Hertog Jan, Bruges
January 25, 2011
Gert De Mangeleer is regarded as one of the most interesting of the young Flemish chefs who have made the region a restaurant destination in the style of Copenhagen or San Sebastián. He has converted this former brasserie, which still bears the name of a local beer, Hertog Jan, Duke John in English, into an internationally recognized restaurant which recently received its second Michelin star. Linda and I went for dinner on January 12, 2011.
Our welcome was particularly warm on the cold, rainy night as Laurent, Belgium’s most famous and accomplished restaurant blogger, had called ahead to the chef about our arrival. We were seated at the table against the glass wall to the kitchen where we could watch the activity, particularly the well-lighted plating table where the chef is working.
In the center back you can see the big slicing machine which was used a lot for the thin, round slices you will see in many dishes below.
We ordered glasses of the house Champagne, André Clouet. Little domes of cherry filled with foie gras and a “crispy of Coca Cola” underneath were put on the table along with puffed potatoes with a cream of curry dip.
Next came a small bowl with foie gras mousse underneath, a frozen raspberry round and little litchi spheres.
It was an amusing, light start with enjoyable flavor combinations.
A hedgehog of good brown bread was put on the table.
The sommelier and the imaginative international wine list at Hertog Jan are highly regarded, so we ordered the wine pairings with the tasting menu.
The next amuse-gueule was a crisp of parmesan, tomato powder and dried shallot.
Then a little bowl of potato mousseline with vanilla oil and shredded mimolette cheese on top.
The first course on the menu was
Sea bass, marinated in sweet-and-sour rhubarb, avocado, cockles and sea berry
Two sesame meringues on a slate were put on the table; we were told to eat them half way through the course to add some crunch. The sea bass was top quality and enhanced by the complex garnishes.
The wine with this was a Fairhill Down from Marlborough in New Zealand. It had both an earthiness and noticeable acidity which was paired with the acidity of the rhubarb sauce.
The second course was
Hand-peeled shrimp from Zeebruges with airy buttermilk, nut butter and sea urchin
This dish combined fresh flavors of the sea with winter earthiness. The round on top and the small white cubes are celeriac. Excellent.
The wine was Movia, from Slovenia; the earthiness of the Ribolla Gialla grape was paired with the earthiness of the dish.
Lobster lightly smoked with sweet-and-sour butternut squash, cream of passion fruit, vanilla and wattleseed
This combination went a completely different direction than from the previous one. Various naturally slightly sweet elements went with the richness of the lobster. We were told to crunch the jasmine flower and add it to the sauce. While I found the dish interesting and was glad for the contrast, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the two previous ones.
The wine was Angiolino Maule from the Veneto. The fruitiness of the white Garganega grape was paired with the sweetness of the dish.
You can see the chef plating our lobster dish, as he did many of the dishes for everyone. I question whether that is a good use of his time and talents, but perhaps he is showing his young team just how he wants it done.
Sole with cream of girolles, coco beans and a mousseline of tarragon vinegar
This time the more elegant fish was allowed to stand out with traditional flavors in the garnishes. Excellent.
The wine was St-Andrea blend. This white wine from Eger in Hungary includes Pinot Gris, Harslevelu, Rajani Rizling, Viognier, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. It had a minerality which might remind one of a wine from the Loire which is a common pairing with sole.
Lacquered Oosterschelde eel with foie gras and beet root and red onion
Now we are getting serious. The fresh piece of local eel, caramelized on one side, was joined in its richness by a round of foie gras. The tanginess of the beetroot and the little red onions provided some relief. Excellent.
The wine was Blandy’s Sercial Madeira. Its nutty off-dry long finish was an excellent foil for the foie gras and eel.
Black truffle from Carpentras with braised oxtail, airy cream of onion and potato
The very fragrant dish of black truffles from Carpentras, in the South of France, was presented to us. A truffle was then sliced thinly. A generous portion of slices was put onto the dish of braised oxtails topped with a potato onion foam. (We could frequently see the espuma bottle being used to put these flavored foams onto dishes.) The combination was rich, luscious and superb.
The wine was Jacobsdal pinotage, a robust red wine from Stellenbosch in South Africa. It was up to the challenge of standing up to the strong dish.
We had eaten a lot and didn’t have any of the good looking cheese from the trolley, which you can see on the right.
The first dessert was
white chocolate, lychee, roses.
There were a sorbet and candy-like offerings. The delicacy was startling after the oxtails.
The second dessert was a combination of three exotic citrus fruit flavors: bergamot, pomelo and another which I can’t remember, maybe yuzu. It was good, not too sugary or citrusy, and refreshing.
Finally there was a bowl with chopped pineapple underneath and a black pepper, lime foam on top.
The wine with the desserts was Saint-Lannes gros manseng from Southwest France.
A tray of chocolate mignardises was being passed to the other tables, but they knew that we were stuffed and skipped us.
The meal was excellent throughout. The whole menu was well planned and structured. The ingredients were very good, many of them local. My regular readers know that I frequently complain about too much complexity in cuisine. Most of these dishes were very complex, but they worked for me. Perhaps if they are well planned and integrated, they can come down to three elements: main, garnish and sauce. As you will see in the next two posts, Oud Sluis and de Jonkman, this complexity is a common style among the renowned young Flemish chefs.
The service was excellent and cheerful throughout the evening. The wines and the logic of their pairing were always explained to us. Glasses were refilled if needed. We enjoyed chatting with the chef towards the end of the evening.