L’Air Du Temps

L’Air du Temps has been on my restaurant list for a little while now. I’ve read reviews in magazines, seen the recipes on websites and drooled over the photos in the book. Last night we went to see if it could live up to expectations.

After a forty minute drive from Brussels into deepest, darkest Wallonia, we sat down in a smallish, understated, light grey room. As seems to be de rigueur at the moment, I could peer into the kitchen from where I was seated and watch the chef at work. Not that I spent the whole evening gazing at him as he plated up, you understand. I had a lovely dining companion with whom to exchange bon mots. However I did notice that instead of a notice board, they simply write in marker pen on the white tiles on the walls (click photo for a larger version on flickr).

 

I liked the textures of the tablecloth and the cracker slotted into a little stone stand.

 

So we went, as usual, for one of the tasting menus. Our first amuse-bouche was a fennel gel with winkles, topped with a Granny Smith apple foam. Sharp and refreshing – a good start.

 

Next – smoked eel with a slice of some kind of tomato I’d never heard of before, razor clam and a blob of strawberry goo (look at me, using all the correct gastronomical terminology!).

 

Then a small, sweet cone filled with foie gras mayonnaise. Yum.

 

Finally a soft-boiled egg, with passion fruit, an artichoke foam, and a spicy bread “soldier”. This one was slightly disappointing, the flavours kind of getting lost in each other.

 

The first “proper” course was a salad, but in fact it was one of the most distinctive and successful dishes of the evening. The green swoosh is rocket, the brown blob at the top is a “caviar” of aubergine, the small orange flowers were surprisingly flavoursome, and there were also a couple of mushrooms hidden underneath.

 

The first fish course: a cube of salmon; crusty on top, cooked in the middle, raw at the bottom. Plus a tartare of minced salmon in a roll of cucumber. The black swoosh is squid ink mayonnaise, the crunchy teardrop shape on top of the tartare is beetroot and juice from a Japanese citrus fruit called yuzu was drizzled on top. Interesting juxtaposition of textures in this dish…

 

The second fish course was lobster, and this is the first time when I felt that Monsieur Degeimbre had come a cropper. My wife disagreed, claiming that the combination of lobster and cherry worked well, but…well, it just didn’t work for me. I liked the vanilla jus, the lobster itself and at one point I took a mouthful of cold cherry ice cream and warm rice together and that was a surprisingly pleasant combination. But I get the impression that some chefs these days, in search of wild and wacky new combinations, simply throw random, or even deliberately incongruous ingredients into their dishes. Degeimbre in particular never seems satisfied with a savoury dish unless he’s plonked some fruit on top. I think it’s also partly a question of fashion, the same way that at recent points in the past everyone was making Ferran Adria-style ‘foams”, or adding a dab of wasabi paste.

 

The first meat course. The disc on top was saffron-flavoured, but it had an unfortunate polystyrene texture which made it rather difficult to chew. The langoustine underneath it was fine, but the sauce contained far too much dill. The fried sweetbreads were nice though, and this time the blob of fruit compote on top added something.

 

The second meat course. The Porsche-desgined steak knife was a nice touch.

 

Carpaccio of beef with a hijiki seaweed sauce (surprisingly peppery). The white blobs are “ravioli” of puréed potato and ginger, which delicately burst in the mouth. Very pleasant.

 

Now this was an interesting twist on the traditional cheese course: soft brie on a biscuit base, a bubble of balsamic vinegar and a white cheese and rose-flavoured sorbet. Lovely. Oh, and the crumbs in the middle? Space Dust, of course. That’s the third time we’ve had Space Dust in a restaurant. I spot a trend…

 

The first dessert: strawberries and cucumber ice cream. Pleasant enough, but not spectacular.

 

The second dessert. Raspberries on gelatine (meh), and a gorgeously creamy agastache ice cream. With Space Dust underneath. Ok, you can calm down with the Space Dust now, please. I was half expecting them to serve it with the coffee too, instead of sugar. By the way, here‘s how not to eat Space Dust.

 

Test tubes full of fruit and flowers. I think the waiter referred to this as a “vertical garden” or something.

 

The final dessert: apricot purée, peanut-flavoured maccaroons, and a creamy pistachio cake. All very nice, and it was good to end with something light and flavoursome. Many Belgian restaurants go overboard with tonnes of creamy, chocolatey, heavy gooey desserts, leaving you feeling heavy and bloated, but after this meal we were sated but not stuffed.

 

So, some very interesting dishes, a few (in my humble opinion) honourable failures, and some disappointingly bland wines. To my taste he’s too keen on acidity and sharp fruit, but I’d certainly go back at some point as he obviously has talent and a lot of ideas.

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14 thoughts on “L’Air Du Temps

  1. Norm July 11, 2008 / 9:01 am

    Mate… Granny Smith Apple foam…? Caviar of Aubergine…?! Seriously!?!? Call me a philistine (which you may well do!) but is eating foam not a little unfulfilling? Wouldn’t you prefer potato of chips with sauce of tomato and meat of steak?

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  2. simon July 11, 2008 / 9:06 am

    Taken individually many of these courses may seem wispy and insubstantial, but if you eat a dozen of them in succession you start to fill up, believe me.
    As for potato of chips, yes, I have been known to partake

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  3. Erik R. July 11, 2008 / 12:00 pm

    Excellent write-up! Space Dust is a much cooler term than Pop Rocks.

    Do you wait for the waiter to leave before pulling out the camera? I wonder if they are used to people snapping photos of each dish. I always feel self-conscious doing things like that. And does your wife think you’re a bit weird for taking pictures of the food? Mine does.

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  4. simonlitton July 11, 2008 / 12:15 pm

    I was a smidgeon self-conscious, but I couldn’t let my dear readers down, now could I?
    Does my wife think I’m weird? Yes, but not because I take photos of food…

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  5. sgazzetti July 11, 2008 / 8:35 pm

    I was going to make a comment similar to Erik’s about the camera, but I would imagine that plenty of people want to record the meal, if not for their blog then to be able to quickly deal with all the people who want to know what Space Dust looks like.

    I really enjoy these write-ups you do. While I am a big fan of food, I’ve never experienced this particular type of conceptual dining and it’s interesting to hear (and see) about it. I’m especially pleased to see that you can remain objective and even critical of what must not be a cheap experience.

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  6. simonlitton July 12, 2008 / 8:52 am

    Glad you enjoy it, sgazzetti. If anything, I become more critical when it’s not a “cheap experience”. For that price, I expect something exceptional.

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  7. Manictastic July 13, 2008 / 4:43 pm

    I like spaghetti, but besides this irrelevant point, the pictures of the food looked great and the description, even if sometimes they really sounded scary, made me wish I had just a little bit more money to go dine there.

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  8. Karen MEG (Pomtini) July 14, 2008 / 1:09 pm

    Ian and I were looking at these photos and the first thing that came to his mind was “wow, that must have been a very expensive meal!!!”

    I bet it was!

    Your photos were awesome Simon. Maybe you could have a sideline career in food photography/ resto reviews 😉

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  9. simonlitton July 15, 2008 / 11:37 am

    Thanks Karen, although I don’t think I’m talented enough to give up the day job just yet.
    As for the price, it was about what you’d expect for a one-Michelin-starred resto…

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  10. janetching August 12, 2008 / 10:09 pm

    A gastronomique dinner, very contemporary! Nice pics too, did the restaurant have problem of you taking photos of their dishes, sometimes I feel a bit embarrassed, as if I am being odd.

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  11. janetching August 13, 2008 / 5:54 pm

    Hi again, I have just passed on the Brilliant Weblog Award to you : ) Check out on my blog!

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  12. simonlitton August 17, 2008 / 11:33 am

    Janet: No-one’s ever commented on the fact that I take photos in the restaurants. The first time I did it was in The Fat Duck, and I asked before I started. They said that they didn’t mind as long as I didn’t use the flash…

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  13. janetching August 17, 2008 / 9:22 pm

    Hi again, me neither. Sometimes I asked before first too but I felt people around me were wondering why I was doing that if I had not tried good food before. Not using flash is indeed necessary as it will not disturb other customers.

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