Archive for the ‘restaurants- Belgiums’ Category

In de Wulf, Dranouter

novembre 24, 2010

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.

Publicités

Dôme, Antwerpen

octobre 3, 2010

Julien Burlat’s CV reads like a dream for any chef, or food-lover: He has worked with Pacaud at L’Ambroisie, Ducasse and Gagnaire. You will have trouble finding a chef, who can boast more highly-renowned chefs as his previous employers. However, when eating in his beautiful restaurant, Dome in Antwerp, one has trouble seeing the craziness of a Gagnaire, the baroque classicism of a Pacaud or the very precise, bold cooking of Ducasse in his food. What struck me was the very simple, nearly rustic approach to the dishes here.

Take for instance a mackerel starter. Served raw, a piece of fish came with nothing else but a few beets and some slivers of fresh hazelnut. Now, that is what one can call minimalism, real minimalism. Whilst having been « warned » about the food’s simplicity, I did not expect it to be that pure. However, seeing that it was a beautiful match with the wine, and marked a delightful start to the menu, I was more than happy to be eating dishes such as this.

The next dishes were in the same style, one that I very much enjoy, but one that can shock you if you are expecting food in the modern and complex style of most other serious Belgian chefs. One cannot cook for everyone and Burlat serves assertive and rather clever food that is a dream come true to wine lovers and purists at the same time. The combinations always work, the flavours are there, and the products are of very fine quality. The best example of this was a plate of shrimp with tomatoes and a pistou. Basically it was a tomato salad with prawns. However, what made it work was the fantastic quality of prawns. These are delivered alive to the restaurant, and thus have a fantastic flavour and texture. It is because of the product that this rather risky style of cooking works at Dome.

The tastiest plate of food, by far, was a roast pigeon from the Vendée, served with girolles, sweet peppers and Jabugo ham. Here you had very autumnal flavours that were incredibly pure and bold. The pigeon was beautifully cooked, with intense flavour and good accompanying elements. There was a charred note, that I absolutely adored, and the few drops of pan-juices were quite simply perfect for this rustic dish. Fantastic.

After such great dishes, came a real treat: Burlat’s version of Pacaud’s famous chocolate tart. Light as air, with a delicate crust it was pure heaven. After having eaten this, I can only imagine how divine the « original » must be. It was a perfect end to a perfect evening.

I loved Dome, the food is simple, without false pretense and simply gorgeous.  The service was fantastic, friendly, warm, and very relaxed the brigade provides you with a great experience throughout the evening. Finally, another reason for coming here would be the wine. Wouter de Bakker is a young, extremely talented and passionate sommelier (best sommelier of Belgium after all!). One like not very many, and one that works very hard. He constructed a wine list to die for here, with a lot of natural wines, and a few classics, that are priced more than friendly. We decided to go with the matching glasses, but I couldn’t resist ordering half a bottle of 2005 Chateauneuf du Pape blanc from Clos des Papes. Whilst not all of the wines of the wine menu were to my taste, they all had character, were very individual and interesting. By far the best (apart from the stunning Chateauneuf) was a Crémant du Jura from Stéphane Tissot. This is a wine, which is not even on the market, and here you can drink it by the glass. Fantastic!

All in all, I loved my dinner here. Whilst I would say that the food was a little too simple for more than 1*, I thought that it worked beautifully with the wine, the ambience and the whole feeling of the place. It was a special evening, one which I will not forget for a long time, so I’d recommend anyone to try this place as quickly as possible. After all, stars are not really all that important, and this place shows you why. To conclude, one can think of a French proverb, which says: Sometimes making a simple thing is the hardest to do…

Hertog Jan, Brugge

avril 19, 2010

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.

La Grappe d’or, Torgny

août 18, 2009

 

La Maison

La Maison

 

 

Torgny is Belgium’s southernmost village. It is also called the Provence of Belgium, for exactly this reason. So, when we decided to have a look there, a restaurant, which held a Michelin * and 18p in the Gault Millau for a long time came into mind. This place had just been taken over by a young chef, who trained under Antoine Westermann and Guy Martin (both had 3* at the time).

 

Le jardin

Le jardin

The chef, Clement Petitjean, has chosen his location wisely. His restaurant is in an absolutely beautiful village, and on a day like the one we had, it could well be somewhere behind St Tropez (only with more flowers). The restaurant has a beautiful garden, in which one can have an aperitif and enjoy the sun. 

 

La table

La table

 

 

The meal started on the stunning terrace with a little selection of amuses. These consisted of a fennel sphere, a shot glass filled with foie gras and some beans and an ice cream made out of tomatoes, served with a little marinated sea bream. The fennel sphere was decent if a little tasteless. The foie glass on the other hand, was very good. The tastes were strong, and the foam and beans added another dimension in both flavour and texture. The ice cream or sorbet with the fish was pleasant but too sweet. All in all, not too bad for a 1* restaurant.

 

Amuses

Amuses

Next up came a fennel crisp with a little house made barbeque sauce. This was nicely crunchy and a little smoky, due to the sauce. Good.

 

Fenouil

Fenouil

 

 

Parmesan bread was very good, but the butter had a bizarre taste. Not that it was bad, only somewhat unusual.

 

Le pain

Le pain

 

 

The last pre-meal snack was a courgette cream with a little snail. The presentation is a matter of taste, I found it to look quite ridiculous, but other people at the table didn’t share this feeling. Taste-wise, it could deliver. The courgette was very present and the snail very well prepared. Very good.

 

Courgette

Courgette

The first course was a tartar of lobster with agastache, a cromesquis of herbs and some lime sorbet. This was a very good dish indeed. The lobster wasn’t overcooked and had both good texture and taste. A cromesquis is normally a hot, crunchy croquette, but here, it was merely lukewarm and had lost any sign of crunchiness. The flavour was there, but without the temperature or texture it was rather forgettable. The sorbet and snow were very good, if mixed with the lobster tartar. Again, this was good for a 1*.

 

Homard

Homard

The following was a “signature” of the house. A combination of pig’s trotter, foie gras and sweetbread was served with the jus of braised veal shin and a few asparagus. The problem here was the dry sweetbread. One side was fine, whilst the other was completely overcooked. The foie was perfectly cooked, as were the asparagus (why place them in such a stupid fashion on the plate?). The pig’s trotter only featured in the crisp, which could have been made out of anything and the jus was more a tomato sauce than a veal jus. Mediocre, considering it was supposed to be a classic of the chef.

 

Ris de veau/foie gras

Ris de veau/foie gras

 

 

The fish course was much more successful. A piece of salmon was perfectly cooked and served with black radishes and some emulsion. This was a very fine piece of salmon, which was expertly cooked and accompanied by simple, yet effective garnishes. The kropoek provided the crunch, whilst the radish gave it a little spiciness and the emulsion some airy, light note. Very good.

 

Saumon

Saumon

 

As a main course we had an Anjou Pigeon served with prunes, crunchy cepes and a consommé of  the pigeon’s heart and liver. The meat was cooked perfectly. Un peu moins que rose, as Francois Simon once said. It thus had great texture and tasted brilliantly. The crunchy cepes were useless, as they had absolutely no recognisable flavour, due to the thin shaving that they were. The prune puree was obviously on the rather sweet side of things but didn’t disturb, as the pigeon’s strong, robust flavour worked well with this little refreshing counterpoint. The accompanying consommé was very nice and had some good strength. Don’t ask me what the jelly was supposed to be, as I couldn’t really taste anything, nor did I ask. Very good.

 

Pigeon

Pigeon

 

 

The cheese cart here was very impressive for a rural 1* in the middle of nowhere. They all come from Robert Bedot, as well-known Affineur in Rocquebrune.  I tried around seven and found all of them to be excellent.

 

Les Fromages

Les Fromages

 

 

Also served was a beetroot granite, marinated beetroot and goat’s cheese from the region. This was nice and proved to work well.

 

Chevre

Chevre

 

Pre-dessert was a bourbon vanilla crème brulee. It’s been a long time since I have been served a thing as simple as this, and it brings back tons of memories. Not bad at all.

 

Creme brulee

Creme brulee

 

 

The dessert itself was quite interesting. A few different chocolate preparations played with various confit (sweet) vegetables. Fennel, peas (the green crisp), carrots all worked astonishingly well with the dark chocolate. Not something I would want to eat everyday, but it was good in general.

 

chocolat

chocolat

 

 

Petit-fours were uninspiring and quite bad for most of them. The only good bite was the chocolate dome.

 

Petit fours

Petit fours

 

 

 

All in all, this was a pleasant evening, and was rather affordable (the menu we had was around 70euro). The food itself was good, without being really memorable. The chef can, if he wants go to 2* level, but that remains to be seen. I wouldn’t travel for this place but it definitely deserves that one star.

Hof van Cleve, Kruishoutem

août 10, 2009

 

La Salle

La Salle

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.

 

La terasse

La terasse

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.

 

La table

La table

 

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).

 

Les pains

Les pains

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.

 

Saumon, queue de boeuf

Saumon, queue de boeuf

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.

 

Hareng

Hareng

 

 

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.

 

boeuf, hamachi

boeuf, hamachi

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.

 

Grenouille

Grenouille

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.

 

Soupe aux oignons

Soupe aux oignons

 

 

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.

 

Crabe

Crabe

 

 

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.

 

Langoustine

Langoustine

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.

 

Cabillaud

Cabillaud

 

 

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.

 

Langoustine, raviolo

Langoustine, raviolo

 

 

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.

 

Cepes

Cepes

 

 

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.

 

Veau

Veau

 

 

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.

 

Mojito

Mojito

 

 

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.

 

Abricot

Abricot

 

 

 

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.

 

Banane I

Banane I

 

 

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.

 

Banane II

Banane II

 

 

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.

 

Chocolat

Chocolat

 

 

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.

 

Brownie

Brownie

 

 

 Also served were stunning beignets, which I absolutely adored. These were as light as air and simply brought me even closer to heaven.

 

Beignets

Beignets

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.

 

 

Mignardises

Mignardises

 

 

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.

 

La maison

La maison

In de Wulf, Dranouter

juillet 25, 2009

 

La maison

La maison

This one is special. Not only because it takes you quite a while to get there and is literally in the middle of nowhere, but also because the cooking of Kobe Desramaults is absolutely stunning. This young chef, who opened In de Wulf not too long ago, is one of the most interesting chefs in Europe at the moment. But, there isn’t only his cooking here. The place, the atmosphere and the fantastic service all add to the charm of this little piece of heaven. The Hotel’s rooms are simple, TV-less and make you feel well, as does the lovely garden. There can hardly be anything more relaxing than sitting in that garden, whilst you eat a breakfast with great cheese, charcuterie, viennoiseries, bread, fruit,… This is to be seen as a complete experience, as you will be in a different world from your arrival until you leave. I can imagine that a similar (if slightly different) idea is behind Michel Bras’ UFO in Laguiole. 

 

La salle

La salle

The main ideas or characteristics of his kitchen are running through the 20 courses without ever getting lost. The focus of his kitchen is the purity and cleanliness of the flavours. Having worked with Sergio Herman, he knows how to treat fish and crustaceans and has a penchant for beautifully arranged plates. What amazed me here is the sourcing of the products and the great respect with which they are treated. Fish comes from day boats in Boulogne and the Schelde, vegetables and herbs from the own or the neighbour’s garden, butter from the village down the road (Dranouter), cheeses mainly from the region and meat from the valleys and salt marshes close by. This closeness to the surrounding area is further put forward by constructing clean, nearly natural dishes, which can seem minimalist in some cases and highly elaborate in others.

 

La maison II

La maison II

The restaurant’s room is dominated by the contrast of dark and bright colours. It is relatively simple, but has some lovely touches here and there, like the bottle cooler and the fantastic light. The view from our table was also lovely, as we were able to see the sun set over the fields.

 

La table

La table

The service was lovely: personal, charming, attentive, interested, well-informed and always there when needed. When I asked for an end piece of the bread, I was directly obliged and it was made sure that I only saw crusts for the rest of the evening. Those things make the difference between very good and fantastic service.

Bread was great, with a fantastic crust and airy mie. The butter from Dranoutier and salted pork fat were equally good.

To start the meal, we had a few glasses of Champagne and a whole procession of amuses started arriving. I know many don’t like the idea of having a large number of small bites before a meal, but I find it to be one of the most interesting parts, as the chef has all the freedom he wants, in order to express his ideas.

We started with whelks and a mayonnaise of them. The airy mayonnaise accompanied the whelks beautifully. This was fresh and clean, very good.

 

Whelks

Whelks

Next up where a few stunning bites: Pig’s trotter, mimolette and rind of porc, honeyvinegar. The trotter cracker was a pure delight. There are few things I like more than those cuts of meat, and if they are treated in such a fantastic way as here, they just stun you. The mimolette cream worked beautifully with it. Outstanding

In the foreground is the cracker, which was topped with a cream made out of honey vinegar. This was greaseless and offered a nice crunch. Very good.

 

Pork

Pork

After this came a marinated herring with green apple, North Sea crab and sorrel. This was a perfect example of Kobe’s cooking. The herring was of top quality, as was the crab. Despite the fact that I don’t like herring, I must say that I did enjoy this plate. The crab and slight sweetness of the apple provided a lovely contrast. One has to mention that this is a nod to Flanders as herring is a speciality in this part of the world. Very good.

 

Herring

Herring

Next up came a piece of heaven. A round of marinated mackerel was topped with a pastille of herbs. This was bursting with freshness and flavour. An absolutely stunning mackerel, which must have been the best I have come across in a restaurant. The combination with the cool, refreshing herb sorbet was simply brilliant. Outstanding.

 

Mackerel

Mackerel

The last of the series came in form of different vegetables, herbs and flowers from the gardens around the restaurant. This came with a granite of herbs and a Keiemtaler (cheese from a valley close by) cream. It reminded me a little of Andoni Luis Aduriz’s flowers and herbs dish, where he combines them with a Emmentaler cream (not quite sure about that anymore). Here the peas and courgette in particular struck me. They were of stunning quality: minuscule, sweet peas nearly raw didn’t need the least bit of seasoning to bring out their flavour. Very good.

 

Herbs, flowers, vegetables

Herbs, flowers, vegetables

The first dish of the actual menu was Langoustine, potato, lettuce, smoked eel. A round of langoustine tartar came with a lettuce foam, smoked eel and potato salad. The langoustines were very fresh and tasty. The lettuce foam however, was a little underwhelming. It didn’t taste of much at all, but when combined with the langoustine, it wasn’t too bad, giving it an airy, light note. The potato salad and smoked eel combo was great. I usually despise any potato salad, but this one was good. Looking back, this was one of the two weakest courses of the menu, but it still was very good.

 

Langoustine

Langoustine

The second was back on the level of the amuses: Peas, rucola, egg yolk and broth of lard. The tiny peas (even smaller than those of the herb dish) where stunning, when combined with the strong lard broth and the melting yolk. It was just a fantastic mouthful, which was very pure and rewarding. This is one of those dishes that would not work without top quality products. It is great to see a vegetable based that is that good. Excellent.

 

Petit pois

Petit pois

The following dish, North Sea squid, dill, star anise, chervil, was the weakest of them all, at least for me. The presentation was gorgeous, the squid well prepared and of good quality, but the whole seemed a little ridiculous. Had it not been for the great broth, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this at all. The small cubes of squid where too small to give you much pleasure. Considering the quality of the other dishes, it didn’t really bother me that this wasn’t quite my thing. Good.

 

Calamars

Calamars

Grilled sole, watercress, millet, mussels and cockles. I can hardly imagine a better sole dish. The fish was cooked perfectly and had the firm flesh I so much love with sole. This is the kind of product quality one dreams of when sitting in a coastal restaurant, only that here the brigade really knows how to cook, making it even more enjoyable. The accompanying millet (toasted and as a salad), mussels and cockles gave it fantastic background. This was a truly great dish, which I won’t forget all too soon. Outstanding

 

Sole

Sole

The Eastern Schelde lobster, mashed potatoes with buttermilk was equally perfect. I absolutely love lobster, and such a fine specimen will not grace your mouth every day. The pieces were expertly cooked (which means not too much, rather mi-cuit), and burst with flavour. The simple association with the buttermilk potato puree was one of those minimalist presentations that work. It was like a match made in heaven, one didn’t need anything else. Any addition would have distracted your attention. This was innovative, simple, accomplished cooking I hope to find more often these days. Divine.

 

Homard

Homard

Eastern Schelde eel, green celery, jus of eel & honeymead. Another of these outstanding local products that was prepared in the most effective, simple way. The eel was absolutely beautiful and didn’t fail to impress. The jus was also of interest, as it was treated a little like a meat jus. It was slightly sweet, powerful, a little acidic and absolutely beautiful. Outstanding.

 

Anguille

Anguille

Next up came a few meat courses, starting with Braised lard of pork’s belly, pickled vegetables, elderberry. A small rectangle of braised, tender, tasty pork’s belly came with a few shavings of pickled slightly acidic vegetables, a bit of crunchy pork skin and a hint of elderberry syrup or broth. This was so good, that I asked for second helpings, which were even better than the first round. The pork was just fantastic, and worked beautifully with the pickled vegetables as these gave it a sour, slightly sweet counterpoint. Outstanding.

 

Lard

Lard

The second met course of the day was Lamb from “ La Vallee au Ble” cooked in hay, broad beens, turnips. A piece of perfectly cooked lamb, which had an interesting (in a very good way) flavour, thanks to the hay, was accompanied by very good broad beens and two turnip preparations. Very good.

 

Agneau

Agneau

The chef had tried a dish that day, which he served us to see what we think of it. It was an onglet of beef cooked in salt with a cream of garlic. Extremely simple but extremely good. I would not go too far if I said that this was easily the best of the meat dishes we had that day. The beef came from the coast, and had remarkable texture and taste. I was surprised by the fact that it wasn’t overly salty, as it lay in salt without any leaf or so to protect it. Again, this was a most simple, but accomplished dish. Considering that it was a first try, I would like to know what this dish would look like, once it’s ready to go on the menu. Outstanding.

 

Onglet

Onglet

As this was my first visit here, I decided to go for both cheese and dessert. The cheeses are matured by Philippe Olivier and are served with four jams and two new types of bread. All of them were very good, although I didn’t take the names, I preferred the stronger ones (on the right) and found the vieille mimolette to be very good.

 

Fromages

Fromages

The Dessert parade, started with Raspberry, fresh cheese, staranise, chervil. This was a mostly iced dessert, which featured a range of textures reaching from relatively hard pastilles, to delicate snow and the creamy (not iced) raspberry mousse. It was refreshing, not too sweet and very enjoyable. Very good.

 

Framboises

Framboises

Rhubarb, rose hip, sweet woodruff was the second of the three. This was already much more interesting. The different elements all worked beautifully together and created a magnificent mix of tastes and textures. As with both of the others, this dessert was on the refreshing, moderately sweet side of things. Excellent.

 

Roses

Roses

The last was Sorrel, lemon balm, mint, green strawberry. This one was interesting. Definitely the first time I ate sorrel in a dessert, but hopefully not the last. The many elements worked together so well, that all one had in the mouth was a harmonious flavour, rather than a whole cacophony. Excellent.

 

Oseille

Oseille

 

Tea and mignardises were equally good and interesting.

The following morning saw a great breakfast with more good products and lovely service. We left more than happy, with only one wish: Return as soon as possible.

 

This was an absolutely lovely stay, one that I hope to repeat more than once in the future. The reasons are numerous, but mainly there is of course Kobe’s cooking. It is exactly what I could see as an alternative to the “molecular” extravaganzas of some Spanish chefs, as it brings one great products in a most natural, nonetheless innovative way. The food was (with the exception of two courses) absolutely stunning, definitely worth a second star (he already holds 18p in the Gault Millau if I’m not mistaken). It will be interesting to come back in a few months and see how this kitchen evolves, as Kobe seems to be someone as passionate and hard working as one could ever hope to find.

 

A few words about the price, the menu (without the onglet) is no more than euro110, a price, I find more than fair for this kind of cooking. Shorter versions start at 70, and lunch is no more than 45. The wine list is fairly priced for such a restaurant, with many bottles at around 25-35euro. However, as the place is still young, the cellar needs to age and develop a little, as most wines are from the last ten vintages. I would recommend anyone who goes here to stay there, as it is a most unique experience. The rooms are priced at 90 (weekdays) and 130euro (weekends, holidays).

 

Le petit dejeuner

Le petit dejeuner