Very good to excellent (89-92)
Average to good (85-88)
Below 85 - below average
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It was only last November that Hertog Jan restaurant in Sint-Michiels near Bruges was awarded a third Michelin star, the first restaurant in Belgium to gain a third star since Peter Goossens' Hof van Cleve in 2005. Head-chef of Hertog Jan is 33 year old Gert de Mangeleer, which makes this young Flemish chef one of the youngest three-star chefs in Europe.
During his training at restaurant 't Molentje of two-star chef Danny Horseele in Zeebrugge, Gert de Mangeleer met Joachim Boudens. In 2002 Gert and Joachim started working at Hertog Jan, at the time owned by Guido Francque. In 2005 they took over the restaurant and a year later the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star (2007 guide); the second star followed in 2009 (2010 guide). Joachim Boudens is the head-sommelier at Hertog Jan and was named 'Best Sommelier' in Belgium in 2005 en 2011.
Hertog Jan is located just outside Bruges (less than 2 miles from the city centre) in the suburb of Sint Michiels and is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday till Saturday and you can choose between 3-course (€ 75), 4-course (€100), 5-course (€115), 6-course (€130) set menus and the à la carte menu. The à la carte menu is not available on the Saturday. With the set menus Hertog Jan also offers matching wine menus.
My husband and I had lunch there on a Friday and we had the 6-course menu. With our aperitifs we were served the six pre-starters:
Foie gras and liquorice meringues, lovely, crisp, creamy, wonderful sweetness from the liquorice (1) - Potato 'crisps' served with a curry dip, tasty and the dip had a good strong curry flavour (2) - Black olive tapenade, anchovies, capers, lemon curd; the tapenade was made from oven-dried black olives and had a crumb like texture. A delicious dish with well-balanced flavours, lovely bitters from the lemon and olives and a perfect touch of acidity (3) - Baby pak choi, beetroot, crisp rice, soy; fantastic pak choi, lightly marinated beetroot, great texture from the pak choi and the crispy rice, perfect touch of Asian flavours (4) - Tête pressée, lentils, turnips; lovely crunch from the thinly sliced turnip and tasty shallots and chives and again fantastic flavours, first you get a kick of acidity followed by more delicate/creamy flavours, perfect sweet and sour balance (5) - Potato, coffee, vanilla, Mimolette; lovely and creamy and the perfect touch of vanilla and coffee, balanced by the Mimolette cheese, a dish with a lovely long finish and a wonderful hint of bitterness (6).
1 2 3
4 5 6
The first course of the 6-course menu was Avocado, tomato, sea salt, Arbequina olive oil. Beautiful ripe avocado slices that were covered with a wonderful, concentrated tomato powder and sprinkled with some sea salt. When combined with the olive oil the tomato powder and sea salt transformed into the most delightful tomato sauce - the salt played a crucial part in this transformation. A simple but sensational dish with pure but powerful flavours, a feast for the taste buds.
Second course, Scallops, Jerusalem artichoke , potato, winter radish, herring caviar, veal bone marrow, shallots, olive oil. Terrific scallops served with an amazing lightly smoked and silky smooth Jerusalem artichoke puree. Lovely texture from the crisp (pickled) thinly sliced winter radish and shallots. Lovely touch of saltiness from the herring caviar. A harmonious dish with clean and very refined flavours but comforting at the same time with the olive oil, potatoes and bone marrow and again a dish that delivers lovely bitters too.
On to the third course, Langoustine, apricot and carrot coulis, braised carrot, pickled carrot, carrot oil, North African spices. The seared langoustine was perfectly seasoned, succulent and tender. Sublime delicate and creamy flavours from the apricot and carrot coulis which had a fantastic sweetness to it, the North African spices like cumin, ginger and coriander provided a wonderful warmth. Great texture and flavour from the pickled thin carrot slice, lovely warmth from the lightly braised carrot and carrot oil. Loved the hint of orange zest and saffron. A colourful and fragrant dish with a wonderful depth of flavour and where the carrot really took center stage. Perfect balance between, bitters, acidity and oily flavours. A very creative and exciting combination of flavours and textures.
Fourth course, Ceps, pig's trotter, green peppercorns, toast, celeriac. A divine mixture of ceps, pig's trotter and green pepper corns served on a piece of buttery toast. The ceps had a fantastic touch of vinegar. Wonderful richness from the pig's trotter, really sticks to the ribs. Great kick from the green peppercorns. A rich dish but still elegant because of the celeriac. A thin slice of celeriac was served on top of the cep/trotter mixture and it balanced the dish out perfectly. A very clever take on this Flemish classic.
The fifth course, roe deer, turnips, coffee, lemon. A perfectly cooked and tasty piece of roe deer served with a turnip crème, thinly sliced turnips and a coffee sauce. The turnip crème was ever so light and delicious and the coffee sauce was absolutely brilliant, powerful coffee flavours but definitely not too powerful and it had a fantastic aftertaste. The terrific lemon zest curd/jelly served on top of the turnip slices is a stroke of genius, the curd was tart and zingy, and it made the dish supremely digestable, I loved it. An outstanding dish with masterful bitters.
On to two pre-desserts.
First pre-dessert, Peanut caramel, salted peanuts, banana, vanilla ice cream. Lovely rich and salty structures of peanut caramel and a wonderful elegant banana crème. A well-balanced dessert, not too rich because of the lovely vanilla ice cream. Great textures too.
Second pre-dessert, Yoghurt, caramel and rice. Lovely refreshing yoghurt sorbet and fantastic crispy and buttery rice. A light and refreshing dessert with lovely textures.
Last dessert and sixth course, Passion fruit, caramel, coffee, liquorice, pineapple, cumin. Lovely pieces of pineapple and delicious passionfruit flavours. The coffee creme was lovely and elegant, not too intense. A wonderful dessert with pure and clean flavours, great textures, a perfect hint of cumin and excellent length.
Chocolates and 'oliebollen' served with our coffees.
This lunch was an amazing roller-coaster ride of flavours and textures. Gert de Mangeleer balances the five basic tastes masterfully, bitter in particular. He does this in a very precise but never clinical way and therefore delivers beautifully presented dishes with exciting and innovative flavours and textures, and he's certainly not afraid to explore the boundaries of flavour. As we say in Dutch: At the edge of the abyss the most beautiful flowers bloom.
The food at Hertog Jan is technically strong and complex but comes across as relaxed and completely authentic. Just like other chefs of his generation Gert De Mangeleer uses as much local and seasonal ingredients in his dishes as possible but fortunately he is not fundamentalist about it. The vegetables used in his restaurant all come from the restaurant's vegetable garden in Zedelgem, just a few miles down the road. All these vegetables are prepared with finesse and skill to maximize their potential, without ever overworking them. I believe the langoustine and carrot dish is a perfect example of this approach. Some people say: you only become a three star chef after you've been awarded a third star. Well, in this case I believe it's the other way around. Truly outstanding, focused and exciting food - I very much look forward to what is to come!