Hof van Cleve – third visit

And so our mini-splurge on fancy restaurants while the kids are away at camp comes to an end with a return trip to an old favourite: Hof van Cleve.

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As soon as we went through the door they gifted us a couple of branded hand cleanser sprays. Clients kept their masks on at all times when they got up from the table to move around (i.e. to go to the bathroom, or to leave), and only removed them when seated and eating or drinking. Staff had large fabric masks on at all times. Interestingly, the Belgian government is now advising against using the minimalist plastic mouth coverings we saw recently in L’air du temps.

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Predictably, we opted for the seven course tasting menu.

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But first the amuse bouches. Bouillabaisse, tomato, red pepper:

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Tartlet of eel, cottage cheese, fennel:

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Salty butter and a chunky knife:

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Given a choice of bread I opted for two flavoured with Orval and Duvel beer:

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Herring, earl grey, apple:

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Beef, miso, horzeradish:

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Oyster, tapioca, herbs:

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And now onto the menu proper. Langoustine with sorrel, cucumber and matcha:

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Langoustine with verbena and edamame:

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Shrimp, watercress sauce, caviar, sour cream. The shapes around the edge are cauliflower but I don’t think they added much in terms of flavour:

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Cod, leek, lovage, mussel:

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All this time I had been quaffing generous amounts of wine. My wife, who was driving, had an alternative pairing of non-alcoholic drinks, which I think is becoming more common. This one is verjus with a ginger ice sphere:

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At one point we jokingly asked the waiter how they kept their glasses so clean, with none of the cloudy residue we sometimes get in our dishwasher. Did they wash them by hand? No, it turns out that they use a “reverse osmosis dishwasher“.

Eel, fennel, celery, quinoa:

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For the meat we were asked to pick a knife handle:

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I chose one that looked like bone. I was then told that it was made from a fossilised walrus penis bone.

Bone appetit!

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Holstein beef, aubergine, sucrine lettuce:

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Accompanied by an intensely flavoured oxtail dumpling:

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We skipped the cheese course so as to leave room for dessert, although when I saw (and more to the point smelled) the cheese trolley passing by I did have second thoughts.

Dessert started with strawberries, buckthorn, elderflower and lemon:

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Mexican chocolate mousse with mango:

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And then another trolley with even more sweets. I had a slice of banana pie and a small bowl of rice pudding, which is something I haven’t eaten since I was a child. I could have done with a bigger bowl.

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The end. The next day they closed for the summer, although they’re only taking a week off this year, as opposed to the usual three, so as to try and make up for the months they had to stay closed during lockdown.

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Le Pristine

The first time we ate in a Sergio Herman restaurant was in Oud Sluis back in 2007. Last week he opened a new, Italian-themed restaurant in Antwerp called Le Pristine.

We arrived at lunchtime and were led past the bar into a large open dining area lined with concrete and exposed brickwork.

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Idiosyncratic decor included deformed glitterballs and this tower of parmesan moulds.

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The back yard. Maybe they use it for cocktail evenings or private events?

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You can see the kitchen from the dining area, allowing you to watch the staff at work cooking and plating up.

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Sergio himself was there to lend a hand and supervise.

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Surprisingly there were no set menus on offer, so we had to go à la carte.

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We started with a black truffle negroni. The branded ice cube almost filled the whole glass.

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We also had to make our own selection of amuse bouches. We chose the sharing platter, which meant that it took longer to arrive, but it was worth it.

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Oysters with straciatella cheese and grapefruit.

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Raw langoustine.

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Crab salad with sour cream and caviar.

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BBQ Vongole.

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Courgette flower. A lot of these tasters were based around seafood paired with citric and acidic flavours. Quite light and fresh in the mouth.

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They also make their own focaccia. Like most places outside of Italy they make it a lot thicker and drier than the original, but it was light and fluffy and tasty.

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My first proper course was a tomato salad with aubergine and burrata.

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To accompany the rest of the meal we chose a light, pinkish red. The name may have swayed us a little. Apparently it’s made by the guy who used to be sommelier at noma.

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For the pasta course we shared gnocchi with mussels and ‘nduja. The gnocchi were a little large and loose, but the flavours were there.

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My wife’s sashimi with seaweed and caviar.

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My main dish was young chicken (poussin) with farfalle and summer vegetables. The veg were nice and crunchy, but the farfalle were a little soft. Perfectly acceptable, but nothing spectacular. Although maybe that’s my fault for ordering chicken.

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We went for a cheese course instead of dessert. A forest of chicory.

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And inside, gorgonzola, pear mostarda and walnut.

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Followed by espresso. Something about the overlapping lines around the rim and the splashes above them caught my eye.

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And this came with some pralines and an interesting cannolo with ricotta and buckthorn seaweed.

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So, don’t go expecting traditional Italian food, as this is very much a modern Flemish take, incorporating many local ingredients. But it’s a winning combination, and I’m sure we’ll be back to try some of the other dishes we didn’t have time for.

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La Paix

Our first visit to La Paix, situated just opposite the Anderlecht market. Some distancing measures in place (more space between tables than usual, by the look of it), and staff wearing face masks.

View of the kitchen from our table:
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Fancy knives laid out on the table. Not explicitly assigned to a specific course, and in fact I never used mine as there was no course involving a large piece of meat to carve.

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The menu we chose:

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Some amuse-bouches. Gyoza in broth.

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Beef cheeks, parmesan, wagyu beef strip.

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Aubergine and bottarga cream.

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Three types of butter with our bread. Right to left: normal, rosemary, mushroom.

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A lemon. But wait…

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Caviar inside. And that’s not all…

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Tuna, stracciatella and courgette.

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A kohlrabi. But wait…

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Mussels, celery and daikon inside. Cold and very refreshing.

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A savoury canelé with sauce made from the head of a langoustine, and some al dente peas and beans.

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The main course. Lobster tail and claw, clam with mint and seaweed, a blob of squid ink sauce, and a rice roll. An unusual mixture of things to put on the plate together, but all very nice.

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Peach, miso and soufflé.

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Meringue, cream and strawberry.

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Various biscuits.

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Ice cream and cherries.

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Very satisfying. I’ll go again.

L’air du temps – post coronavirus visit

With the exception of a quick trip to a local food court for some fast food snacks, this was our first meal out since the coronavirus lockdown, and we decided to make a return trip to L’Air Du Temps. Our first trip in 2008 had been a bit of a mixed bag, but he made a much stronger impression with his residency at The Cube in 2011.

Since our last visit they’d moved to new, larger premises.

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Similar to Hertog Jan, the dining room looks out over a large herb and vegetable garden.

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The interior. Each table had a large bread cracker suspended above it. Note the apparatus on the bearded waiter’s chin.

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Here’s a closer look. It’s a more minimal version of the visors some shop and restaurant staff are wearing at the moment. A little too minimal, in my view, although the chin mount is handy.

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We were given a herby aperitif. For the rest of the meal my wife had the wine pairings, and because I was driving I had the non-alcoholic options. This usually meant various herbal infusions, made with things like verbena, pear, satay, and harissa.

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We selected the seven course Plant Supremacy menu.

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Amuse-bouches: peas.

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Cauliflower. Slightly spicy and quite tasty.

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Pear and ham.

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Shrimp (somewhere under all the leaves and petals).

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Here’s the first proper course: seasonal vegetables.

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The fish course came in three portions. Trout in kombucha.

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Marinated cabbage with roasted quinoa.

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And this little roll which contained some of the trout fat.

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The lobster course. The tail on a bed of rice.

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And the claw served with fromage frais, candied lemon and almond satay.

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A strawberry. This was listed on the menu as “edible mojito”, and supposedly had been soaked in rum, verbena and mint. To me it just tasted like a cold strawberry.

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Duck.

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A bit more duck, with some beans.

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The cheese course, presented in a roll of potato skin. Almost entirely tasteless.

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Two strawberry desserts, both of which were very nice.

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A little box of goodies to go with coffee.

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Overall my impression of chef Sang-Hoon Degeimbre hasn’t changed since the last time. His presentations are exquisite and he has a lot of interesting ideas, using unusual ingredients in unexpected combinations. But it all feels a bit abstract and intellectual, and nothing we ate really made me want to eat it again. Except perhaps the dessert.

Da Vittorio

A 20th anniversary, while you happen to be in north Italy for the holidays was as good an excuse as any to visit 3 Michelin-starred Da Vittorio, just outside Bergamo.

We arrived at dusk and settled in to our room. Here’s the view:

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The hotel was fairly tasteful and the service exceptional. We were very well taken care of. After a brief rest we went down to the dining room. The table lamps were fun.

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Less fun was the fact that the spotlight shining onto my table was above and behind my head, casting a shadow over whatever dish was put in front of me. I guess it’s not always easy to know where to place spots when the tables may often be moved around to accommodate different numbers of diners, but it’s a minor irritant for those of us (i.e. everyone, these days) who like to take pictures of their dinner.

We took a look at the menus and wavered between the fishy menu and the truffly menu. My wife chose the truffles, and it would have felt weird anyway to be up in the mountains three hours from the coast and order fish (although I’m sure it’s perfectly fine).

Just as we were choosing, the waiters came along and offered a sniff of their truffle box, as if to say “Go on, you want the truffle menu, don’t you?” I notice they didn’t bring along a box of fresh fish for us to smell. Also, my wife got to inhale the tuberous odour but I was roundly ignored.

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Decision made, we got started on the starters. Spelt soup with sea snails, and pumpkin cream with goat’s cheese and bacon.

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A cannolo filled with ricotta crumble and chestnuts, topped with truffle shavings.

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Cauliflower, scampi, egg yolk, mushroom and potato cream, with a croissant. We were encouraged to view this as a breakfast, and to dunk our croissant into the savoury “cappuccino”. Nice.

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Mushroom and celery consommé, topped with a foie gras disc which we had to push down into the liquid inside the cup. And some truffle.

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Service was mostly fine throughout the meal, with a couple of minor hiccoughs. One of the waiters seemed to take himself rather seriously and was fairly solemn throughout. But my wife kept commenting on the fact that his jacket was too tight (and not in a sexy way). The other, more junior staff member was a bit more relaxed and friendly. I’m not sure whose fault it was, but they served one of the wine selection with the wrong course. It felt weird as we drank it after the consommé, as the sweet, strong alcohol clashed with the delicate flavours of the food. They realised their mistake and apologised, replacing it with a glass of the correct wine. So basically we got a glass of the “wrong” wine for free.

The only other complaint we had was that they were still playing Christmas songs on the restaurant sound system, even though it was already January 3rd, which just felt wrong. On the other hand it was the first time I’d heard Cliff Richard and Shakin’ Stevens being played in Italy.

Linguine with hazelnut crumble and truffles.

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The food had been coming fairly thick and fast, which we usually prefer, but this time it was a bit rushed and although we didn’t say anything, I think one of the constantly loitering waiters noticed our expressions as another dish arrived (as if to say “Wow, so soon? Give me a chance to catch my breath”), and so gently suggested that we might like a short pause.

With the next course we had a spectacular Barolo, which was even better on the nose than the palate. In fact I had quite a lot to drink that evening, and I felt it the next morning. The sommelier was fine, although he basically just read the labels to us and didn’t offer any kind of explanation or tasting notes.

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Semolina gnocco with parmesan foam. And truffle.

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Perhaps my favourite dish of the night, due to the robust flavours and textures after a series of rather, soft, creamy dishes: veal fillet with potato and foie gras.

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As it was the holidays they offered us a few small slices of home-made pandoro and panettone with ice cream and chocolate. Then came the brioche with whipped cream and truffle.

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And that was it for the truffles. On reflection, we probably should have gone either à la carte or for the fish course. Truffle is fine if used sparingly and as an ingredient, but when just shaved on top of another dish the flavour doesn’t really come through and it feels like eating small discs of musty paper. It reminded me a bit of a similar meal we’d had in Piedmont some years before.

Dessert: “fig” of ricotta and chocolate crumble.

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The most fun presentation of the evening: a candy floss mountain featuring various little sweets. I picked at the candy floss for quite a while.

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MORE sweets.

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They did have a cheese trolley, but I wasn’t given the option, maybe because we chose the extensive truffle menu? It’s probably just as well, as I couldn’t have fit it in, but I’d like to have been asked.

And then we waddled up to bed and slept like babies. The next morning outside the breakfast room I noticed this amazingly well decorated marzipan version of the staff as they celebrate their restaurant’s 50th anniversary.

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Hertog Jan: The End

At the start of this year I read online that what I consider to be the best restaurant in Belgium, and even one of the best in the world, was closing down. The partners who run Hertog Jan announced that they would close their doors at the end of 2018. Their reasoning is one I’ve heard before in this industry, along the lines of “We’ve reached the top and achieved all we set out to achieve, so now it’s time to try something new”.

Having eaten there twice before, we snapped up the opportunity to go a third and final time. We arrived on foot, as our lodgings were only a 15-minute walk away. We settled in, please to see that we’d been given the table by the window, like last time. The restaurant filled up quickly; both it and the B’n’B are fully booked until the end of the year.

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We chose the special menu which was a kind of “greatest hits” package of the chef’s favourite dishes, plus wine, and we got a free recipe book thrown in.

Before the menu proper we received five amuse-bouches, and because Gert De Mangeleer is a millennial the first one was avocado, with tomato powder, salt and olive oil.

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Marinated cucumber strips curled around salmon with a jus of champagne and dill oil.

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Pork and pickles. There was a surprisingly large lump of meat under the pork scratching layer on top.

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Potato purée, vanilla, coffee and mimolette cheese. We’d had this one last time too.

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At this point we were invited into the kitchen (no special treatment: everyone had their turn) for a brief look at the prep work.

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While there we were handed our final amuse-bouche: passion fruit meringue containing goose liver and Coca-Cola.

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We were then invited to walk around the gardens with a glass of lemonade. As you can see it’s a serious herb and vegetable plot.

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The red tiled roof is the kitchen; the black low building is the restaurant.

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It was nice to get some fresh air, but it was quite fresh so we didn’t tarry and went back inside for the starters.

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Caviar and plankton on dill-dusted crisps.

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The sun came out just in time for the next dish: sea bass with herbs from the garden, tomatoes, radishes and oil infused with Balinese kaffir lime.

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Pumpkin dim sum with cream of langoustine and a dollop of passion fruit.

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Grilled white asparagus with potato purée and cod roe.

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Guinea fowl with herbs, sorrel and morel mushroom. Perhaps the most plate-lickable dish of the evening. The sauce was amazing.

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The main course: wagyu beef and spicy peppers hiding underneath mushroom discs. The orange blobs are Bernadine sauce (basically béarnaise but with added tomato).

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While my wife opted for the cheese plate I had raspberry mousse with vanilla and rose water.

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And finally, a surprisingly thick and chewy caramel sheet over passion fruit and chocolate.

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At the end of the meal one of the partners stopped by for a chat and discussed their future plans, which are still in flux, but which may include a more traditional Belgian-style bistro back in their initial location nearer Brugge. Whatever they do next, Hertog Jan will be missed, and I’m glad we got to go once, let alone three times.

Piazza Duomo

Piazza Duomo is currently ranked 15th best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine. It’s located in the centre of the small Piemontese town of Alba. We arrived around 1pm and in view of the evening’s plans didn’t want a huge lunch, so we just stopped for a glass of wine and some nibbles.

The nibbles were slightly more copious than anticipated.

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We were staying a a room above the restaurant, so when we emerged ready for dinner all we had to do was walk a few metres down the corridor to a discreetly marked door into the restaurant.

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The next morning I discovered the main entrance around the corner.

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The dining room is small and very pink. Not overly keen on the murals, personally.

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Various menu options. We chose “degustazione +”, which added two surprise dishes to the normal tasting menu.

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I didn’t take many notes so don’t expect detailed descriptions. Think yourselves lucky I took photos. There was a spotlight behind me that cast irritating shadows of my phone onto the food, so I had to experiment with different angles to get anything usable. There was a selection of pre-starter starters. This was an intriguing savoury creme caramel.

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Some kind of sesame seed cracker.

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More crackers.

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Olives which are not really olives, as they’re made of small rolled lumps of, respectively, shrimp and veal.

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Another olive, this time flattened out and rolled up and filled with ricotta.

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An anchovie cracker.

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Chard sponge with a blob of tuna inside. Just slightly too big to get comfortably in the mouth in one bite.

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In the background, a foie gras mousse with ginger and grapefruit. In the foreground, a peanut cracker. God, this chef loves crackers, doesn’t he?

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The first proper, menu dish was a large selection of vegetables (plus a blob of fish: cod with yellow peppers and salsa verde). At top left are artichoke and avocado, and the salad at bottom left contains raschera cheese.

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Below is the only dish I really didn’t enjoy. Thin slices of raw sea urchin with tomato, water and gelatine. Sea urchin is a very strong flavour and not my favourite at the best of times, and serving it raw in gelatine only made matters worse. The name of the dish is “CapRiccio”, which is a multi-layered pun. “Riccio” is Italian for sea urchin, “capriccio” means caprice (as in pizza capricciosa) and thin slices of raw meat or fish are called “carpaccio”.

The name is more fun than the dish.

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It was accompanied by a blackened (yet soft in the mouth) bruschetta with calamari and sea urchin sauce, topped with dried seaweed. Much nicer.

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Next is the only dish for which I can confidently supply an exhaustive list of ingredients, because they gave it to us themselves. Chef Crippa’s signature dish is “Salad 21…31…41…51”, so named because it can contain anywhere up to 100 ingredients depending on the season and availability. 

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We were given a pair of tweezers with which to eat it, which makes sense as the leaves are so varied and distinct in their flavours that you need to try each one individually. The top layers were quite dry, but towards the bottom there was a light mandarine dressing. It looks quite small but there was a lot of interesting stuff in a compact and dense dish, and it took a while to get through it all. But it was probably the most interesting thing we ate all evening, and proof of the idea that food isn’t always about cooking and fancy methods as much as it’s about choosing great ingredients.

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By this point we were already pretty full, thanks to the vegetable selection and the epic salad. Thankfully the next courses were quite light.

Cod cooked at low temperature, in a cod reduction. With some flowers on top. Soft and creamy, but a little basic.

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Shrimp with spring onion and bisque. And flowers.

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Asparagus with béarnaise sauce. And flowers.

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Potato purée (very liquidy) with a dusting of Lapsang Souchong powder and a quail egg underneath.

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A surprisingly tough morsel of lamb hiding under a lettuce leaf, with some mushroom broth in the cup in the background.

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Wine.

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Another of our favourite dishes: risotto with parmesan cheese, caviar, mastic (a type of small black berry) and squid ink spray. Very yummy and I’d have happily sacrificed the lamb and cod courses in exchange for a larger portion of this.

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My notes run out here, but this is the final course and it’s not on the menu so it must have been one of the extra, surprise ones.

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The main dessert was a beautifully light, crunchy “crepe caramel”. Not too sweet.

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More dessert nibbles.

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And to go with your chocolates, a tiny bottle of vanilla milk and grappa.

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There are some very inventive things on this menu but maybe I’d have preferred a shorter meal focussed more on Crippa’s strengths (which appear to be vegetables and salad, interestingly), and without the underwhelming fish and meat courses. Probably the best way to do it would be to go à la carte and just have the starters and the mega-salad.

And some flowers.

Random Japanese curiosities

Last piece on Japan for a while, I promise. This one’s just a collection of stuff that wouldn’t fit neatly into a coherent, themed post.

Electricity cables in the UK were undergrounded (yes that is a verb) a while ago, but in Japan they’re still all out in the open on top of poles. An awful lot of them.

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Most of the cars I saw in Japan were this snub-nosed, compact and boxy type. The engine mut be pretty small.

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One of the large chains of booksellers in Japan is called “Book Off”, which doesn’t make it sound particularly welcoming. But this time I found out that they also sell secondhand hardware in a sister chain called “Hard Off”, which sounds even less family-friendly.

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This place, on the other hand, has the perfect name:

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At most shinto shrines you can write a wish on a wooden card and hang it up on a rack.

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A snack store in Harajuku pre-empted my own reaction to the description of its wares.

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Many of the clothes stores in Harajuku specialise in the Goth/Lolita/Alice In Wonderland fashion sub-culture, although this place seems to cater to even more obscure splinterings. “Qutie Frash”? Or maybe that’s the name of the brand? I didn’t go inside the check.

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Cat cafés. They’re a thing outside of Japan too now, and even Brussels has one. We visited one that specialised in Bengal cats and featured a faux jungle decor to complete the vibe.

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Another café in Kobe even offered an unique real/virtual cat combination.

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Other animals are available. We also saw ads for otter cafés, although a lot of these placed feature obviously doped animals, charge extortionate entrance fees and don’t even offer much in the way of coffee.

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Idiosyncratic use of English is another Japanese cliché, but this one in particular caught my eye. No way you’d get away with a magazine title like that in an English-speaking market.

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Finally, two videos. One of the famously busy pedestrian crosssing in Shibuya. I crossed it a few times and there was always a large number of people (including myself obviously) filming or photographing as they crossed. Some of them even stop to sit on the floor to get a selfie of the crowds swirling around them.

And on one occasion there was a very un-Japanese commotion as a car attempted to drive through the crowd at speed, right past me, honking its horn repeatedly. As it passed I noticed the guy in the passenger seat reclined, covered with a coat and with his eyes closed, which led me to the assumption that he was injured and his friend the driver was taking him to a hospital. Police gave chase on foot, and I think they managed to get it to stop just after the crossing but I never saw the conclusion so I don’t know if they arrested them or let them continue on their way once they’d established what was happening.

And here’s a minute of Japanese cityscape scrolling past a train window. I don’t know about you but I could watch this kind of thing all day.

Itadakemasu!

I’ve already blogged about food experiences in Japan, so I won’t repeat (m)any of those observations here. As before, this is a fairly random collection of foods and restaurants from our recent trip, with no overall theme or message.

One of the first places we ate in was chosen with the kids in mind, and the food was probably the least important part of the experience. Kawaii Monster Café is located in Harajuku, and is probably a perfect distillation of the kind of colourful, playful pop culture for which that Tokyo district is best known. It sits on the top floor of a shopping mall on the main street, and the queue to enter is usually quite long. I’d managed to book a table in advance and so we walked right in, and as soon as the doors opened the loudness (both in terms of music and colour) hit us right in the face.

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This should give a better idea:

In the centre of the room sits a cake-shaped podium. These ladies spend most of the time wandeing around, posing for photos with the diners, but once you’ve finished eating they climb aboard the cake and spend about 15 minutes dancing to loud J-pop songs. But even louder was the hostess who spent the almost the entire duration of their routine screeching into a microphone. I have no idea what she was saying but I don’t think I missed much of any importance.

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The food itself is colourful but bland. Basically fast food with added psychedelic colouring.

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Although I like the idea of a dessert that looks like it’s trying to eat you.

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Go for the novelty and the “vibe”, not the food.

Coffee is easy to find in Japan. Good coffee, not so easy. Even the Starbucks drinks taste a little different there, and when we were on the go I usually found it easier to just grab one from a machine. Kind of disgusting if you’re expecting it to taste like normal coffee, and usually very sweet, but I developed a bit of a habit nonetheless. Also, I know that in some places frappuccino is a thing, but Japan is the only place I’ve been where they systematically ask you when you order a coffee if you want it hot or cold.

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One drink they do well, obviously, is saké. At dinner one night we were served saké “sosogi-koboshi” style, which basically means that the glass is filled until it overflows into a little box underneath. The origins of this practice are shrouded in mystery and some people object to it for hygiene reasons. I didn’t object and greedily slurped it all up. Further explanations here.

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In the same restaurant the menu was an interesting read. There was some discussion about the difference between “guts” and “entrails”, and puzzlement over “entrails upwards”. My personal favourite is the contrast between danger and delicacy in the description “Shark cartilage dressed with plum pulp”.

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I also like number 10 below, which manages to be both very specific and frustratingly vague at the same time.

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I’ve written before about my appreciation for okonomiyaki, and in Hiroshima I got to try a local variation. Most of the recipe is the same, with savoury pancakes, shredded cabbage, some optional extras like bacon and cheese.

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But in Hiroshima they also add a layer of fried noodles in the middle, before topping it all with a brushful of that dark, sweet okonomi sauce.

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Sashimi is pretty.

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Especially when served in a mirrored bowl.

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Tempura too, although I’m more used to seeing shrimp and beans than these strangely formed mushrooms:

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Finally, we wandered one night just off the fringes of Shinjuku, into a neighbourhood of narrow lanes full of small bars and even smaller restaurants. We chose a ramen noodle bar.

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We were told to wait outside in the adjacent alleyway until some space freed up.

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Inside there was room for about ten diners. Note the tissue boxes above their heads.

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The options were limited and basically consisted of minor variations on a bowl of noodles topped with pork. Prices depended on the quality of pork used, and whether or not you wanted some extra toppings. The waiter punched your order into this machine and you paid by inserting cash. The priciest dish on the menu: the “Super Golden Unbelievable Niboshi Ramen”, is around €12.

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This picture behind the bar gave you some idea of what to expect. I’m sure it says lots of other things too but I can’t read kanji.

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Served with a large sheet of nori (pressed, dried seaweed). The broth was amazingly rich and tasty, the noodles slightly al dente (you could choose how soft or hard you wanted them when you placed your order). Very satisfying.

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Sakura

Sakura is a big deal in Japan. Sakura being the word for cherry blossom, that is. And they even have a word which specifically means ‘looking at cherry blossoms’: ‘hanami’.

Every year the progress of the blossoms across the country is obsessively tracked, trees are judged for the percentage of blossom, and large group outings are organised to the most photogenic spots. The last time we were in Japan, in 2008, we only caught the end of the display when it was starting to fade, but this time we got lucky and arrived at peak blossom. We also got to see something we’d missed the last time: night-time sakura.

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And of course when one is viewing sakura at night, one must celebrate with a glass of single serving ‘One Cup’ saké from the local convenience store.

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But daylight is probably still the best way to see the flowers, and again we got lucky with several days of warmth and sunshine. Local parks were packed.

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Photography is essential #hanami #sakura #nofilter

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“Quick, take a photo of me taking a photo of the sakura!”

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The next two photos were taken by my daughter.

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Large bins are provided to collect all the refuse generated by the wild partying. Some groups even picnic directly on these large plastic sheets, and then pick the whole thing up and dump it in here afterwards. TV news features rolling coverage of the extent of the blossoms and the size of the crowds.

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Although there’s always one straggler who’s reluctant to leave…

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