream of the local (Keiemtaler) cheese gave a link that bound it all together, a great dish.
On to the main courses: First up a piece of pork neck with herbs. Simple, yet incredibly tasty and tender it was juicy (cooked in salt, if memory serves me correctly) and melted like butter. The accompanying elements all added complementing flavours or textures making this an absolutely perfect dish. The only slight criticism I have here is that a little sauce wouldn’t hurt. Three drops on the plate isn’t quite as delicious as a whole pot. Yet, in this case things worked better than I anticipated, due to the meat’s very juicy flesh. Excellent.
However, the dish of the day, one of the very best of the year was about to come: A pigeon stuffed with hay and served with beetroot. This was truly special. Simple, no minimalistic in its way, it arrived without the slightest element to distract from the two products. The pigeon was undoubtedly the star in this dish, as it was packed full of flavour (he lets the bateau sit with hay for a week or so) and had everything from gamey to smoky notes. Cooked absolutely perfectly, without the slightest shade of grey, it came bare as it was. All that was added were a few slivers of beetroot. The latter was marinated and added a slightly sour and sweet note to this incredibly complex dish. Needless to say that the bird was of such tenderness that you hardly needed a knife… Stunning!
Thus we ended with three light and refreshing desserts. As In de Wulf is not fully experienced if you don’t stay there, we simply went to our rooms and slept. On the next morning, a lovely breakfast awaits the sleepy guests, and makes sure you get enough power for the road back to wherever you came from. All one can say is that this restaurant is fantastic. But it is more than just a restaurant: Spend a day here with dinner and a night, and you will have saved yourself a holiday and spa trip. It is that relaxing. Furthermore, Kobe is building his own style, even if some of the amuses share similarities with some of Noma’s, he really pushes the boundaries of the Flemish terroir. Such commitment needs to be applauded, and all I can advise you to do is go here, it is amazing.