June 30, 2018

Europe 2018 day 1: country garden dining

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One of the highlights of our trip through Belgium was undoubtedly gonna be dinner at L'Air du Temps.  The restaurant is in Éghezée, and they have a few rooms on the premises for guests who wish to stay over.  Unfortunately for me, even though I was booking nearly 4 months in advance, the website told me that there were no rooms available (curiously, I got an email from the restaurant later asking if I wanted a room)...  Which was why we decided to book a room at La Chambre d'à Côté, a bed-and-breakfast within walking distance (or so I thought) of the restaurant.

Anne-Catherine and Kervyn run a charming little place with two guest rooms, and we took the suite on the ground floor, with a beautiful view outside the bedroom window.

Anne-Catherine offered to drive us to the restaurant, but I figured we could do a little walking around the country.  What I hadn't thought of was the fact that Hello Kitty would be in (admittedly low and chunky) heels, which would make the 1.3km walk seem an eternity...

Upon arrival, we were seated in a small waiting room - without any air conditioning - while we took in some aperitifs and our starters.  I had previously chosen the Plant Supremacy Menu.

Water and bread - I was kinda surprised at how little "water" we were poured, especially given such a hot day, but I guess it's meant to be just a shot... infused with angelica and juniper berries.  The thin wafer of "bread" was clipped to a wire dangling from the ceiling, and was made from cereals and grilled onions.

Viola: wild viola, tapioca - these were fermented pansies from last year along with fresh pansies, with dried yeast powder, on top of a puffed tapioca cracker.  Savory with strong fermented flavors, along with acidity.

Korea: dashi, anchovy, sour cream, iodized herbs - tiny dried Korean anchovies stuck together into a ball, with soy sauce, mirin (味醂), and oyster leaves.  Here the anchovies totally overwhelmed the other flavors.  Soy sauce lent saltiness while mirin added some sweetness.  There was liquid in the glass tube, which tasted curiously like sesame oil.

River: trout, potato, mint emulsion - on top of the potato tart was diced trout, diced turnip, horseradish powder, and trout roe.  I definitely tasted the horseradish and a hint of peppermint.

Indian cress: Parmigiano crispy with condiment of Indian cress - the Parmigiano tart base was pretty damn savory, and definitely needed the nasturtium sauce as well as the nasturtium leaves and flowers on top to help balance it.

I also had a house cocktail which was made with sparkling wine, bitters, and strawberries.  Pretty fragrant.

We were then moved to the main dining room, where we were seated at a table by the window, overlooking the beautiful garden.

Back from Thailand: like a tom yum soup - spherification FAIL.  The 'skin' was waaaay too thick and took some effort to burst.  Warm broth inside with lots of lemon grass and some   from shrimp.  Not too salty and just a little bit spicy.

Yukhoe: fresh and fermented daylilies in croquette - even though this was not filled with meat, the flavors absolutely reminded me of a baked barbecue pork bun (叉燒餐包) with char siu inside.  With just a hint of spiciness here.

We were presented with some unsalted butter, Normandy fleur de sel on the side, as well as a ponzu (ポン酢) butter.  The latter was interesting...

We were also presented with some water which had been infused with coriander, lemongrass, and juniper.

Peas and Love: little pie, emulsion of shizo, peas, lemongrass - very, very good.  I love peas when they're so fresh and sweet, and in addition to the peas being from the restaurant's own gardens, we've got pea shoots and lemongrass here, too.

With shiso/perilla emulsion inside, and a lemongrass jam on the side.

Ikijime: pollock, courgette, bottarga - the fish was wrapped in courgette flowers before steaming, and the texture was just perfect. The bottarga cream underneath was pretty strong and a little on the bitter side, and we've also got a sauce made from sage. 

Liernu: seasonal vegetables and oil of the time - the perennial favorite dish as it uses ingredients from the garden, and the ingredients rotate constantly depending on what's available.  In the winter the selection becomes pickles and fermented vegetables as there is no fresh produce.  The sauce is the only constant as it is made with butter along with the fermentation water, and the vegetables are sprinkled with powder made from the fermentation water.

Tonight we've got yellow courgettes, green courgettes, kohlrabi, radish, yellow beets (even though we told them we don't like beets), cauliflower, arugula, dill flower, and a type of leaf with anise flavor - all on some herbed mash potato.  There's definitely acidity in the sauce.

Cloud: Breton lobster, rice cream with meadowsweet, saté juice - the lobster was, of course, very delicious.  It came with a rice mousseline flavored with reine-des-prés as well as a shellfish sauce with a hint of spice and plenty of acidity.  We've also got confit lemon zest, macadamia nuts, and some verbena.

Confit - this was originally supposed to be beetroot, but Chef Sang-hoon very kindly substituted something else for us - cooked with some binchotan (備長炭).

The carrots came, of course, from the restaurant's own garden.  This way they could be served at the size the chef wanted.  They came with a hint of smoke and were extremely delicious.  The crème fraîche was also kinda smoky.  Garnished with pickled red onions, herbs, and edible flowers.

Classic: sweetbreads, langoustine in ceviche, butter with herbs and lime - this is a dish that has been on the menu for 15 years, but each year the chef tweaks the recipe and presentation.  Langoustine and sweetbreads is a combination I've had before, and they do work well together.

The langoustine was simply marinated like a ceviche, and dressed in a lemon sauce with red peppercorns, tomato salsa, fresh herbs from the garden, and lemon.  This was so, so good!

The sweetbreads were quickly grilled, glazed, then cooked in a ceramic low-temperature oven.  Served on a bed of shallots and sarriettes.

This has to be the best fucking sweetbreads I have ever had.  The texture was so incredible... You've got the slight crunch from the thin layer of glaze, but the inside was totally soft and springy.  Flavor-wise I thought it was somewhere between Japanese chicken karaage (唐揚げ) and a Korean fried chicken without too much sauce.  Even Hello Kitty, who usually avoids offal like the plague, was completely amazed at how good this was.

On the side we've got crunchy confit shallots stuffed with Koshihikari (コシヒカリ) rice topped with gremolata and puffed grains.

And we got a little bit of shellfish sauce which wasn't made with cream.  This was sooooo rich in flavor, but not heavy at all.

Strawberry: cone with red pepper cream and sorbet - the first of multiple variations using strawberries. The red capsicum cream was at the bottom and the strawberry sorbet was at the top of the strawberry "paper" cone.

Tagada Strawberries with nigella - I guess this was similar to Haribo's Fraises Tagada, and definitely stuck to one's teeth.  And came with caster sugar that was really sour, and nigelle de Damas seeds.

Granita with herbs from the garden - strawberry carpaccio with granita made with herbs from the garden, as well as balls made of strawberries, along with arugula and mint.  Really refreshing and beautiful.

Entremet with asperula - the bavarois was made with the asperula herb from the garden, with strawberry cream and verbena inside.

They rolled out the mignardises tray, but I was soooo stuffed... I still managed to pick out three of them.

Chocolate and calamansi lollipop

Raspberry tart


The wine list here isn't as good as the one at Comme Chez Soi, but I still managed to pick out a bottle at a reasonable price that I wanted to drink.

2013 Roses de Jeanne Creux d'Enfer, dégorgée en Avril 2017 - lovely nose of red fruits, with a hint of yeast.  Good acidity with good depth on the palate.

This was a really, really impressive dinner. This place came very highly recommended by the destination dining community, and I can totally see why.  Not that I know anything, but I would certainly put this place as one of the prime candidates for upgrade to a third Michelin star...  Before dinner started, Hello Kitty had been scratching her head and wondering why I had dragged her some 50km out of Brussels to the countryside.  At the end of dinner, she thought the trip was totally worth it.

P.S. We ended up walking back to La Chambre d'à Côté after dinner, while looking at the very large moon coming up on the horizon after 11pm...

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