The small pointer, the seconds’ pointer, shoots inexorably. Predictable. Almost reassuring.
Imperceptible but precise ticking bounces off my head. It reaches the brain using the preferential path that the fingers provide, in particular the thumb and the index finger, which tighten the watch face on hold. What then? I almost feel like I forgot it.
What a disappointment. Everything that I saw out of here was much more foreshadowing, certainly not this mixture of improvisation and dilettantism with which I had to confront with.
Do you know when, after a series of acrobatic moves, you manage to approach the prettiest girl at the party? Here it is. And do you know the disappointment you feel as soon as you open your mouth and you come out with a series of unusual trivia, spoken among other things with a shrill and vaguely irritating voice? Perfect: then you can understand how I feel.
Already forty-five: the minutes that have passed since I finished eating. Three quarters of an hour and no one came to ask me anything. If I felt good, if I considered the food to my liking, if I liked the wine and beer tasting. If I’m alive, even! All the staff is focused on a particular event (which I will tell you later) that divides the room in half: on the one hand the elected representatives, on the other the anonymous ones. Of course, I’m in the second group.
The maitre, as well as sommelier, as well as owner are now coming towards me. He smiles at me, covering the few meters that separate us. He has no idea how angry I am, but he will soon notice it. Just the time to get to the table.
Sing me, oh Diva, of the Bearded Man of the Stars
The fatal wrath …
I am in Belgium, in Zedelgem, a town a few miles from Bruges, where Hertog Jan is located, the three-star Michelin’s restaurant of the two co-owners: chef Gert De Mangeleer and Joachim Boudens, sommelier and maitre diner. Located in a perfectly renovated old barn of 1834, Hertog Jan boasts an outdoor shivering garden in which 90% of the raw materials used in the dishes are grown. A green wonder: I saw it outside and it made me hope. Inside, however, the situation is completely different: De Mangeleer is cooking six hands with two Japanese chefs. The chef, although young, is a personality in Belgium: he works in a highly-rated restaurant and moreover is one of the most appreciated faces of TV. For this reason, more than half of the room is filled by diners, about 40 people, who only went there to taste the dishes produced in this fusion cuisine.
The most unfortunate and less populated wing (we’ll be six in all) is left to itself: just think that the dishes are brought to us by young interns who only know their small task, nothing more. Really a bad performance: probably the worst service I have seen in my road trip. In Belgium they still have to learn a lot to properly understand what receptivity is…
Let’s move on to the real meal: there are several menus from Hertog Jan. As usual, I opt for an Intensive Experience.
I flip through the wine list, very thin and then I delight in looking for the cellar: no one can find the time to let me visit it, I look at it from the outside and it seems beautiful to me. Small but beautiful. Underground. Also rich in beers. I decide to try a double juxtaposition and not receiving any kind of suggestion from the waiters-interns, I ask to speak with the sommelier. Joachim Boudens arrives at the table rather listless, he listens to me and he liquidates me in a couple of seconds. Another disappointment.
As usual, the amuse bouche opens the dances: a savoury biscuit flavoured with anise, covered with edible wild flowers and accompanied by a fresh cheese and cherry tomatoes. Then a slice of avocado, with dehydrated tomato to cover and a tartare of bread and tomato, similar to a “panzanella”. Finally a potato mixture, very vaporous and soft, with coffee, vanilla and Edamer cheese.
I focus on the chef’s cooking: when you have such delicate and good raw materials, just look for a serious, balanced and thoughtful combination. Everything else takes second place. That’s why I believe that the Belgian chef’s dishes are delicious but absolutely simple. At the limit of the trivial.
It’s time for beer: a Wild Jo, blond, it is a light one to accompany fresh caviar, contained in strips of zucchini that act as containers. The beer, even with a rather high gradation (between 7 and 9 degrees), the autochthonous presents a beautiful golden blonde colour. In addition, its characteristic fresh and delicate fragrance ensures that it gets along well with the strong taste of caviar.
The last appetizer is a compote of products: onions, wildflowers, herbs, four different types of tomatoes, tomato water and a small fruit.
The Mackerel tartare, borage and oil and cherry juice is introduced by a Croatian wine: a Krauthaker Graševina Mitrovac. A very interesting white that despite its warm, rounded and vibrant notes cannot remove the taste of fat from the palate.
I taste another wine: Bastingag, Clos de l’Elu, a French white, very mineral, boasts a very fat start and a clean ending with citrus notes; and then another beer: a Rodenbach, caractère rouge. Equipped with a wide variety of flavours, from red fruits, to caramel, to unripe fruit, it has a rather intense amber colour.
I drink it by tasting lobster with red beets, lobster cream and a river of butter. Very annoying dish. To be rejected.
I eat the lamb, instead, accompanied by zucchini, emulsions of potatoes, aubergines and a green cream of basil (good dish, but in the norm) sipping a Vinatigo Ensamblaje tinto, a Spanish red, with strong aromas and strong flavour.
After tasting a selection of Belgian cheeses, we move on to small pastries. Nothing exceptional: some cakes, a macaron and very little chocolate. Another big mistake.
Ready to go back like in the movies? This is a circular blog, which ends exactly where it started. We started with the maitre approaching my table after 45 minutes of waiting.
“I understand the importance of the event – I anticipate him – but am I not a customer like everyone else? I claim to be treated like everyone else! “
Joachim Boudens is quite mortified and apologizes. It’s too late. Not even the discount on wine tasting can sedate my anger.
I’m going to take a look at the bathrooms: really beautiful. Between the ancient and the modern. At least those.
Final vote: a beard and a half.
Ps: As soon as I’m about to finish my blog, I get an email: it’s signed by Joachim Boudens. He is so sorry: he apologizes for the poor service and invites me to try again the kitchen of Hertog Jan. Clearly as their guest. I appreciate the gesture but I do not change my thoughts and my assessment. A second chance, however, I want to give it: I’ll be back to Zedelgem soon. After all, everyone can make mistakes as everyone has the right to make up for it.