We’d read about In de Wulf in the local press, and the articles and photos were enough to pique our interest, although finding out later that the chef Kobe Desramaults had learnt his trade at the highly acclaimed three-star Dutch restaurant Oud Sluis just whet our appetites even further.
My wife picked me up from work at 5pm. Considering that it would take 1hour 45 minutes (according to our GPS) to get to the restaurant in the far west of Flanders, we’d also arranged to stay the night in one of the ten rooms above the restaurant. Our nine-month old son was with us too, while our daughters stayed at home with their grandmother. What we hadn’t planned for was the volume of traffic on the Belgian roads on a Friday evening. Twice we came to a grinding halt; once just outside Brussels, once near Lille. We sat and waited, inching forwards occasionally, for about twenty minutes each time before programming the GPS to find an alternative route. In the end the journey took us just over three hours, and as we arrived at a modest-looking farmhouse in the middle of open fields dotted with World War I graveyards, an almightly thunderstorm started. We ran inside, checked into our room, set up the travel cot, put Number One Son down to sleep (he dropped off almost immediately), turned on the baby monitor and went down for dinner.
While our room was air conditioned, the dining room wasn’t, and I’d had some concerns beforehand about eating a dozen courses of posh food on one of the hottest days of the year. Fortunately this turned out not to be a problem, as you’ll see. I did pop outside between courses for the occasional breath of fresh air though, and to see the sunset.
We started with the house aperitif: mandarin napoleon brandy and picon with ice and topped with minty foam. I’d quite happily have drunk several of these (for refreshment purposes, of course).
Accompanying this were waffer-theen onion crisps slotted into a board (something we’d seen before at L’Air du Temps).
As usual we went for the tasting menu. The first amuse-bouche: pork belly lard and mimolette cheese between crackers.
Then a crispy combination of beetroot and roseleaf with a blob of yoghurt inside. More pleasant that I’d expect from the description.
Next another cracker with various local flowers and herbs piled on top. Not unpleasant, but a little bland.
Smoked eel, rocket and pickled apple. This one was very tasty indeed.
And finally, some shrimp.
Then on to the proper dishes, although I have to say that most of these were also nouvelle cuisine-style little scraps and bits & pieces, rather than full plates of food. This has never bothered me too much, as I’m happy tasting lots of little things rather than eating one or two enormous dishes. Also it was still pretty warm throughout the evening, so all this lighter, sharper, more refreshing kind of fare was very welcome. The wines too tended to be more acidic and citrusy. Below, pickled mackerel, grilled cucumber, dill and gooseberry. Thinking about it this was quite similar to the smoked eel and apple earlier in the meal, but it was lovely so I forgive them.
Mussels in their juice, North Sea crab, salicornia, lovage, millet and beer. I love how this combination of ingredients was chosen to evoke a specific place on the Flemish coast, even if the similarities with Heston Blumenthal’s famous Sounds of the Sea dish were obvious.
Lobster, candied new potatoes and potato purée with buttermilk. The lobster was rather daringly undercooked, but the texture and creamy flavour went well with the purée.
Turbot, roe with sour cream, and spinach. The only dish of the evening which did nothing whatsoever for me, and which I had to struggle through despite the fact that it only took three or four mouthfuls. The fish was bland and the spinach overpowered everything else.
A salad with Keiemtaler cheese, hazelnut butter and whey (which I always want to pronounce “wahey!”).
Lukewarm goats cheese, pickled celeriac, puffed bread, chickweed and a sauce made with ash. They didn’t specify what had been burnt to produce the ash…
Beans and peas, wich a sprinkling of crispy fried chicken skin, which really brought it to life, and an egg yolk. There was something else mixed in with the egg yolk but we couldn’t identify it and they wouldn’t tell us. Fascinating, though.
Sweetbreads and marrow with carrots, capers and calf’s head juice. They gave us a specially designed sharp knife for this one, which I thought was a little redundant as the sweetbreads were very soft and fell apart as soon as you breathed on them. And as you can see, by this stage of the proceedings the combination of wine and heat had affected my ability to take decent, in-focus, properly white-balanced photos.
And then it was time for dessert. This selection of blueberries, red beet and chocolate crisps was very simple but a great success, particularly on a textural level.
Strawberries. Unripe-looking but fine-tasting, and some kind of strawberry ice shavings in the middle; very summery and refreshing.
But they saved the best for last. Sorrel, apple, celery and lovage. Yes, celery for dessert. Sharp and mouthwatering and a great way to finish.
We moved into the lounge for our (disappointingly weak) coffee, sugar-coated poffertjes and chocolates kept cool by being served on an ice-cold stone.
We retired to our chambers and woke the next morning to shafts of sunlight and the sound of cows bellowing. Here’s the view from our bathroom window.
All in all a very satisfying evening, with some interesting dishes which scored high for their use of local, seasonal ingredients in surprising combinations, didn’t leave us feeling heavy and bloated despite the number of courses, and didn’t make our credit card scream for mercy either.