July 4, 2018

Europe 2018 day 5: the other Belgian 3-star

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After a good night's sleep, we got up and took a leisurely breakfast on the terrace by the canal at Hotel Van Cleef.  This was relaxing and delightful, as it was still early and the tourists haven't come out to cruise around on boats yet.

We decided to go back to the Markt, which had transformed into - what else? - a farmer's market selling fruits, vegetables, and other goodies.  With our plans for more 360° photos and videos of the square thwarted, we proceeded to enter and climb up the Belfry of Bruges.

The climb is a total of 366 stairs, broken down into several sections, and the stairwell gets narrower towards the top.  Because of this, the number of people permitted to enter the tower at any given time is strictly limited.

Along the way we got to take a look at the famous carillon with its 47 bells, and the 8-ton cylinder which sets out which bells to strike.  There were a few workers up there tuning the system while we were taking a look.

The view from up top was indeed breathtaking.  It was a shame that we didn't have enough time to enjoy it more.

We returned to the hotel to find The Dining Austrian sipping coffee on the terrace while waiting for us.  We were reluctant to leave the Hotel Van Cleef, but we did have a lunch date 50km away.

Hof van Cleve is the other restaurant holding 3 Michelin stars in Belgium.  Like Hertog Jan, it is also located in a countryside location - seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  We're having some scorching weather this week, but it seems like every restaurant wants you to take an aperitif and serve you the snacks in a more casual setting before seating you for the main event.  So it was that we spent some time on the outdoor terrace while I tried very hard not to sweat...

So I tried their specialty aperitif, which curiously came with an ice cube.

This little cup came with a foamy purée of watermelon, ginger, and rhubarb.

Young herring, slumber peas, miso (Maatjes, miso, geitenkaas) - young herring cubes came with a bit of cream, in a miso soup, cold noodles, and sake sorbet.  Nice and refreshing.

Green lentils 'du puy', goatcheese, chorizo (Groene linzen 'du puy', chorizo, geitenkaas) - the green lentils came with creamy goat cheese, chicken broth, broad beans, anchovies, tomato salsa, and chorizo.  This was kinda salty.

Langoustine, chicken liver, mango (Langoustine, kippenlever, mango) - langoustine tartare came with smooth chicken liver mousse, mango chutney, cubes of melon, and crushed popcorn.

Photo courtesy of gi2lui
Tomato, rocket salad, shrimp (Tomaat, rucola, garnaal) - tomato mousse with shrimps at the bottom, topped with coulis of arugula.  The umami from the tomato works very well with the arugula, with just a little bit of spice.

Shrimp, kamut, horseradish (Garnaal, kamut, mierikswortel) - shrimp mousse topped with a crevette grise and cream of horseradish.

Bread and butter.  This was rye made with Liefmans beer, and it was a little moist inside.  The Dining Austrian remarked that it reminded him of the kind of bread he used to have in Austria.

Then came the "full monty" of 7 courses of "Freshness of nature":

Line-caught sea bass, grapefruit, sorrel, quinoa (Zeebaars 'met de lijn gevangen', pompelmoes, zuring, quinoa) - the thin slices of sea bass were wrapped around a pile of quinoa and little discs of marinated turnip, with a layer of Japanese nori (海苔) seaweed in between, and puffed amaranth seeds on top.  There were also distinctive notes of sesame oil.  The little balls of sorbet were made of green apple and sorrel, and were a little bitter and minty.  A tube of quinoa wrapped with turnip (or kohlrabi?) and topped with seaweed like hijiki (ヒジキ).  Dressed with sorrel ponzu (ポン酢) vinaigrette.

A side dish of eel, fennel, dashi (だし) broth, and bonito flakes (鰹節).  The eel was very tender, and came with slices of fennel.  Lots of umami from the dashi and bonito flakes, and the broth was pretty salty.  Garnished with nori.

Lobster 'Oosterschelde', bear's garlic, cauliflower, 'old Bruges cheese' (Oosterschelde kreeft, daslook, bloemkool, 'oud Brugge' kaas) - the texture of the lobster claw was lovely.  Came with young cauliflower, bear's garlic coulis, a delicious chip made of old Bruges cheese, and of course lobster bisque.

Codfish 'North Sea', fennel, bouchot mussels, lovage (Kabeljauw 'Noordzee', venkel, bouchot mossel, lavas) - cod was, of course, delicious.  Served with fennel, lightly grilled leeks, lovage, broad beans, bouchot mussels, Cevennes onion purée, and two kinds of broth: asparagus and mussels - which had a hint of spice.  Hidden below the cod were finely diced winkle, which was a nice touch.  The best part of the dish?  The thin slices and shavings of bottarga.  Yum!

King crab, Parmesan, curry, bouillabaisse (Koningskrab, parmezaan, kerrie, bouillabaisse) - the King crab capellini with tomato, bell pepper, and mushrooms was wrapped with thin ribbons of zucchini and sprinkled with puffed amaranth seeds.  Served with bouillabaisse perfumed with red curry.  Very delish.

Before the meat course is served, we were asked to choose our knives from a box.  Among them was one whose handle was made with fossilized walrus penis bone.  Yes, you read that correctly.  FOSSILIZED WALRUS PENIS BONE.  Needless to say, that was the one I chose.  And a rather juvenile post went up on my social media accounts...

Milk-fed veal 'Lozère', green pea, pointed cabbage, girolle (Melkkalf 'Lozère', doperwt, spitskool, dooierzwam) - the veal was fine, and came with veal jus perfumed with kaffir lime leaves.  On the side was a big roll of pointed cabbage stuffed with finely chopped cabbage, Stracchino, and grilled white asparagus.  Garnished with green peas and girolles, and served with a second sauce made of peas.

A second serving with veal meatball with shredded pointed cabbage, yogurt, black garlic cream, and teff seeds.  The meatball was flavored with cumin and had the fragrances of curry, while the yogurt brought some acidity to the combination.

Belgian restaurants seem to have Coche-Dury at very reasonable prices. In fact, this bottle was even cheaper than the one we had at Hertog Jan yesterday...

2001 Coche-Dury Meursault Les Rougeots - big, toast nose.  Absolutely beautiful.

Strawberry 'Mariguette', rhubarb, Mascarpone, salty lemon (Aardbei 'Mariguette', rabarber, mascarpone, gezouten citroen) - underneath the white chocolate tuile were halves of local Mariguette strawberries served with Mascarpone and vanilla mousse, salted lemon sorbet with chunks of salted lemon, slices of black olives and rhubarb, basil oil, and a strawberry sauce perfumed with vodka.  An unexpected combination, to be sure, but very refreshing.

Chocolate Van Dender 'Mexico' 70%, sea buckthorn, bergamot, apple (Chocolade Van Dender 'Mexico' 70%, duindoornbes, bergamot, appel) - inside the chocolate ball with the chocolate mousse was a center made of acidic kumquat cream, while the ball sat atop of disc of sea buckthorn sorbet in a pool of sauce made of apples and Earl Grey tea.  Such an interesting combination of sweetness, creaminess, and acidity.

We once again went back out to the terrace to take our coffee and mignardises, although I told the staff that I was too full to eat anything else.  However, they still brought us a little something...

Chocolate madeleine

Oliebollen - they were kinda like beignets or donut holes, and came with little bits of diced apple, dusted with powdered sugar.

I was soooo stuffed.  I had about 3 hours till my dinner appointment with 20 courses, and unable to move it to a later time.  Thankfully The Dining Austrian very kindly offered to drive us to our hotel in Ghent, where we bid farewell to him and thanked him for the company over the last two days.  I will miss my 3-star companion, and hope to see him again very soon.

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