[Brugge] Hertog Jan
Let me start by saying that my high end experience is limited. I've done Cinc Sentits in Barcelona, Marque and Becasse in Sydney, Benu in SF and that was about it. Tonight I visited Hertog Jan in Brugge.
On the whole, the experience is fantastic. The food is very good, the wine choices are good and the service is solid. What confused me most about this experience though is what the difference is that makes a 3 star restaurant. Benu strikes me as a solid 2* but the food and wine was as interesting as Hertog Jan and so was Cinc Sentits (a 1*). Perhaps I misunderstand the way that Michelin works.
For me the food was very good.
The first amuse of goose liver parfait in a coca cola and liquorice meringue was exceptional. A beautiful mouthful which was crunchy, creamy, tart, luscious and more. The perfect start.
The potato crisp with curry mayonnaise and salt was also good.
Avocado with tomato powder and olive oil was confusing. The tomato overpowered the delicate avocado and olive oil. This didn't really work.
Gazpacho with olive and basil was nice. A clean, sharp continuation of the meal. That said, it was unoriginal and quite basic.
Pork head with mustard and lentils intrigued me but failed to deliver. As much as I wanted to love this, the dressing was overly acidic and covered up the natural flavor of the pork. By itself, the lentil purée was nice but the dish didn't come together.
The final amuse of potato purée, coffee, vanilla and mimolette was inspired. The vanilla works brilliantly with the cheese and this really was a triumph.
The first course was radish with young herring and lemon. I quite liked the combination with the lemon being very good. That said, after the gazpacho and pork head, I was getting sick of the high levels of acid and salt in every dish.
Vegetables, herbs, flowers was a stunning dish. The vegetables were all fabulous and well cooked or not as the case may have been. A stunning way to show off the great produce. The Croatian grapevine worked well here.
The "sushi" of cured salmon with burnt cucumber and sushi rice creme was very tasty and playful. Though, like most dishes, I found it a it salty. The combinations all worked well together.
Beets with goose liver and cherry seemed less well executed. Sure, there were nice favors on the plate but I don't think they all worked amazingly well. The liver and beet root was good, as was the liver with cherry but the whole thing seemed a bit too sweet.
The final main of Lozere lamb was very good. Shards of dry, crispy lamb shoulder were unique and a slow cooked and lacquered lamb neck were fantastic. The prime cut loin was less impressive but the whole dish worked and the Beyerskloof Pinotage was nice.
The desserts were mixed. The predessert was a single flower. This was a pretty ballsy move really but it was nice.
The green tea, sorrel and pistachio was okay. Nothing special really but nice enough as a sweet.
Cranberry, yoghurt and marscspone was similar. A good combination but a little one dimensional. Interestingly, there was a lot of meringue in the meal. It was as if it was the flavor of the moment and Gert couldn't get enough of it.
Chocolate, hazelnut and caramel was nice. Appropriately playing the role of the chocolate dessert. There was quite some bitterness to the caramel here. My one other criticism is that the desserts only had one wine pairing. A sweet Gewurtraminer from Catalunya. I honestly felt that it needed a different pairing for the chocolate as it didn't really work there.
The set of petit fours with the coffee was generally good though the sesame, ponzu and milk chocolate praline was awful.
On the whole, the meal was very good. I'm not sure it was many steps ahead of the likes of Marque in Sydney or Benu in SF but it is very good. Gert is certainly a talented chef and his use of vegetables is very good, I was just looking for that little bit of magic that makes a 3* restorant and I don't think it was quite there m