Hertog Jan

Loppemsestraat 52, 8210 Zedelgem, Bruges, Belgium

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Hertog Jan is located on the outskirts of Bruges in a residential area. The tables are generously spaced, dressed with crisp white linen, and the kitchen can be glimpsed through a large window facing out on to the street. The chef is Gert de Mangeleer, who had cooked previously at 't Molentje in Zeebruge; he took over the cooking here in 2005. The restaurant rose quickly in the Michelin pantheon, being awarded a Michelin star in 2007, a second in 2010 and third star in the 2012 guide. The restaurant has its own garden a few kilometres away, and many of the vegetables are sourced from there.

Starters were priced at €43 to €60, main courses €55 to €85, with tasting menus at €115 for five courses or €130 for six courses. A three course menu at €75 was available at lunch only. Bizarrely, the menu notes that the menu can be adjusted to take account of allergies or dietary restrictions provided these are notified in advance (fair enough) but with “a surcharge of €25” in such cases, which seems entirely unreasonable to me. Surely any self-respecting restaurant should be able to accommodate reasonable requests regarding allergies etc without penalising the diner?

The wine list is organised by style rather by region. It had quite a variety of countries, including for example some Slovenian wines, but had some gaps e.g. a quite limited choice of dessert wines. However it has some quite unusual wines, and clearly some thought has been put into the selection. Mark-ups were variable, generally not excessive but also not particularly kind. Examples were 2001 Lopez De Heredia Vina Gravonia Crianza Blanco at €45 for a wine that retails at €18, 2000 Tyrrells Semillon Vat 1 at €115 for a wine that you can find in the shops for around €24, Didier Dagenau Silex 2007 at €230 for a wine that will cost you €88 to buy in the high street, up to grander wines such as 2005 Falletto Bruno Giacosa Rabaja Barbaresco at €380 for a wine that will set you back €91 to buy. The sommelier is Joachim Boudens, and although the restaurant web site does not bother to list its wines (nor would they send the list to me in advance when I asked), it does explain who Joachim’s tailor is, which I find, to put it mildly, curious. The single selection of bread was made from scratch, and was very good, with a nice crust and light texture, the bread recipe involving Duvell beer (18/20).

There was a long sequence of nibbles. Potato chips with a curry cream were pleasant but no more (15/20), but I was impressed by meringues of passion fruit and foie gras. The richness of the liver flavour was nicely balanced by the acidity of the passion fruit, and the meringues had airy texture (19/20). Also excellent was a tapenade of black olives, anchovies and capers with citrus crumbs. Again the balance of flavours was very precise here, not an easy thing to do with such powerful flavours (19/20). I was much less excited by an egg served in its shell with parsley and garlic cream, topped with nutmeg, with a snail underneath. The dish was served on a bed of hay for visual effect, but I found the snail rather tasteless, and the overall dish merely pleasant (16/20). The next nibble was a terrine of pig’s head with cream of lentils and thin slices of kohlrabi. This had the potential to be a very good dish, but it had a really suprising degree of sourness, as if someone had misjudged how much vinegar to add. Given the technical precision of the rest of the dishes it is hard to imagine that this was a simple mistake, and yet it is equally hard to imagine that this degree of sourness was intended (13/20). Next was a better dish with an unusual flavour combination: potato, coffee and vanilla with mimolette cheese (a matured Edam). The potato was a mousse flavoured with coffee topped with vanilla oil, then with a garnish of the cheese. It was certainly a striking set of flavours, and although not entirely to my taste the dish certainly had an overall logic, and the vanilla was sufficiently subtle as to not overwhelm things (18/20).

The first formal dish of the menu was a visually striking dish of avocado with tomato powder, fleur de sel and olive oil. Certainly this is a logical set of flavours to combine, and the avocado (I am not sure where this came from, this being February) was quite ripe. I found the tomato powder a little grainy at the first taste, though this effect was lessened when combined with the olive oil, which I presume was the idea (17/20).

Next were some very good quality scallops, served with Jersualem artichoke, potato and thin slices of black radish, garnished with Oscietra caviar and with a “perfume of curry”. The earthiness of the root vegetables combined nicely with the sweetness of the scallops (18/20).  The next dish was the one I liked most. A single, large langoustine tail was served with a cream of orange and apricots, and a cream of saffron. The langoustine itself was lovely, and the acidity of the fruits worked well with the langoustine; saffron is a tricky ingredient, as it can easily impart an overly metallic taste, but here its flavour was carefully controlled (easily 19/20).

Next was braised oxtail and cream of celery with a jus of truffles and mushrooms, topped with discs of black truffle. This was a rich, enjoyable dish with flavours that combined well (18/20).  The last savoury course was lamb from Limousin in France, served with seasonal turnips, radishes, and onions flavoured with cinnamon, star anise and ginger. The lamb itself had good flavour, and the root vegetables worked well with it, the spicing subtle (18/20).

A wide selection of cheeses was in good condition, including several British cheeses. The first dessert course was a citrus ice cream with caramel, which was quite refreshing (17/20). This was followed by a ganache with butter ice cream and a hint of truffle (17/20). Finally there was a pretty presentation of exotic fruits: pineapple, mango and passion fruit, alongside coffee cream and liquorice, though again these potentially overpowering flavours were handled carefully (17/20).

Service was excellent, with friendly and knowledgeable staff. Overall for me this was perhaps 18/20 level, with some dishes above this but also some I enjoyed rather less. The dishes are visually very attractive, and there are certainly some interesting flavour combinations at play, and a lot of technical skill evident in the careful control of these flavours.

Further reviews: 20th Aug 2014

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    By the way, the Dutch-language version of the chef's life on his mother's knee is no different!