Auberge de Herborist

A slightly shorter version of this review appeared at Tasting and Living.

The Auberge de Herborist (1 Michelin star) sits in a field on the outskirts of Bruges. Considering that we arrived on one of the darkest and wettest weekends of the year it proved a little elusive and our GPS gave up about a kilometer short of the destination, but at the last second we saw the sign and pulled in up the narrow, tree-lined drive.

After settling in to our room we came down to the cosy (i.e. small) dining room, with only four or five tables. The bread was nothing special, but I liked the little brush for appying the oil.

With our aperitif we received the selection of amuse-bouches. The cornet-shaped crisps containing a cream of anchovy and roquefort were very tasty, if probably a little too salty for some tastes. At the back is a finger of eel topped with soya foam. Foams are difficult to get right and in this case it evaporated almost as soon as I touched it and wasn’t exactly bursting with flavour.

There was no menu as such; you just choose whether you want three, four or five courses, and they bring you whataver they have that day (although they can accommodate you if there’s something you really don’t fancy). The first starter was very interesting. Carpaccio of scallop sprinked with chilli and chives, on top of a layer of duck paté, with a brunoise of apple, celery and cucumber at the bottom. At first I wasn’t sure that those three disparate elements would sit together well, and I still have my doubts, but I think the scallop-paté combination was a success. The brunoise was a little too acidic for my palate.

Second course: a lovely lemongrass-flavoured shrimp and mussel broth, with a fillet of John Dory on top. I think the rather aggressive tapenade garnish on the fish didn’t really belong, and I was more interested in the delicate perfume of the broth.

I admit my heart sank a little when the waiter told us that the first meat course would be baked goose liver, but I needn’t have worried as this was one of the tastiest and most pleasurable dishes of the evening. The liver was soft without being mushy and it was topped with a slice of pancetta sprinkled with Space Dust.

By contrast with the (at times overly) elaborate nature of previous courses the main meat course was a simple piece of venison with a mustard sauce, but none the less enjoyable for all that.

The first dessert; chocolate powder, speculoos biscuits and mango discs, was disappointingly dry despite the blob of ice cream nestling in the middle.

Things picked up again with the following caramel mousse and ice cream stick duo.

And finally, white chocolate-covered mini cakes and dark chocolate-covered mint leaves.

All in all an enjoybale meal, which would have scored even higher if the chef had resisted the urge to overcomplicate some of the dishes with too many contrasting ingredients. A final couple of pictures. Breakfast in this kind of place is usually a relatively simple affair of croissants and ham and cheese, but here they made quite an effort for the presentation of the fruit plate which greeted us as we sat down at our table.

The red discs are plum, by the way.


11 thoughts on “Auberge de Herborist

  1. mondraussie November 17, 2010 / 9:11 pm

    can i be really ignorant, and from the country and haven’t seen a fine restaurant for at least six years and all that and ask…. wtf is “space dust”…. lol, who’s been living in the back of beyond for too long?!!


    • simonlitton November 18, 2010 / 9:14 am

      Space Dust also goes under the name of Pop Rocks. It’s basically a children’s novelty sweet, but quite a few fancy chefs have been using it to liven up their dishes recently.


  2. J November 20, 2010 / 5:41 am

    Really? Pop Rocks? Blech. Your pictures are gorgeous, but it almost felt like there were as many misses as hits at this restaurant.

    I do love to live vicariously through you, as the only Michelin starred restaurants I know about around here are far beyond my meager means to afford. Delicious meals you guys have.


  3. Karen MEG November 20, 2010 / 9:18 pm

    Simon, very jealous here. Food that looks too good to eat!
    I must admit in looking at your photos, the tapenade even visually looked jarring amongst the other inhabitants of that delicate seafood dish.


    • simon November 21, 2010 / 8:48 am

      The tapenade in itself was quite nice, but I just don’t think it belonged there.


  4. Lydia November 22, 2010 / 11:26 am

    I was also wondering about Space Dust.

    That is a lot of variety for one night. I’m used to just eating one dish at a restaurant, not thirteen. Sounds like the place could do with a little simplification.


    • simonlitton November 22, 2010 / 11:31 am

      I actually like the fact that I get to try small portions of lots of different things during one meal. If I just have one large portion of something I get bored halfway through.


  5. Alison November 25, 2010 / 10:14 am

    This looks simply stunning! It may be a little overcomplicated for everyday eating but it certainly looks like a lovely treat 🙂


    • simonlitton November 25, 2010 / 10:16 am

      Yeah, not the kind of thing I’d eat every day, but once a month or so I can manage it…


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