Very good to excellent (89-92)
Average to good (85-88)
Below 85 - below average
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Beluga in Maastricht is one of the Netherlands' 16 two-star restaurants. Patron-cuisinier of Beluga is Hans van Wolde. Hans van Wolde trained in a number of Dutch restaurants before opening Beluga in 1997. The restaurant was awarded its first star in 1998 and a second star followed in 2005. Beluga also has an outstanding 19.5 rating (equal to three-star De Librije and second only to three-star Oud Sluis) in the Dutch Gault-Millau guide. In the Netherlands Hans van Wolde is a well-respected chef who has a reputation for serving innovative and creative food at the highest level.
Beluga boasts a very beautiful and trendy dining room, one of the most impressive in the Netherlands perhaps. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday till Saturday (no lunch on Saturday) and it offers a 'Smaken, geuren, kleuren' menu (7 courses for €165), a 'Pleasure' dinner menu (5 courses including wine and coffee €150, not served on Fridays) and there's the a la carte menu. There's also a 'Business' lunch menu (4 courses €65, 5 courses €85). Both the Pleasure and Business menus have to be booked in advance. My husband and I had dinner there on 15 March 2012 and we both had the 'Smaken, geuren, kleuren' menu.
At this point it is perhaps worth noting that 15 March is also the day of the private view at TEFAF, the world famous Maastricht art fair. Unsurprisingly, Beluga was packed. In fact, Hans van Wolde informed me that he had 138 guests on the night, compared to a normal maximum of 55. He frankly admitted that this prevented them from serving the usual parade of amuses bouches but also confirmed confidently that everything was well under control.
We were served 3 amuses bouches in stead of the usual 8. First up was Tom Ka Kai, like the soup but with a firm consistency, served with a sweet and sour cucumber and daikon maki. Elegant coconut flavours and the cucumber and daikon maki had a lovely crunch .
Next was Asparagus, egg and nutmeg. Lovely asparagus crème with a strong but well-judged touch of nutmeg.
The last amuse bouche was the so-called chef's special and one of Hans van Wolde's signature dishes, Tomato and Parmesan. Gorgeous rich and creamy Parmesan foam with a fantastic confit cherry tomato underneath, a lovely tomato crisp on top and a perfect hint of basil. A lovely dish with pure and balanced flavours.
The first course of the menu was Foie gras 'Mosaic', peanuts, puffed rice, cherry beer ice cream, apple and pickles. The mosaic was made with a rich but airy foie gras crème, beautifully presented but the portion was too big. The cherry beer ice cream, apples and pickles provided freshness and balance, but there was just too much foie gras, especially in the context of a 7-course menu.
Second course: King crab, yoghurt and caramel crisp, ponzu mousse, caviar, curry dressing. Lightly dressed crab served in a ring-shaped yoghurt and caramel crisp which had a lovely 'dairy' aftertaste. Nice bite from the cucumber and daikon and lovely warmth from the dressing. A dish with light and elegant flavours, but unfortunately the ponzu mousse was far too strong and overpowering.
The third course was Black truffle cake, scallops (sliced and crème), button mushrooms (chopped and crème), anchovy, apple and pistachio crème and a truffle dressing. A harmonious dish with wonderful earthy flavours and great textures. Loved the mushroom crème and chopped mushroom mixture. The truffle dressing had a nice sweetness to it. Nice kick from the anchovy.
The fourth course, Grilled langoustine, langoustine tartare, pumpkin, garlic (mousse, purée, crisp). A lot was going on on this plate. Nice well-cooked langoustine and the pumpkin cilinder filled with the langoustine tartare was lovely. The garlic mousse however tasted of raw and bitter garlic and was unpleasant to eat. So was the very concentrated garlic purée and consequently the garlic elements ruined a potentially excellent dish.
On to the sixth course (2 dishes), which was (i) Truffled risotto, oysters, leeks and (ii) Seafood salad, saffron mayonnaise. Well-made creamy risotto with two variations of oyster, poached and deep-fried. Lovely slow-cooked leek that still had a bite to it. The seafood salad was lovely and fresh and well dressed. Nice mayonnaise too. Two nice dishes but I didn't get the combo. What is the point of pairing two very dissimilar dishes like a truffle risotto and a seafood salad?
Seventh course was Chicory and lobster tarte tatin served with a sour butter sauce. This course is not part of the 7-course tasting menu but can be ordered as an extra course for €20. Sweet and tender lobster and nice caramelised chicory. The butter sauce was delicious. However, the pastry case was undercooked and cold. When I enquired about this I was told by the restaurant staff that the pastry case was intended to be like this. I do not know if this is actually the case (no pun intended) but either way, I did not like it. I feel that cooking the pastry properly and caramelising it so that it becomes a proper tarte tatin (as it is billed) would greatly improve the dish. A major disappointment.
Eigth and main course was Black Angus Beef, white asparagus, celery, beef jus. A nice but simple main course. Perfectly cooked and tender beef and a nice rich beef jus. The vegetables were fine. This dish was let down by an unidentifiable rillette-like mixture, which was cold, greasy and frankly disgusting.
Waiting for our main course seemed like an eternity - we were 5 minutes away from actually leaving the restaurant, so when we had finished our main courses, alas we did not feel like dessert anymore and asked for the bill.
I will not beat about the bush: for a restaurant of Beluga's reputation and standards, this was far off the mark. The presentation was up to scratch but almost every dish contained technical errors that sometimes were so serious that the food was actually unpleasant. The garlic foam and puree is a case in point and at this level such errors are obviously totally unacceptable. Oh, and so is having to wait for your main course for an hour. Service was erratic; all members of staff were friendly and helpful but only some of them seemed to have and inkling about what they were serving. Beluga has a reputation as one of best restaurants in the Netherlands and is often cited as a candidate for a third Michelin star. As you can imagine the quality of the food served on the night left me slightly depressed. Was it because there were too many guests in the restaurant? Well, I don't know, but it shouldn't matter and frankly, when I'm paying this kind of money, I don't care.