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Pastorale in Reet (near Antwerp) - 2 Michelin stars

Rating: 93.
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Chef Bart de Pooter's restaurant Pastorale is housed in former vicarage, built in the late classicistic style in the 19th century, and is located in the small village of Reet, some 11 miles from Antwerp. Before starting his own restaurant in 1992, Bart de Pooter trained in the kitchens of celebrated Belgian chef Pierre Romeyer at his 3-star restaurant La Maison de Bouche in Hoeilaart, at Trent rue de la Paille (1 Michelin star) in Brussels, and at De Paddock (1 Michelin star) in Keerbergen. Pastorale was awarded its first Michelin star in 2003, a second followed in 2006 (2007 guide).

Pastorale is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday and for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant offers a number of menus; there's the "Vandaag" (Today) menu (4 courses for €85, not available on Fridays and Saturdays), the "Expressie" (Expression) menu (8 courses for €175), the "Verlangen" (Desire) menu (4 courses for €115), the "Sensatie" (Sensation) menu (6 courses for €145), and there's a 3-course set lunch menu for €60. I had dinner with my husband and a friend at Pastorale on Saturday 7 March 2015 and we all ordered the "Verlangen" menu with an extra beef course. * I was recognised

To start there was an excellent selection of flavoursome appetizers. Crisp tortilla strips, lightly coated with polenta, were served with a fresh guacamole dip. Then there was a really lovely tarte flambée with smoked goat's cheese and bao pao with a soft lamb stew filling. Best of all was a deliciously moist olive cake topped with aubergine crème and sliced, fresh mushrooms.




Next up was an amuse bouche of chopped oyster, sea lettuce granita, oyster crème, and a spinach "bonbon", garnished with a crisp onion ring. A lovely combination of fresh flavours. Shortly after two more amuse bouches arrived. First fresh mackerel, crunchy marinated kohlrabi, mackerel crème and a delightful dashi broth. Followed by crunchy sliced yacon, nicely paired with a walnut crème, a small piece of fresh walnut, a Scamorza cheese cream and a crisp made from milk and shiso. A well-balanced dish with lovely concentrated walnut flavours and a nice touch of acidity. (no photographs)

First course of the tasting menu was Brittany lobster on a delicious salad of bulgur, mixed crunchy grains and pomegranate, accompanied by some beetroot puree, a light lobster broth/dressing, crunchy radish, and some fabulous, mildly salty, pickled beetroot rolls. Also on the plate was an intense lobster crème, seasoned with tandoori spices. An exciting dish with balanced flavours and a beautiful textural contrast. The nutty bulgur-grain salad and the sweet beetroot were are perfect match for the lobster.

This was followed by beautifully cooked monkfish, with a nice crisp crust and served with a crème made from the monkfish liver, a creamy celeriac puree, salt-roasted celeriac, some strips of salty-sweet cured ham, a ham foam, and finished with Kombucha juices. The latter being a nice contemporary touch. The juices were quite sharp on their own, but worked well when combined with the other ingredients and helped cut through the richness of the fish and the liver crème. Extra kudos for using the monkfish liver.

Third course was an absolutely stunning piece of delicately grilled halibut, simply served with a butter sauce flavoured with anchovies, and accompanied by an elegantly sweet parsley root puree, some lacinato kale, and a purple salsify compote. A spot-on flavour combination. The salty savouriness of the butter sauce complemented the halibut perfectly and the touch of sharpness in the salsify compote balanced the dish out nicely.

Next up was the extra course, which came in two servings. First to arrive was a piece of lightly egged toast topped with Wagyu beef carpaccio and grated black truffle, gorgeous. Shortly after we were served a luxurious dish of almost dauntingly rich wagyu beef (bms 12), both in texture and in flavour, accompanied by omelet rolls, puntarelle tops, baby turnips, mushrooms, and crunchy pickled crosnes for extra texture. Even better was the marvellous beef sauce, shiny like a mirror. The sauce had been thickened with wagyu fat and was beautifully seasoned with warm spices, almost 5-spice like but more refined.

Dessert was mandarin ice cream, coconut cake cubes, a light and elegant rice pudding, lemon curd, and bittersweet mandarin segments. Fantastic mandarin ice cream, with lovely refreshing flavours and a wonderful creamy texture. Perched on top of the ice cream was a meringue disc topped with dots of yuzu gel. A lovely combination of sweet and tart citrus flavours, but at the same time quite high on bitters.

Pastorale has held its two Michelin stars for almost a decade now and as such it has become one of the well-established names in the Belgian restaurant elite. After almost seven years, my revisit was long overdue. It needs no saying that Bart de Pooter is a very experienced and skilled chef and this was confidently reflected on the plate. Every dish in tonight's fish-focussed "Verlangen" menu was executed with precision and finesse. The eclectic style of cooking brings you modern interpretations of the classic (Parma) ham and monkfish combination, but also out-of-the-box flavour combinations such as lobster, bulgur and beetroot. There was nothing pedestrian about the wagyu dish either. Both the dining room and the presentation of the food breathe "contemporary chic", but this does not prevent a clear focus on full-blown flavours. Service was efficient, friendly and attentive and the reasonably priced wine list offers some very interesting choices, including an extremely rare Champagne non-dégorgé (sic) from Fallet-Prévostat. Pastorale is an exemplary two-star restaurant that is right on par with its peers in Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges.

Posted 20-04-2015


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