Bon-Bon restaurant moved to its current smart location in 2011 from another area of Brussels. The building is set back from the road in a street lined with embassies. It first gained a Michelin star in 2004, and was awarded a second in 2014. Chef/patron Christophe Hardiquest had previous worked at high-end kitchens including those of Sea Grill and the iconic Brussels restaurant Villa Lorraine, which has been running since 1953. There is a large terrace and herb garden at the back of the building, with outside seating in suitable weather.
There were three tasting menu options in addition to a la carte. The shortest, with three courses, was priced at €85, five courses ran to €165 and the longest “best of” menu was €225. If you choose for yourself then starters ranged (with one exception) from €35 to €68, main courses €48 to €85 and desserts or cheese came in at €20. I opted for the lengthiest menu.
The wine list had 275 different labels listed, around half from France. Examples were Domaine Romaneaux Destezet 2010 Vin de Pays de l’Ardeche at €65 for a bottle that can be found in the high street for €26, Albert Mann Riesling Schlossberg 2010 at €95 for a wine that retails at €45, and Germain Charmes Mersault 2011 at €155 compared to a retail price of €79. For those with the means, Bertagna Clos Saint-Denis 2009 was €335 compared to a market price of €116, and Anne Gros Richebourg 2009 was €650 for a bottle that will set you back €526 in a shop.
Iberico ham slices were hung on a little metal frame, and then came a trio of tartlets, eccentrically presented in an upside down umbrella on a sheet of perspex, which I suppose could come in handy if there was an unexpected shower when dining on the terrace. Fortunately the pastry was on surer footing that the oddball presentation idea. Tartlets of carrot, orange and fennel, of green bean and shallot, and of potatoes, oregano and smoked mozzarella all featured very delicate pastry. I particularly liked the potato, oregano and cheese one, a harmonious blend of flavours. A further nibble of “cannelloni” of courgette, the vegetables shaped to resemble pasta, was fine but less interesting. The final nibble was puffed bread stuffed with lemon whipped cream and seaweed gel This tasted better than it sounds, tasting a touch Japanese in style due to the seaweed, with the citrus flavour well controlled (17/20 average for these nibbles, not so much for the umbrella).
Gazpacho was served with a turmeric ice cream with a bold spicy punch. This was superb, the tomatoes and peppers having deep flavour, the kick of the ice cream lifting the dish to a higher level (easily 18/20). A "Pomme d'amour" was a further tomato tart with plenty of flavour and a hint of sweetness (16/20). Crusty bread was bought in from a bakery called Yves Guns. It was fine but nothing special, and I think the kitchen could do better if it put its mind to it and made the bread from scratch.
Oysters came with a cream of wild celery, mint jelly and vodka jelly. I am not a big oyster fan but this dish was excellent, the earthiness of the celery an interesting contrast to the briny oysters, the mint flavour not too dominant (17/20). Next was langoustine carpaccio sliced very thinly, with vodka cream, chives, seafood chantilly and a garnish of oscietra caviar. This was a superb dish, the shellfish having a lovely hint of sweetness, the other dish components working harmoniously with it in precise balance (19/20).
This was followed by another fine dish. Tartare of white tuna (albacore) was marinated with a wild herb that has a hint of anise about it, served in a ginger soup, the fish topped with carpaccio of avocado. The avocado was perfectly ripe and the tuna excellent but the key was the very accurate use of the ginger, which did just enough to elevate the dish without taking it over (19/20).
Next was a "False Tart" of artichokes, made with pasta rather than pastry. This dish had confit artichokes, artichoke cream, artichoke chips, an olive oil emulsion and liquorice condiments. The chips were delicate, the flavour of the vegetables very good, the various textures working nicely together (17/20). After this was an egg shell containing a soft-cooked hen egg with cauliflower cream, argan oil Chantilly and Oscietra caviar. The caviar’s saltiness worked well with the egg, but although this was pleasant there are limits to how thrilling a soft-boiled egg can be, however tricked out it might be (16/20 at most).
A little tableside theatre was provided by a Cona coffee machine brought to the table, the top glass bowl loaded up with dried tomato, red pepper, lemon, turmeric and saffron. In the lower glass bowl was tomato water. When lit, the water rose to the top and infused the vegetables, before it cooled and sank as a consommé into the lower bowl. This was then poured over confit red pepper, goat cheese and squid. More important than the theatrics was that the consommé itself was excellent, the squid very tender, the soup having a nice hint of spice (18/20).
A single carabinero prawn from Spain was cooked in seawater and served with a jus made from the prawn head, along with confit and grilled vegetables including courgette and red pepper. The dish was completed by a carrot and saffron compote and a black olive tapenade. The prawn itself was certainly of good quality and the jus had good flavour intensity, the vegetables pleasant (16/20).
Turbot from Brittany was grilled and served with summer vegetables including broad and fine beams, along with mussels and a turmeric mousseline. The fish was correctly cooked but I have eaten better turbot elsewhere, though the vegetables were carefully prepared. The mousseline was fine though by now I was beginning to wonder how many times turmeric would feature in the meal (16/20). The final savoury course was squab from Brittany, the breast cooked pink and the leg of the pigeon served as a croquette. The bird came with courgette flower, onions, almonds and roast peach to provide a little acidity to cut through the richness of the pigeon. The meat was lovely, the courgette excellent and the croquette had great flavour (18/20).
As a notional dessert course was Fontainebleau cream cheese with fill meringue, sorbet of pepper and sorrel and a jus of cucumber celeriac and lime. I suppose this was intended as a cross between the usual cheese and dessert stages, though I do wish that pastry chefs these days would focus on, well, pastry, rather than experimenting with shrubbery. The dish was objectively reasonable (15/20) but in a restaurant called Bon Bon I would so much rather have eaten a more conventional sweet course.
Mignardise included a glass of rhubarb liquid with foam to resemble an "Illusion of beer". There was also a classical lemon Madeleine, and very good it was too, as was a tart of red berries with excellent pastry (17/20). In addition there was a melon soup and Benedictine marshmallow but by now I had eaten so much food that I called it quits to avoid the prospect of acting out the Mr Creosote scene in “The Meaning of Life”.
Service was terrific; my waiter was friendly, patient, capable and knowledgeable. The bill with just water to drink came to €245 (£175). Obviously this is a chunk of change but it was for the “Full Monty” tasting menu. If you ordered from the carte and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head might be around £130. Overall I was impressed with Bon Bon. The cooking is inventive without being wacky, ingredients are of good quality and the dishes are designed with careful balance in mind. The kitchen has the knack of using potentially strong, dominant flavours yet is able to control them accurately. I will be happy to return and see how the cooking continues to develop.