De Pastorale

It’s been a while since we went to a Michelin-starred restaurant (the last one was Bruneau). Recent developments at home will mean that there’ll probably be a large gap in our fine dining outings after the summer, so we thought we’d squeeze one in this week, and selected a two-starred establishment just south of Antwerp (a 30-minute drive from our house).

I managed to get halfway through making the telephone reservation in Dutch – asking for a table for two for Tuesday night – before he confused me by asking questions, and he gently suggested that we could switch to English if I preferred. On the night we managed to understand most of the explanations (and asked a few questions) in Dutch, although the wine waiter seemed to want to speak English to us.

We went for the six-course “Sensations” menu. And here I’m going to make the standard apology for the quality of the photos – one of my cameras is currently without a functioning battery charger, so I had to borrow an even smaller model which seemed to have some focussing “issues”.

With our Pinot Noir aperitif we were given a couple of radishes in some kind of dark, earthy, biscuity crumble…

…a selection of carrots, celery and grissini…

…and beetroot with mustard ice cream, which was the most interesting combination to me. There was also one I didn’t manage to get a picture of – a spoon with a cube of cucumber (a “cubecumber”?) containing an oyster, topped with a dab of wasabi. Oysters do nothing for me, tasting simply of salt and slime as far as I can tell with my philistine palate, but a small amount inside a fresh, watery vegetable is acceptable, pleasant even.

The meal proper started with a simple but confident arrangement of foie gras and a snaking slice of apple with leek sauce. My wife commented that she didn’t understand how a simple slice of apple could taste so good, and the foie gras was surprisingly light and delicate.

This was followed by baked turbot with a cube of shredded radish and horseradish and cauliflower with a truffle dressing. While the frills were interesting, this dish was a sumptuous success simply due to the quality of the fish and the expertise of its cooking – soft, yet slightly crispy and salty on top, bursting with flavour. 

The second fish dish – baked scallop with hop shoots and grain risotto. Scallops normally don’t excite me overly but this one, like the turbot, was tender and tasty. The grain risotto was an interesting twist, and I don’t think I’ve ever had hop shoots before…

The first meat dish was wagyu beef. The slice was surprisingly thick considering that it was described in the menu as a carpaccio, but I’m not complaining. The mushrooms were sweeter than expected, almost as if they’d been glazed or slightly caramelized, and they went well with the swoosh of walnut sauce. The cubes at bottom right are quinoa and celeriac.

The last meat dish – beautifully tender suckling lamb, surprisingly soft and flavourful salad cannelloni and asparagus topped with cream of sheep’s cheese, and parsley sauce in the centre.

One of the things I like about this kind of menu is that you get to try small amounts of a larger variety of dishes. Having said that, I could happily have eaten a supersized portion of any one of these mains.

As we allowed our bellies to distend in the pause before dessert we considered our fellow diners. A couple at the next table were constantly holding hands, caressing each other’s face, etc, leaving them only one hand each with which to eat, which may explain why they toyed with their food and only ever ate half of each course. Twice during the meal they both got up and went upstairs together to the bathroom, where they stayed for the best part of a quarter of an hour before coming back to their table looking flushed and pleased with themselves. The waiters exchanged knowing glances and smirks.

The first dessert was a lovely fresh, creamy combination of pinepple cubes with shredded ginger and kaffir lime ice cream.

Then came a selection of sweets – chocolates, macaroons, aniseed-infused amarettini.

This was probably the best meal we’ve had since Bon Bon last November, and if they continue at this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if they earned a third star sometime soon. I was very tempted to buy the chef’s foodporn book we’d flicked through between courses. At any rate, this is one place to which I plan to return.