“They say there is a time to sow
And a longer one to wait
I say that there was a dreamtime
That we had to dream”
(C’è tempo – Ivano Fossati)
I have a few rules. I chose them years ago, without even realizing it, with the care you can have for things that are automatic. I wrote them on imaginary white sheets, paying attention to the calligraphy, making sure it was the as beautiful as possible. Then I slipped them into the invisible pockets of the soul and left them to beat the time of my life.
One of these rules is that there is a time for everything.
There is time to have fun and time to be serious. There is time to talk and to listen. There is a time to beat and one to suffer. “There is time, time, time for this endless sea of people” as Ivano Fossati sings.
It is a belief that nobody will ever take me away. Though thinking in this way means being narrow-minded. Never mind. I might not be able to carry on more things at the same time, but I can recognize the moments. And this is one of those where you have to stay motionless to listen to nature.
Today I want to spend my time here: relaxing, just leaning on beautiful round tables, covered with a single white tablecloth. Under these umbrellas, only with flowers and plants as companions and an amazing lemon aperitif.
I am a man of the city: I have no problems to move through traffic, non-existent parking lots and wonderful breaths of smog-smelling air. But the countryside has a charm on me that I cannot explain. It completes my being, creeps into every pore of the skin, fills my gaze, even enlarging it. And today I want to enjoy all of this: because I was lucky enough to meet a superlative day, with a really fantastic climate and temperature.
I’m still in Belgium, in Kruishoutem, a town 50 kilometres away from Bruges. Here stands Hof Van Cleve, the jewel restaurant of chef Peter Goossens. Among the most sparkling talents of European cuisine, even estimated by the Millau guide with a score of 19.5 out of 20, the Belgian chef offers a much more traditionalist cuisine than Hertog Jan’s one. Despite his experiences around world, Goossens loves to make dishes with local products or, right on the edge, of products coming from France. Imagine that the menu I have chosen, “Freshness of Nature”, is studied as if it was “To Market”, which means that is with everything that could be found at the market.
We start with a series of amuse bouche: the appetizers are served in the external room. There are no napkins or cutlery. The dishes can be eaten with your hands and are good, fresh, interesting and fun.
We start with a tartlet covered with dehydrated tomato, tomato jelly with a layer of mozzarella and a mozzarella mousse. Then a sardine with miso juice, a ball of lemon sorbet, black garlic and a cream of peas to fill. A wagyu cannon made with lettuce, a quail egg, a puffed potato and a basil sauce. Chicken liver served as a foie gras with carrot, melon and mushroom compote and finally a squid cooked with zucchini, caramelized sesame, chives and Iberian Jamon.
Before starting with the main menu (which will prove to be a real 5-hour culinary experience) I decide to browse the wine list. Interesting, important, even profound I dare say, with wines of many nationalities. I opted for a Jordan of 2006: a really expressive chardonnay with strong hints of lemon. A great product.
Lunch begins with Scottish Salmon “Orkney”: a small slice of Scottish salmon, just scalded. The white plate, slightly deep, seems to have no content: in reality it is all inside the tomatoes, placed upside down, cut on one side and filled with a “burrata” cheese mousse. This is an element that the chef uses a lot. There is also a cold part consisting of a small bowl with diced salmon, seasoned with aloe.
Then you go to Langoustine “Guilvinec”: a langoustine seasoned with black salt, accompanied by a compote with a base of potatoes, zucchini and mozzarella. There is also a foam made with the same langoustine, crispy quinoa and a “French” sauce with butter creamed with escaped juice. Above the plate we also find crushed Ligurian olives.
We continue with Small Monkfish: a green-based monkfish and a dashi soup. It is a cartoon fish (very used in Japanese cuisine of which Goossens is a big expert), with dehydrated parsley, thinly cut cauliflower, mussels and potatoes to complete the whole.
Then Duck Liver: clearly fois gras with cherries and fresh almonds.
Before tasting the next dish, Holstein Beef, the waiter approaches with a wooden cutting board. It is filled with knives, which I am told are handmade by a local craftsman. The handles are made with teeth or horns of different animals, from the rhinoceros to the elephants. I choose the one obtained from the walrus’s teeth. The knife will cut the beef meat, prepared with mushrooms, an asparagus, seared squared potatoes and a mimolette juice: a round Dutch cheese with orange paste. At the base we also find the white head cabbage.
Approaching the dessert, we close with Raspberry: raspberry yogurt, with red fruit tea.
Finally, the real dessert Chocolate Van Dender “criolo” 70%: a rectangle of chocolate, accompanied by an apple jelly prepared as juice, black tea ice cream, apricots and almond ice cream.
Satisfied and happy as a child, I decided to get up to make my usual visit to the bathrooms: I find them extraordinary, very clean and I appreciate the presence of Jo Malone soaps.
Before greeting, I ask one last thing: a tea with matcha powder that I saw they used in many dishes. I am served again in the external room, along with very delicate sweets like puff pastry. This is where Madame Goossens, the chef’s wife, who unfortunately is not at the restaurant, comes to visit me. She welcomes me with a splendid smile and above all true. She is interested in my road trip, she appreciates our magazine very much and tells me that lunch was offered. I try to decline the invitation, but understanding that there is no way to change her mind, I decide to leave a good tip in gratitude. Madame Goossens, visibly proven by the service, then leaves me with the sous chef, an Italian, Marco Stagi who continues to explain to me the secrets of Hof Van Cleve. Delivering a bag that is given to each customer and that still contains sweets and a book that speaks of their thirty years of history, Stagi tells me how this restaurant is able to make a full house every day for lunch and dinner. I am not surprised, although it is not in the centre of a very populated city. The kitchen, in fact, is amazing, one of the best I have ever seen in my life, so the service. I leave the restaurant very satisfied.
Final rating 4 beards.