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Nuance restaurant in Duffel (near Antwerp)

Rating: 95.
Rating index:
Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
Very good to Excellent (89-92)
Above average to Good (86-88)
Below Average to Average (80-85)
Avoid (below 80)
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Flemish chef Thierry Theys has been taking Belgium by storm. After having trained at Ducasse in Monaco and at Hans van Wolde's two-star Beluga restaurant in Maastricht, Thierry and his partner Sofie Willemarck opened Nuance restaurant in Duffel (some 20 minutes from Antwerp) in 2008. The next year the restaurant was already awarded its first Michelin star and the second star followed immediately in 2010. Lofty accolades for a chef so young: Thierry Theys is 27. I had been wanting to go to his restaurant since it was awarded its second star - one could sense that something special was happening in Duffel.

Nuance restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Thursday to Monday (no lunch on Saturday) and they offer a 5 course tasting menu (€80; €95 with an extra foie gras course) or a choice from the a la carte menu. I had lunch there on 5 February 2012. My husband and I both had the 5 course tasting menu with the extra foie gras course.

With our aperitifs we were served five pre-starters. First up was a Comté cheese puff (lovely), followed by a Green curry 'prawn cracker' with Asian salmon, avocado and creme fraiche. A beautiful combination of flavours and I loved the green curry cracker.


Next was delicious and tasty rolled up thinly sliced beef served with nice and crunchy radish, dots of Brie (well, white mould cheese anyway) cream, a perfectly crisp pomme soufflée and quinoa which provided great texture.

The fourth pre-starter was a Fennel flan served with a fennel broth, hand peeled brown shrimps, cucumber, quinoa and dill. Lovely delicate fennel flavours, wonderful tasty brown shrimps (or grey shrimps as they call them in Belgium) and nice freshness from the cucumber. A great combination of flavours and textures.

The last and fifth pre-starter was North Sea crab tartare, broth made with Japanse soy, soft-boiled quail's egg and lightly smoked garlic. A sublime dish, fusion at its best. Lovely lightly dressed crab served with a gorgeous soy broth. A very elegant and well-balanced dish with the perfect touch of soy and these elegant flavours were lifted by the wonderful smoked garlic puree.

The first course of the tasting menu was Langoustine Royal - langoustine, sea vegetables, 'sushi' cream, algae powder, langoustine cream, avocado ice cream and a terrine of algae and turnip. Perfectly cooked juicy and translucent langoustine and incredible langoustine cream with a mayonaise-like texture and very intense langoustine flavours. Both the langoustine cream and the algae powder provided a wonderful richness to the dish. Lovely pickled seaweed and black radish and sour-cream-like 'sushi' cream. The terrific teeny tiny terrine of algae (the black cubes in the photograph) and turnip was beautifully made. There was also a flavoursome algae tarlet on the plate but I didn't like the rather tough and dry consistency. The avocado ice cream and mousse on the other hand were fabulous: freshness from the ice cream and warmth from the mousse. Many flavours but beautifully balanced. An enticing dish, all the elements on the plate invite you to taste and combine them and they all worked brilliantly together.

Second course was textures of foie gras and beetroot, Foie gras terrine, crisp, snow, puree, mousse and Beetroot puree, powder, pickle and mousse. First the mousses. On the plate there was this beautifully shaped ball, filled with half foie gras and half beetroot mousse, dusted with beetroot powder. Both mousses were perfectly airy and smooth and interacted with each other gloriously. The foie gras crisp was lovely and had wonderful, caramelised foie gras flavours. The beetroot puree and powder were both delicious: clean pure beetroot flavours with a focus on the sweetness of the beetroot. Perfect touch of acidity from the pickled beetroot. Excellent rich foie gras terrine and lovely and light foie gras snow. An amazing, indulgent yet light, dish with fantastic flavours and an incredible aftertaste, great textures too. One of the most exciting foie gras dishes I have had in a long time - certainly not since the foie gras at De Librije restaurant in Zwolle last September.

On to the third course. Danish cod, salsify, pasta, Parmesan and truffle jus, chicory, purslane cream and Bergamot crumb. Absolutely beautiful, perfectly cooked, flaky cod. Lovely crunch and bitters from the chicory. The fragrant Bergamot crumb was exceptional and provided texture and contrast. Bergamot can easily overpower but it was perfectly judged and it went very well with the cod. The purslane cream was wonderful and creamy. Great texture from the pasta and the salsify. The gorgeous Parmesan and truffle jus provided warmth and a lovely aftertaste. Unexpected but creative flavour combinations in this dish that all blended together perfectly.

Fourth course: Aubrac beef (aged for 6 weeks), onion and peanut crunch, fermented black garlic, potato, celeriac, chard, jus with Meyer lemon. Amazing succulent beef with a fanastic depth of flavour. The jus was well-reduced and was wonderfully concentrated. Loved the celeriac roll and puree, both delicious. The potato was served as one large chip and it was fabulous. Great texture from the terrific peanut and onion crumble. Strong and powerful flavours from the fermented garlic but it was stunning. A rich but fantastic main course which delivered on flavour and the execution was flawless. Great choice of vegetables too.

Fifth course, Rose, lychee, Buddhafingers zest, white chocolate, vanilla. I forgot to take a photograph of this dessert. Wonderful creamy white chocolate, rose and lychee mousse. Lovely refreshing citrus ice cream and fantastic lychee jelly and fresh lychee. The vanilla came as a melth-in-the-mouth aerated disc and as a delicious vanilla creme. Last but not least a delicious white chocolate and sesame ball. A lovely well-balanced dessert with a nice touch of acidity.

Last and sixth course, Nespresso Lovers: textures of coffee (crumble, tartlet, parfait, creme), tangerine and saffron crisp and sea buckthorn. The coffee textures were all very well executed and were all made with Nespresso coffee. Each element had a perfect consistency. Great texture from the coffee crumble and the tangerine and saffron crisp. Lovely sharp and sweet notes from the sea buckthorn puree but for my taste the sea buckthorn did not manage to balance the very intense coffee flavours in this dessert. But I do have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of coffee desserts in general.

Something very special is happening in Duffel. Thierry Theys is a very talented and skilled young chef who delivers technically strong and refined dishes. His classical training obviously shines through in his cooking but he delivers captivating food in which he blends classic and modern techniques and ingredients, seemingly without effort, resulting in well-balanced dishes that are all very precisely executed. When this chef experiments with techniques and ingredients he does so in the kitchen and not on the plate; the diner gets carefully thought through dishes that show creativity and ambition. They often convey a real sense of beauty. The service at Nuance was attentive and competent, but it would be nice and useful if the often intricate dishes would be explained with greater detail. Thierry Theys' talent is not only recognised by Michelin but also by his clientèle. It is very difficult to get a table at Nuance restaurant, in fact this lunch was booked two months in advance. Could this be Belgium's next three star chef? If he crosses some t's and dots some i's he very well might be. I'm not saying this will happen overnight but he clearly has the talent and potential, certainly considering his young age. In a way it doesn't matter however: it is very gratifying to see this artist at work.

More Nuance:

Slideshow of lunch at Nuance in September 2012

Posted 03-03-2012


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