Hof van Cleve

Hof van Cleve, currently rated 26th best restaurant in the world, sits in a field just outside the tiny town of Kruishoutem, halfway between Ghent and Kortrijk in Flanders. This was a rare return trip – usually we prefer discovering something new, but this was one of the first three-Michelin-starred restaurants we ever went to, sometime in 2006 I think, and that was back before I started photographing and blogging meals.

We arrived at midday and as it was a warm, clear day we were seated in the garden off to one side of the main building while we sipped our aperitif (champagne, angostura and a sugar cube) and perused the menu. There’s not usually much point in me examining the options in this kind of place, however, as I always just end up ordering the longest tasting menu available.

The “Freshness of Nature” menu consists of nine courses, but before that we had five amuse-bouches to get through (which weren’t listed on the menu so forgive me if I forget some of the ingredients). First, anchovies on toast and spring rolls filled with oxtail, with a soy and coriander dipping sauce. The oxtail rolls in particular were strong and meaty, yet light.

Then beef carpaccio, raw tuna and wasabi ice cream.

The next was absolutely my favourite – a herb-encrusted frog’s leg, some kind of creamy mousse, and underneath pesto-flavoured couscous. Great textures and a confident juxtaposition of flavours.

The next one I have problems remembering anything about, and the photo doesn’t help, but I do remember that the dominant flavour seemed to come from the brown gel encircling the seeds in the middle – miso-infused, perhaps?

Finally an onion and bacon soup with a skinny strip of Peking duck on the side.

Then we moved inside the restaurant to start the meal. It’s a relatively modest interior, but very comfortable. The only thing that bothered me about the setting was the appalling modern art on the walls. In fact I’ve noticed before in many different types of restaurant that as a general rule, the better the food, the worse the art.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not all that keen on bread with meals, especially when you’re pacing yourself over a dozen courses, but we were offered such a wide and tempting selection (breads flavoured with cheese and bacon, or Westmalle trappist beer) that I couldn’t resist.

I’d ordered the selection of wines with my menu, and first up was something of a surprise – saké. Also surprising was how light and tasty it was, with a delicate citrus flavour making it much more pleasant than other rice wines I’d tried. The first course was a trio of shrimp; one in a small bowl with some avocado cream and some kind of shoots:

one grilled:

and a tagliatelle of cucumber with shrimp sauce.

Next, mackerel and razor clam with coriander, tomato and little lemon bubbles. Also probably the prettiest dish of the day.

It was accompanied by a cockle soup.

The inevitable squid course, with yuzu, seaweed and dashi soup.

The equally unavoidable lobster course, with belotta ham, rocket, asparagus and a quail egg.

The fourth and final fish course was Danish cod with crab and leek. The parmesan crumble at the top and bottom was a masterful touch. There was a slight delay in receiving this dish as the waitress dropped one of them as she was coming out of the kitchen. The speed with which they plated up and served a replacement got me thinking about how this stuff is prepared, whether they have spare portions on standby just in case, and in particular about how fast and skilled they must be at prepping such an elaborately presented dish.

Finally the one and only meat dish: veal with mushrooms and tarragon gravy. The lightly-fried potato cubes were wonderful; slightly leathery skin, fluffy and light as a feather on the inside, and flavoured with Moroccan spices.

To cleanse our palates before dessert, a shot of mojito topped with lime mousse.

Dessert number one: strawberries with mint, white chocolate and prosecco, with a side dish of mascarpone ice cream.

At this point chef Goossens made an appearance and circulated among the tables, stopping for a brief chat. I complimented him on his integration of Japanese ingredients into the fish courses, which he said was a result of two research trips to Tokyo.

Dessert number two: banana cream with lime, passion fruit and a chocolate madeleine.

And a side dish of cake, ice cream and crumble.

And that was the end of the main part of the meal. We moved back outside for coffee and more sweet nibbles.


We were full, but not uncomfortably so, which I think is a sign of a well thought out and balanced menu. My wife’s belly was looking rather large though…


(OK, for those of you who don’t know, she’s five months pregnant)

Overall I’d say it was as good as the first time, if not better. Let’s hope we manage to get back there before another three years pass…


10 thoughts on “Hof van Cleve

  1. Erik R. May 26, 2009 / 8:50 pm

    First of all, I think we are all glad to see that you went to a well lit restaurant. The color of these photos is quite an improvement over some of your more romantic meals.

    Second of all, I’m pretty sure you mean “bellota ham”, but your Italian neurons got in the way. Bellotas are acorns from the hollyoak tree, and the best Spanish ham comes from pigs that feast on these fallen acorns.

    Thirdly, this report was fantastic as always. You really do get your money’s worth from these meals by sneaking along all of us vicarious nibblers.


    • simonlitton May 27, 2009 / 12:04 pm

      Apologies for the spelling error. I had some acorn-fed pork in a restaurant in Granada once and it was the best pork I’d ever eaten.


  2. J May 27, 2009 / 1:20 am

    Mmmmm. I just passed out, hit my head on a twinkie, and finally woke up when my daughter flung some salsa from a jar in my face. Wish I had passed out at that restaurant, perhaps they would have thrown some champagne in my face.

    My experience has been that the meals at the fancy restaurants dwindle with the arrival of a new baby, at least for awhile. But perhaps you have a great support system, and you’ll have plenty of babysitting. Either way, glad you’re going to these amazing places for the rest of us!


    • simonlitton May 27, 2009 / 12:05 pm

      I’m sure we won’t get much chance to do this kind of thing for a while after September, which is why we’re trying to squeeze in a few last ones over the summer.


  3. gwen May 27, 2009 / 2:29 am

    I was completely distracted by the wasabi ice cream until I got to the mojito with lime mousse. I had to go back and reread everything. In fact, I’m still overwhelmed. Wow.


  4. Manictastic June 12, 2009 / 10:09 pm

    I so need to go to this restaurant :O but i think it’s quite expensive, no?


    • simon June 13, 2009 / 1:28 pm

      Quite, yes. But you could go à la carte and just get a couple of courses, and that wouldn’t break the bank…


  5. Janet_Gourmet Traveller 88 October 21, 2009 / 6:41 pm

    Wow, Simon, these photos really feast my eyes! A lot of contemporary dishes! Am curious what do you eat at home, do you cook like that, haha!


    • simon October 22, 2009 / 8:13 am

      Do we cook like that at home? Umm, not quite. If we knew how to do this stuff ourselves we wouldn’t be quite so willing to pay hundreds of Euro for someone else to do it for us…


  6. Janet_Gourmet Traveller 88 October 22, 2009 / 12:02 pm

    I thought perhaps you have learnt some tricks already from those chefs, haha and save you some $$$. I am not yet visited THE FAT DUCK yet. now my best friend mentioned to me yesterday again and it rang the bell that you have suggested to me.


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