All posts filed under “Belgian

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De Jonkman, Bruges

The man who has matured

I was told, by head chef and owner Filip Claeys, that De Jonkman was translated into “The Young Man”, the phrase representative of himself when he opened this modern restaurant with rooms off Bruges’s city centre. Filip has a good culinary pedigree, having worked for Bruges’s 3-Michelin-starred institution restaurant De Karmaliet and Sergio Herman’s (also) 3-Michelin-starred Oud Sluis, and within just a few years, Filip has developed his own Flemish flair by looking back into the Flemish tradition and re-approached it with a great skill set and a playful, informed mind. The proof was in the recently awarded 2 Michelin stars, and bluntly speaking, given my dinner at De Jonkman, F is definitely on the right track to the third star.

Inventive Flemish experience

De Jonkman is a dinner-only and tasting-menu-only sort of restaurant. The price started at €75 for 4 courses, €90 for 5, and €105 for 6. The meal began with the usual parade of amuse bouche. Miniature but extremely meticulously crafted. Soft boiled quail’s egg was coated with ham and cep mushroom powder and deep fried. The result was not just the soft gooey-ness contrasting with the crispy exterior but also the aroma and the bold flavours of ham and mushroom enhanced by fleur de sel crystal. Foie gras was served with green apple and salsify. The taste was three-dimensional: sweetness, light fruity acidity and subtle bitterness. While foie gras and apple isn’t usually an extraordinary combination, I found the layering of texture unique. Loose and liquid apple gel was lube-like (excuse my comparison) and added a glistening finish to the curd-y foie gras; the crunch from two-textured salsify – fried and boiled – well complemented the dish. The following was described as mustard-infused local cheese in various textures – flan-like, grated, and biscuit-ed. Very rich and contained a good mustard-y kick. Another amuse bouche of olive-filled gougere with prawns and mayo was also a mouthful of glowing comfort. My mouth also watered very much for springy octopus in soy and orange vinegar. The dressing was remotely Japanese (of ponzu-yuzu sort) but more aromatic than its counterpart. The celeriac puree added a silky touch and sweet nutty-ness. Last but not least was veal bonemarrow served with pickled aubergine caviar. The sharp pickle-y tang cut through the delectable marrow grease very nicely.

The first course (yes, first!) of Oyster & Jerusalem Artichoke was very memorable. Plump oysters were doused in seawater goodness and served juxtaposed with nutty Jerusalem artichoke discs (a light crunch) and puree (creamy). The dish became complete with pickled cucumber strips and vinaigrette jelly and fresh non-identifiable leaves that tasted distantly like celery. Together the pickle-y tang hits first and then the creamy sweetness that lingered. Oddly enough, the garnish brought me back to a good Thai memory – barely pickled cucumber slices in sugared vinegar “ar-jaad” – but with a finer touch of creamy texture. The scallops were prepared two ways. Served at room temperature, the first was marinated chopped scallops reassembled as an intact scallop and served with zingy white turnip tartar and cream cheese. Very unctuous but also not heavy. The aromatic citrus vinaigrette made the dish alive and the dehydrated chick pea powder contributed an appetisingly sandy texture. The other serving was warm: pan fried scallop in an entourage of tarragon jus (perfuming), parsley root (crunchy and almost ginseng-like) and sweet potato puree (heavenly silky!). The vinegar dressing bound the elements together.

 

 

Cannily billed “Message in a Bottle from the North Sea”, the next dish was that of live prawns. Filip approached me with a bowl of live and very big brown shrimps – sea delicacies long associated with his Flemish root. These shrimps, as F explained, were never brought ashore alive; the fishermen boiled them in seawater. The task he set himself to was to close down that traditional gap of eating precooked shrimps and to reintroduce them in the state of primal juicy freshness. Accordingly, F caught those shrimps from the sea and cooked to order.

What arrived at my table a moment later was not a dish but a neatly halved bottle (with “De Jonkman” label of course) containing a miniature of imaginative underwater seascape. The shrimps were prepared three ways: traditionally boiled in seawater, braised in squid ink and tempura-ed. They nestled on the bed of potato puree, hazelnut foam, tiny kohlrabi cones and leaves trimmed as if seaweed. Spectacular at all levels. I loved the warmth that oozed from the dish. The curd-y puree was loosened up by the foam and reformed with earthy sweetness. The intense natural sea flavour from the super fresh shrimps shone through the combo and became contrast of one another – the more salted boiled ones, the rich squid ink infused, and the weightless and crispy-est fried.

 

The highlight did not end with the “Bottle”. Red Mullet arrived mounted by a threatening sand crab. The crab, though presented with a gaping claw, was dead, deep-fried and halved. I was advised to scoop out the brown crab meat and dilute it with the red pepper jus. I decided, instead, to pop the crab in my mouth (I’m Asian) and ground it with the help of a moist, expertly sous-vided mullet. The flavour combination was that of divine comfort. The bell pepper sauce added distinctly perfuming sweetness. The side raviolo of zingy celery root and red pepper puree balanced off quite well the richness of the main component.

The last of the savoury courses was more of a filler. Filip practices the nose-to-tail philosophy and this rump of 4-year-old Holstein cow was part of his approach. The steak was seared sous-vided and finished on the grill (I assumed). It was served with wild mushroom assortment, shallots, carrot, chicory and beef jus. The beef was a good medium rare and was pleasantly chewy. The bitterness from the chicory did not overpower the garnish. Still, unlike more dishes that preceded it, this was a taste I could guess from the look of the dish. Solid cooking. Nothing too imaginative or life-changing.



Desserts, though not as memorable as their precedents, were creatively executed and expertly textured. The first dish of chocolate with hazelnut and celery root ice cream had two sides. One was predominantly chocolate-y; the other hazelnut-y. Milky celery root ice cream oozed a subtle celeriac flavour and together with zesty lime gel it bound the bitter intensity of the choc with the loose sweetness of the nuts. Passion fruit pudding with almond cookie crumbs, mango (marinated cubes and puree) and coconut (poached meringue) was delicious but less exciting. Then came the (never ending) train of petir four – pear flan with apple crisp, sunflower seed caramel and elderberry with yogurt and elderberry jelly. All was very decent. And (finally) the meal concluded with a traditional Belgian touch of a miniature but superbly crispy and yummy waffle, marinated apple and cream. The ultimate finale of madeleine was what I could have done without as it was a little too buttery for my liking.

 


 

 

GO FOR: Extraordinary food. Casual.
RATING:
5/5
INNOVATION/COMFORT:
Both!

Restaurant De Jonkman
Maalsesteenweg 438
Sint-Kruis
Bruges
8310
Belgium

Tel. +32 5036 0767

www.dejonkman.be

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Leon de Bruxelles: Mussels in Soho, What Can Go Wrong?

What can go wrong?

Many things. Same as many other restaurants I often visit on the first days of their opening. The service might be slow. The food might not be the best the kitchen can offer. There are, though not always, creases that need ironing out. An unsatisfactory meal can tell so much about the restaurant – the potential that hasn’t been delivered? As for Leon de Bruxelles, the mega chain restaurants originating from Brussels, it struck me as an utterly bad experience.

Sweet mussels..

I like mussels. I like fries. But, above all else, I love Belgian food. Belgium is one of those countries that are overlooked as a gourmet destination but once you are (I am) there, you (I) find it hard to leave (more posts on restaurants in Bruges are coming, ahem!). Leon de Bruxelles did not capture that. The green-and-white, diner’s-lookalike dining room looked as if Ed’s Diner around the corner could just take over any time. The paper mat on the table made commendably bold claims. Sustainability (which I appreciate). Freshness “Yesterday in Seawater, Today at Leon”. And, very oddly, the ultimate claim that the food is prepared fresh for each order (when did I last go to restaurants and was served food cooked weeks ago?). The mussel-shaped menu began with a concise history of Leon de Bruxelles. The food (moules & frites & other things) was priced a few ££ above London’s best known Belgian restaurant….Belgo!

I dug into mussels. Three Cheese Mussels au Gratin (£12) arrived as most of the cheese had missed the mussels. As a result, the barely cheesed ones (Gruyere and Cheddar) were dry and verged on being overcooked. The ones that correctly oozed cheese (mainly Roquefort) were just okay. Ardennaise Mussels (£16 including fries) was no better. While the sauce of white wine and creme fraiche had a broth-y creamy texture and aroma, the slivers of bacon were hardly sliced apart and clung together; the mushroom slices tasted not fresh; and the mussels themselves did not fare above the high-street average in their freshness. They were in seawater yesterday? Or, were they just soaked in seawater yesterday? The fries could put MacDonald’s on a gourmet map. I can’t be bothered to write about the peas (petit pois £2.50).

What could be worse? There was a wait.. around 30 minutes for my Grand-Mere Pauline’s Waffle (£6) to arrive. I’m making it brief. It wasn’t a good waffle. I shattered on my teeth as if a dried out wafer. No contrast of texture. No milky perfume. No taste. Very sorely I wanted them waffles on Oxford Street..

Adding to this, it took me another 20 minutes for my money to be taken and my change returned.

Can this be right?

I am not sure but fingers crossed. The service was erratic and unfocused. Four to five waiters came to our tables within minutes of one another to check if things were alright. Sadly, none of our requests, apart from being pointed the loo, were promptly materialised. And I spent 2 hours of my life for a mediocre two-course lunch. The 50% soft opening discount (17th-20th Jan) cannot be a justification of this.

On the bright side Leon de Bruxelles has a nice selection of drinks that you can enjoy at the bar…

GO FOR: The musical just opposite..
RATING: 1.5/5

(read about new rating here)

LEON DE BRUXELLES LONDON

24 Cambridge Circus
London
WC2H 8AA

Tel. 020 7836 5165

www.leon-de-brussels.co.uk

 

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When in Bruges …

EAT A LOT OF CHOCOLATE!!!!

Yes.

Last Monday I was in Brugge–also known as “Bruges” to the rest of the world–Belgium, the world’s capital of chocolate. Guess what–you don’t need to–chocolate was at the very top of my food agenda. There are so many ready-made and artisanal chocolate shops in the city. I was so excited tasting, picking, boxing, paying, taking pictures of chocolate truffles and praline.

It was definitely a cloud-nine moment. Until …

Until my head turned to this deli called D’s Deldycke Traiteurs, I forgot, momentarily–actually approximately half an hour–my chocolate mission. How couldn’t I, especially when I was extremely distracted by D’s Deldycke Traiteurs‘s colourful arrays of food!!

I dived straight into the pick’n mix menu of D’s Deldycke Traiteurs canapes! One other good thing about D’s Deldycke Traiteurs is that it’s a cross between a seafood bar and a deli. You can savour fresh lobsters and oysters, nibble on cured meat platters, sip Champagne, or like me, opt for the chilled food. Eating in, plus service, will cost you an extra of €2.50, but I think it’s worth it.

Here’s my selection of canapes:

(Top Left) Macaron of Chicken Liver Mousse, King Crab, Roquefort Cheese Mini-Sandwich
(Bottom Left) I can’t remember the first two. The truffle lookalike one was coated with Pistachio. The second was made of hard-textured, nutty and sweet cheese. Then, Foie Gras Coasted with Poppy Seeds and Fish Roe with Potato! Everything was just delightful!!

Mini-meal done! Looking at what’s on offer in the open fridge, I was contemplating another visit to D’s Deldycke Traiteurs.

Sadly, as I was informed by the lovely server, D’s is not opened for business on Tuesdays. My attention was, hence, turned (back) to chocolate.

OOPS!! Not THEM ones   >_<

To conclude..

IMPRESSION: 3.5/5
INNOVATION: 4/5
COMFORT: 2/5
NUMBER: 9.5


(read about rating here)

 

 

D’S DELDYCKE TRAITEURS

23 Wollestraat
8000 Brugge
Belgium

Tel. +32 50 33 43 35

www.deldycke.be