Return to Hertog Jan

We first visited Hertog Jan just over six years ago. At the time we were very impressed and determined to go back some day, and in the intervening period they’ve gone from one to three Michelin stars and this summer they moved into new premises (more details about the construction on their site).

We were the first to arrive that evening, and walked up to the modern entrance of the renovated agricultural barn.

 

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Upon entering we were handed an aperitif made from cucumber, fennel and herbs and invited to wander a little in the gardens before sitting down.

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The entire back wall of the dining room consists of floor-to-ceiling windows, offering an uninterrupted view of the garden.

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This strikes me as something of a statement of intent, as it’s not a decorative lawn-and-flowers type of space, but a kitchen garden. The idea presumably being that as you sit and eat you can see many of the ingredients growing right in front of you.

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Once back inside (the evening was a little cooler than I’d anticipated) we sat at our table, which I was pleased to see was right by the window. Here’s the view back towards the kitchen.

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No there’s nothing creepy about taking a photo of the ladies toilet; I just like the light playing on the different wood and stone textures OK? SHUT UP.

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Following an aperitif of rosé champagne and the confirmation with the waiter that we’d like the longer of the two tasting menus on offer, the amuse-bouches started to arrive. No, this is not an egg in a bird’s nest, but a rosti with aubergine and miso purée.

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Barbecued lard. Classy. Tasty.

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A raspberry and beetroot meringue containing foie gras cream. Lovely.

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And perhaps the best for last: potato purée with coffee, vanilla, and grated mimolette cheese.

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Moving on to the menu proper, we were served bread and pig fat.

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My first wine was a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called “Supernatural“.

The first course was perhaps the best plate of tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. Even on their own they’d have been great, but the amazingly flavoursome marigold leaves and dusting of cardamom on top lifted it to another level. Knockout.

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I switched to beer for the next course: Keyte Oostende triple beer, which I was told would best accompany the caviar. Don’t you always drink beer with your caviar?

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Belgian caviar, watermelon, mozzarella spheres, kohlrabi cones. Fantastic. This was also one of those dishes where they advise you to make sure you get a bit of everything with each bite.

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The wine for the next course was Nero di Lupo: a Sicilian Nero d’Avola. It was quite dry, with an unusual burnt smell. You can see it here reflected in my spoon, next to the empty beer glass.

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Bell pepper filled with Iberico ham and a spicy vegetable broth. Surprisingly cold, smoky and spicy.

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Another course; another wine. “Furmint”: late harvest tokay. Not too sweet.

Smoked eel, foie gras, fennel salad, miso. The salad was amazing. I guess I should be used to it by now, but in this kind of place they manage to find the most amazingly tasty leaves. It almost makes me want to spend the rest of my life eating salad.

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The next dish was called “A walk through the garden”. It’s an amazing plate of raw and barely cooked vegetables and salad held together with a blob of caviar d’aubergine in the middle. Carrot, marrow, radish, courgette, courgette flower, etc. We were told to taste them all separately. This dish was perhaps emblematic of the meal as a whole, and of the chef’s philosophy. He’s confident enough in the quality of his fresh produce to let it speak for itself. It reminds me of TV chef Keith Floyd’s advice: pick the best ingredients and do as little to them as possible.

We also had a giggle with some of our fellow diners at this point as we noticed a kitchen staff member running full pelt through the garden in front of us, presumably collecting emergency supplies. I imagined the chef in the kitchen behind us screaming “Fennel! I need three stalks of fennel, stat!”

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But now, time for some meat. To be carved with a Hertog Jan-branded knife, of course.

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Lubrication was provided this time by a Spanish red from Camins del Priorat.

Roast bone marrow, beans, pimento pepper purée, roast garlic purée, and on a separate plate, wagyu beef.

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Next drink: Riesling dessert wine. Then an empty bowl was placed in front of us. We waited a moment, and then another waiter came up behind us, lifted a silver ball out of another container, and dropped it from a height into our bowl, whereupon it smashed to pieces and fell open to reveal green apple, mint, sorrel, elderflower, and a sprinkling of space dust.
Again, amazing flavours from the herbs.

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The final dessert: chocolate, strawberries and violet flowers. Pretty.

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Oh go on, then. Just a few more sweet nibbles from the trolley.

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I went for the softer, creamier options.

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For my money this is now the best restaurant in Belgium. Or at least on a par with Hof Van Cleve. And more satifying than noma, for more or less the same price.

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With our bill they gave us a little envelope.

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The tiny vial contains fennel seeds, as it’s one of De Mangeleer’s favourite ingredients.

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And a full menu.

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Go. Book a table. Now.