The Cube

I didn’t know anything about The Cube until my wife called me on Friday to say that due to a cancellation there were places free for lunch on Monday. A quick look at the site and my schedule confirmed that I was willing and able, so she booked. This temporary structure seats 18 diners (or lunchers) and the responsibility for the meal alternates each day between Sang-Hoon Degeimbre of L’Air Du Temps, which we visited three years ago, and Bart De Pooter of De Pastorale, where we ate two years ago. On the day we’d chosen it was Degeimbre’s turn. He’d gained his second Michelin star (and a lot of media attention) since then, so we were keen to see how he’d evolved.

We arrived at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe in Parc Cinquantenaire at midday to see  The Cube (although to me it looks more like a trapezoidal prism, but I guess that isn’t such a catchy name) looming over us.

We were escorted to a room inside the top of the arch where a staff member talked at us for 10 minutes about sponsor Electrolux’s innovative approach to developing consumer electronics. She also mentioned that The Cube isn’t actually attached to the Arc, but merely placed on top of it. She insisted that it had been tested in winds measuring 12 on the Beaufort scale and was “perfectly safe, ha ha!” She then left us to marvel at the display of Electrolux’s latest range of white goods nestled incongruously amid the helmets and sabres (this building houses the Royal Museum of the Army and Military History).

Then we were taken up onto the roof and into The Cube itself, or rather onto the terrace in front of it. Here we were each given iPads with which we were encouraged to take photos of the view (and later the meal), view videos promoting the chefs, and email or micro-blog our impressions. Who needs dining companions and good conversation? Here’s the view across Cinquantenaire Park towards the centre of Brussels. You can also see my office from here.

Our patience started to wear thin after 40 minutes of waiting however, when the final four guests arrived, claiming that they’d been confused about the start time. We all went in and seated ourselves, and the meal commenced.

The head waiter apologised for the fact that Degeimbre himself was unable to be present today, which was slightly disappointing. In hindsight, however, I don’t see that it affected the quality of the food at all. He explained that Degeimbre wanted to present a menu which expressed his vision of springtime, even though it was still a little early in the season and not all of his preferred ingredients were available yet.

The first amuse-bouche was a silky smooth liquid combining water and herbs.

Then the bread arrived.

Then the wine arrived. The wine was fine, but the sommelier’s moustache made more of an impression on me.

The butter, however, was rather special. On the right is normal butter, but the one on the left was flavoured with citrus fruits and was gorgeous.

The first proper course was something of a signature dish for Degeimbre; his famous “kiwitre” (kiwi and huitre, or oyster). I’m not much into oysters but this one was perfectly acceptable, with the croutons adding some welcome crunch to what can sometimes be an unpleasantly slimy ingredient. I think there was some wasabi in the black swoosh too.

In the oyster shell itself is a leaf which somehow managed to also taste of oyster. This was the first of several occasions where Degeimbre has found a herb or plant which contains enough molecular similarities to make it simulate the taste of another ingredient, without needing to artificially flavour it in any way. I wish I’d thought to write down the names of the plants.

While we were eating a couple of kitchen staff were outside on the terrace doing something curious with birds nests, bell jars and smoke. They brought them inside and placed three of them on the table.

Once opened, they revealed a nest containing peeled quail eggs which had been smoked with a small cube of cherry wood. They were accompanied by bacon butter. If nothing else came out of this meal I now have two new spreads to seek out: bacon butter for breakfast and citrus butter for dessert…

Another course, another bell jar, this time containing small jacket potatoes which had been smoked on a bed of moss.

These were then added to a bowl of wild herbs and flowers, and had a cumin sauce poured on top. The success of this dish for me rested on the simple but evocatively earthy flavour of the potato skin. And the moss. I like moss.

Before the fish course came more tiny leaves. One tasted like Granny Smith apples and the other exactly like peas.

As well as being a novelty in itself, this provided a link with the following dish. Cod cooked at 40°C with a cool broth of…Granny Smith apples and peas.

Despite the tepidness it was tender and tasty. Next came what was, in one sense, one of the simplest dishes, as it contained only three ingredients: duck, red onion and red cabbage. The waiter explained to us that the colours had been enhanced simply by changing the pH (i.e. by adding something acidic). Whatever they did, it was by far the prettiest dish of the day. Yummy, too.

And so to dessert. This was a Generation Game-style affair, with one of the kitchen staff providing us with our own ingredients and asking us to copy him as he plated up.

I think mine turned out pretty well. He came around and added a transparent blob of gel containing saké at the end.

All that was left then was a sweet crumble with carrot foam and violet liquid…

And some choccies.

The meal would have been pretty spectacular in any setting, but obviously sitting in a precariously balanced trapezoidal prism atop a nineteenth-century monument on a beautiful day enhanced the experience. Why don’t more restaurants offer that?

The Cube will be in place until July, at which point it will tour across Italy, Russia, Switzerland and Sweden.

Update: later we went back to try Bart De Pooter’s menu. Read about it here.