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Hertog Jan in Zedelgem (near Bruges) - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 97.
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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Hertog Jan is a restaurant co-owned by chef Gert de Mangeleer (b. 1977) and maitre d'hôtel / sommelier Joachim Boudens. The duo met when they were working at Danny Horseele's then two Michelin-starred restaurant 't Molentje in Zeebrugge. Later on they moved on to Hertog Jan and in 2005 they took over the restaurant together. Michelin awarded Hertog Jan its first star in 2007, the second star in 2010 and the third star in November 2011 (2012 guide).


In 2010, Gert and Joachim bought a farm in Zedelgem (some 5 miles from Sint-Michiels, where the restaurant was located at the time), where they started to produce their own vegetables. Over a period of 4 years, the farm and the original farmhouse were completely renovated and extended; a new kitchen building was added too. In July 2014, Hertog Jan finally moved to its new, more rural location. The old restaurant building on the Torhoutsesteenweg in Sint-Michiels now houses a Spanish bistro called L.E.S.S.

In Belgium and the Netherlands Gert de Mangeleer is not only known for his 3 Michelin stars, but also as a judge on the Flemish and Dutch versions of ‘The Taste’.



Hertog Jan is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday till Saturday. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu (starters €90, mains €85-€140, desserts €25) and there are three multiple-course tasting menus priced at €115 (The Brief Encounter), €195 (The Intense Experience) and €255 (The Broad Discovery). I had lunch with my husband at Hertog Jan on Saturday 23 Augustus 2014 and we both ordered the Intense Experience menu. My last visit to Hertog Jan was in December 2011.* I was recognised

To start there was a selection of 6 amuse bouches. First to arrive was a golden-brown potato straw cracker topped with a smoked aubergine mayonnaise and miso; there also was a cylinder, as thin and crisp as the layers of a sigar, sprinkled with dried tomato powder and with a confit tomato and cream cheese filling. Two delightful amuse bouches with precise flavours and I loved the intensity of the tomato.


 

Equally good was a crisp and salty chicken skin cracker topped with a smooth peanut crème, puffed rice, a few dots of soft egg yolk and a sprinkling  of 'golden spices'. Even better however, was pork crackling topped with some soft and rich pulled pork, a thin pickle slice, bbq sauce and covered with a thin layer of lardo; a sublime flavour combination.



This was followed by a pink raspberry and beetroot meringue filled with a velvety and airy foie gras crème and sprinkled with some anise seeds. Lovely sweetness and a hint of acidity and the anise seeds provided a nice touch of liquorice. A thing of great beauty, but also quite a mouthful.


Last in line was a Hertog Jan classic, an aromatic and distinctive dish of potato mousseline with coffee and grated Mimolette, the latter providing a lovely touch of nuttiness.

 

The first course of the tasting menu was 'Tomato collection Summer 2014'. A selection of skinned and unskinned (cherry) tomatoes, simply mixed with sliced shallots, and served with some cream cheese flavoured with chives, lemon gem flowers and leaves, a beautiful pure and clean tomato bouillon, and a sprinkling of ground cardamom. Wonderful variety of tomatoes, the taste ranging from delicately sweet to fresh with subtle sharpness, and the bouillon created a sort of à la minute marinating effect. Perfectly judged use of cardamom, giving the dish warmth and a lovely citrus-floral aroma. Lovely herby lemon aroma from the lemon gem too. A superbly balanced dish.


Second course was a visually stunning dish of dashi-injected watermelon balls coated with ground cardamom, mozzarella spheres, and kohlrabi sheets rolled into small cones, all filled with shiny, black Belgian caviar. The dashi injection had transformed the watermelon into juicy bites, releasing wonderfuly savoury-sweet flavours once you bit into them, and brightened when combined with the caviar. Great crunch and mild sharpness from the kohlrabi and the mozzarella spheres were wonderfully creamy. All the individual flavours were fantastic on their own, but for a full-on flavour and texture sensation it was best the combine them.


Lobster and beetroot followed. Perfectly tender and succulent lobster, successfully paired with with crunchy, marinated yellow beetroot, braised soft yellow beetroot, shallots, a sea buckthorn crème, a lobster nage/sauce and some crunchy, mildly bitter cocoa nibs for extra texture. An attractive dish with distinct, but well-balanced flavours, the sea buckthorn crème delivering just the right tang against the sweetness of the lobster and the beetroot. The nage was well-made, with lovely shellfish flavours coming through and it gave the dish a nice mellow finish.


Fourth course was an exquisite piece of thick and moist lacquered eel, topped with a slice of goose liver and a 'salad' of fresh fennel and garden herbs, served with a miso and bergamot flavoured broth. The eel and foie gras combination was absolutely divine and comforting. The fennel and some of the garden herbs were quite powerful however, and they were a bit of a let-down as they added a rough edge to this otherwise very elegant dish.




Next up was a dish called 'A walk through the garden'. A myriad of vegetables with contrasting textures and temperatures, including radish, yellow courgette, buttered cauliflower, baby courgette, smoked artichoke puree, baby carrot, celery, warm but still crunchy white cabbage, Mexican mouse melons, courgette flowers, soft red and yellow beetroot, fennel and some fresh herbs and flowers. A lovely combination of pure and more comforting flavours, executed with great attention to detail, but on the whole this dish was lacking something to bring it all together and there were just too many green/raw notes for my taste.


Sixth course was charcoal grilled Australian wagyu beef (rump cap, grade 6), served on a stone and accompanied by a gorgeous mixture of creamed broad beans, peas and young onion, served on top of some soft bone marrow. Also on the plate were dots of pure and bittersweet red pepper puree and some wonderfully intense, mildly sweet confit black garlic puree. Extraordinary beef, with very pure and creamy beef flavours, that were intense but delicate at the same time. The charcoal grilling had formed a light, caramelised crust on the beef, which gave it a lovely charred finish. This was one of the best beef dishes I have had in 2014. A truly outstanding dish; a marvellous balancing act of richness and finesse.




A dessert of apple, 'sour' herbs and elderberries followed. First a blown sugar sugar sphere filled with sorrel ice cream, fresh apple balls, herby mini yoghurt-wheatgrass meringues and popping candy, was theatrically 'smashed' into a bowl in front of the diner; then some some elderflower juice was poured around it and finally the dessert was finished with some fresh 'sour' herbs. A very refreshing dessert with bright and concentrated flavours and great textures. Less convincing were the herbs. Some of them had quite a shrubby texture, making them unpleasant to eat.


The next dessert was an absolute triumph. A thin, buttery Speculoos biscuit, beautifully embellished with fruit tea sorbet 'berries', wild strawberries, fresh herbs and flowers and some small blobs of creamy 'platte kaas' (a mixture of cream, sour cream, eggs and sugar). Lovely elegant sweetness from the fruit tea berries, the wild strawberries married wonderfully with the warm spices in the speculoos biscuit and the platte kaas brought an attractive soft, satiny creaminess to the dish. Unlike in the previous dessert, the herbs worked perfectly in this one and they delivered lovely, garden-fresh, minty and fennel-like flavours.




Sweets trolley

Excitement. You can tell they are excited. They have every reason to be. The new Hertog Jan is an uncompromising place that has been tailored in every respect to reflect the vision that Gert de Mangeleer and Joachim Boudens had of their ideal restaurant. These ambitious new digs represent their desire not to rest on their laurels, not to consolidate on their three-star success. What do you do, when you have had three stars for three years and you are 36 years old? It must be a daunting question to have to ask yourself. Maybe Jacques Brel gave Gert de Mangeleer some guidance in La Quête (1968)?

"Lutter toujours", take risks, provoke, stay ahead of the curve, express your evolving individuality. The status quo is not an option, and Gert de Mangeleer is certainly looking for unexpected flavours, but the great craftsman in him manages to avoid any clashes. He is experimenting like mad with the produce (including dozens of varieties of tomatoes) from his own vegetable garden in front of the restaurant and this brings many things on the plate to absolutely marvel at, but I also had mixed feelings about one or two of the dishes. I am fine with that. Haute cuisine in Belgium is generally quite conservative at present and there are only few true innovators who drive change and who look to reach 'l'inaccessible étoile'. Gert de Mangeleer is a chef who leads the way - I will be extremely interested to see where to.






Posted 01-10-2014




 
 
 
 

 
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