In de Wulf, Belgium, August 2012
A UK chef of some repute was telling how much he loved this place – so much so he’d gone several times. His belief was that it was destined for a second star soon and advised that we go soon while a reservation is still relatively easy. Certainly reading reviews and blogs the food did sound pretty wonderful.
We arrived after one hell of a journey – we even went down a dirt track at one stage. So, don’t even think about going without a sat nav. This is no fault of the restaurant – it is where it is – but expectations are high in the “it’d better be worth it” kind of way.
The hotel itself is lovely – rooms are spare and simply decorated. There’s no TV, hurrah – but no wifi, panic... e-mail cold turkey. The dining room is beautifully understated chic/rustic – large tables with lots of space between them. You never feel crowded.
The wine – oh dear. Not a good start. The Chablis was warm – well the top of the bottle of Chablis was warm. The rest was coldish. And we were told in no uncertain terms by the sommelier that we just had to accept the fact. Us: so – we just throw away the first glass of wine? Sommelier: no – but you have to accept that top is warm. This surreal exchange went on for a few iterations. The MD came over an also explained that the top of the wine was warm because of how it was chilled. We just couldn’t get through that the whole thing should be chilled. If there was a smiley for “hits head off wall” I’d use it here.
The first tranche of dishes were a mixture of lovely little single bites and not so lovely ones.
- Kohlrabi, lovage
- Beetroot, yoghurt, woodsorrel
- Burned bread, maroilles
- Potato, sour cream
- Crispy onion
- Pickle, dill, home dried ham
- Snail 'blonde de Flandre'
The brunt bread was the one that set off alarm bells – it was quite similar to a dish we had in Noma last year. The Noma dish was a mussel encased in a shell made from pastry dyed with squid ink – an edible shell. This sat on a bed of mussel shells. It was delicious and fun. Here the burnt bread were shaped like small rocks and sat on a bed of real rocks. The bread was filled with marroilles cream cheese but dowsed in “soot”. Oh jesus, be god and all the saints this was horrible – sucked the life out of your mouth with its all-encompassing bitter burnt flavours. Imagine Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” as a single bite - well, The Road would still be a tropical paradise compared to this mean morsel. Much water was needed to wash the taste away.
Other dishes that followed included:
burned mackerel – very pleasant
whelks, whey sauce, spinach. Two whelks on a plate covered in dry uncooked spinach –one whelk was twice the size of the other but both had an unpleasant rubbery texture. I haven’t eaten an eyeball before but I imaging this is what is might feel like.
Bouchot mussel, verbena, runner beans – mostly pleasant but the slightly jellied verbena sauce had bitter end note which was just a little too strong & it got in the way of the rest of ingredients
North sea crab, courgette – loved this dish – courgette flower stuffed with crabmeat. Cracking accompaniment which currently escapes me.
Scrambled egg, wild herbs, wild spinach, pickled garlic. They sweetly replace my eggs with razor clams. The clams and accompanying sauce were delicious but let down but the herbs and foliage. The “foraged” stuff was quite dry and once the aromatics were gone you were left essentially with a mouthful of flavourless roughage.
'Brittany' lobster, “kerremelkstampers” – lovely dish of beautiful lobster
Turbot from Dunkerque, fermented carrots, hazelnutbutter – if you are going to make a thing out of carrots which have been buried for 4 months – at least put more than 5 tiny slices onto the plate – great turbot ‘though
White cabbage, melted lardo, chervil, ramsoncapers – I have only vague recollections of this dish
Porkneck of Borre, spring onions , chives – great full-flavoured pork
Of the remaining dishes
- Burned cucumber, cremet de Cap Blanc-Nez
- Blackberry with anise hissop
- Beetroot, wild strawberry, buttermilk and chamomile
- “Herbs from our garden” yellow mirabelle
I have only a vague memory – except for the beetroot dish which, although beautiful to look at, it was fairly inedible
So, what went wrong? I dunno – sounds like the chef has changed his style and embraced the foraging route. It was almost as if he’s been to Noma and had an epiphany but just hasn’t got the chops to pull it off. Warm wine is simply unforgivable. I looked thought cook book & read many blogs & postings and the dishes always look luscious and inviting but too many of the dishes here felt far too short of the mark. Hopefully this was a dud night and not the norm.
Anyone been disappointed recently or noticed a change in direction?
Not eaten there since 4/11. And, on that meal, would have agreed that a second star could not be far off. It seems bang-on for the sort of place to get one (as per Sat Bains, where there is a similarity of style).
It was an outstanding, perfect meal - one of the best of my life. Some foraging elements then and, certainly, much use of local seasonal produce. I'll not be back in the area until next spring but will definitely be eating there.
In de Wulf should have 2 stars. I've eaten there three times over the past three years and it gets better and better. Now they make bread in a special oven out back and have an improved wine program. The food is fabulous and the service is exceptional. Undoubtedly, it's a 2 star venue.
re: Nancy S.
Bread was fantastic last year. Loaves would be brought to the dining room and cut up there for service. There was such a crisp crust that you could hear it being cut right across the room.
I'm assuming they still do it, but I really liked the chefs bringing the dishes out and explaining them. And mercifully, they did it in English - my Dutch simply wouldnt be up to understanding it.