At the start of this year I read online that what I consider to be the best restaurant in Belgium, and even one of the best in the world, was closing down. The partners who run Hertog Jan announced that they would close their doors at the end of 2018. Their reasoning is one I’ve heard before in this industry, along the lines of “We’ve reached the top and achieved all we set out to achieve, so now it’s time to try something new”.
Having eaten there twice before, we snapped up the opportunity to go a third and final time. We arrived on foot, as our lodgings were only a 15-minute walk away. We settled in, please to see that we’d been given the table by the window, like last time. The restaurant filled up quickly; both it and the B’n’B are fully booked until the end of the year.
We chose the special menu which was a kind of “greatest hits” package of the chef’s favourite dishes, plus wine, and we got a free recipe book thrown in.
Before the menu proper we received five amuse-bouches, and because Gert De Mangeleer is a millennial the first one was avocado, with tomato powder, salt and olive oil.
Marinated cucumber strips curled around salmon with a jus of champagne and dill oil.
Pork and pickles. There was a surprisingly large lump of meat under the pork scratching layer on top.
Potato purée, vanilla, coffee and mimolette cheese. We’d had this one last time too.
At this point we were invited into the kitchen (no special treatment: everyone had their turn) for a brief look at the prep work.
While there we were handed our final amuse-bouche: passion fruit meringue containing goose liver and Coca-Cola.
We were then invited to walk around the gardens with a glass of lemonade. As you can see it’s a serious herb and vegetable plot.
The red tiled roof is the kitchen; the black low building is the restaurant.
It was nice to get some fresh air, but it was quite fresh so we didn’t tarry and went back inside for the starters.
Caviar and plankton on dill-dusted crisps.
The sun came out just in time for the next dish: sea bass with herbs from the garden, tomatoes, radishes and oil infused with Balinese kaffir lime.
Pumpkin dim sum with cream of langoustine and a dollop of passion fruit.
Grilled white asparagus with potato purée and cod roe.
Guinea fowl with herbs, sorrel and morel mushroom. Perhaps the most plate-lickable dish of the evening. The sauce was amazing.
The main course: wagyu beef and spicy peppers hiding underneath mushroom discs. The orange blobs are Bernadine sauce (basically béarnaise but with added tomato).
While my wife opted for the cheese plate I had raspberry mousse with vanilla and rose water.
And finally, a surprisingly thick and chewy caramel sheet over passion fruit and chocolate.
At the end of the meal one of the partners stopped by for a chat and discussed their future plans, which are still in flux, but which may include a more traditional Belgian-style bistro back in their initial location nearer Brugge. Whatever they do next, Hertog Jan will be missed, and I’m glad we got to go once, let alone three times.