Hof van Cleve – A True Master (July 2008)

Before I go on and turn to eating adventures in Germany there is one more reference I want to share. During our B/NL trip we this year finally managed to eat at Hof van Cleve (HvC) in Kruishoutem near Gent in Belgium.

I came across Peter Goossens not before Juli 2005 when he was Chef of the Month in the German magazine “Der Feinschmecker“. His creations looked so amazing, pure and tasty I had to try and cook the proposed three course dinner at once. It nearly killed me, especially the tuna entree with king crab in soy cannelloni with wasabi ice cream. But it was very very good. So, I thought, if something is this good when an amateur like me prepares it, one has to go and eat at his restaurant. (BTW, as Sergio’s creations are more complex I did not even dare to try any recipes of him yet;-))

The Restaurant

Hof van Cleve is a traditional old farm house typical for East Flanders where – surprise – a Mr van Cleve lived (one can still see old letters to him and his wife in the restrooms). In 1987 Peter took over the then bistro and he was only allowed to do some bistro dishes on weekends since he had no real restaurant licence. Then, in 1992 the bistro was turned into a proper restaurant by Lieve and Peter.

The Chef

With no fancy training positions and only one post in the pastry at Gaston Lenotre Peter Goossens is merely an autodidact. He somehow developed a very unique style and is still very present at HvC.

The interesting thing is that foodies were raving about Sergio Herman and then also went to HvC and reported that is was good, more classic and not at the level of Sergio (see the nice reports of Steve P and Andi). On the other hand he has three stars since 2006, 19.5 points in the Gault Millau and is widely recognised as one of the best restaurants in the world (not that I particularly like the Pellegrino list but it is at least some reference). Something to discover myself…

The Menu

As we never go directly to a restaurant after a long car ride we first checked in to hotel St. Janshof about 5 minutes away which was the only hotel on the HvC website with vacancy on short notice (yes, it was holiday time, I know). Dear Lieve and Peter, please remove this link immediately since it is a hotel for workers being sent in this region on a construction job (I think most of them thought that we were extraterrestrials after we dressed up for the dinner). Rooms are clean but is directly on a heavily run freeway…

But after some rest and some minor issues with our dearest navigation lady we arrived at HvC and were immediately drawn to the relaxed atmosphere and warm welcome. It was like entering another world… We were seated on the beautiful terrace “but” on the side to the parking lot without the view over the landscape. As aperitif we choose a Billecart-Salmon Rosé champagne which was as always refreshing and not too dry (afterwards we regret this choice a bit as 28 euro per glass is a not yet experienced price level even for a three star Michelin). Appetizers were subtle, had some nice smoky flavors and were a good preparation for the menu. Then we were escorted inside…

The menu card reads interesting though a la carte is quite expensive and almost on Paris levels – superior products have some price tag attached. We decided to go for the 9-course tasting menu “De Frisheid Van de Natuur” which offered a nice variety of dishes to taste – a menu dégustation in the best sense it seemed. The description of the specific dishes was less prosaic as in Oud Sluis and made me think that Goossens’ cuisine is maybe more reduced and less playful than Sergio’s which turned out to be true in the end.

We set out with Langoustine “Guilvinec” curry / kalamanci / avocat which was absolutely fantastic and ranks among my Top 5 dishes ever. The Brittany langoustine was of superb product quality and cooked softly to perfection with crispy skin on the outside and incredible tenderness in the inside – and, yes it tasted as a perfect fresh langoustine should (well, I have not tried the Pacaud or Passard one yet;-)). The carpaccio underneath was a solid basis for the dish.

The combination of kalamanci lime (frequently known as acid orange), curry ice cream, avocado and the two forms of langoustine was playing with all flavors and textures and created sheer pleasure with a not yet experienced taste sensation. On the side they served a curry vinaigrette which added some juiciness and mouth-feel factor… Proportions worked out so well that the main protagonists were never in danger to be dominated. Chapeau – outstanding, a true masterpiece. This dish is most similar to Sergio’s cooking but less complex and maybe a little more to the point.

Then Thon “Bleufin” tomate / crabe / algues – again incredible product quality especially the tomato. This dish was more an interpretation of the three main ingredients and did not have one main player. But the balance of different elements and thus flavors was astonishing. If I remember correctly on the lower plate we had a oven tomato, grilled tuna and wrapped tuna tartar covered by a tomato jelly accompanied by a very tasty tomato jus. It somehow surprised me that the grilled tuna was almost well done which is quite contrary to the normal almost rare preparations, but it was still tender and juicy (there was some sous-vide involved I guess).

Above we had crab mousse, crab tartar wrapped in tuna and a tomato confit served with a tomato vinaigrette. The true asset of this dish was not so much the broad interplay of different flavors but superior products cooked with utmost precision and a harmony of tuna, tomato and crab – a real triumvirate. Excellent to outstanding.

Homard de l’escaut de l’est asperges des dunes / basilic / belotta. Peter Goossens just continued to blow my mind with this simple yet ingenious dish. For the last time in this report I want to point out that all courses consisted of superior product quality handled with all due respect and true mastery, this time with “local” lobster from Oosterschelde and asparagus from the dunes served as a cannelloni with belotta ham (Goossens is one of the masters of asparagus). The only problem was that the light made photographing quite challenging:-)) Outstanding.

The next two fish courses let me breathe again, both being excellent but not at the level of the previous dishes.

Cabillaud de Danemark cresson / bouillabaisse / poivrons doux – a very harmonious entity with three different parts of the cod, confit of bell peppers and a excellent bouillabaisse jus. Excellent.

Sole de la manche crevettes grises / poireau / aubergine – the shrimps were a bit too crunchy and thus let the sole stand behind, still very good.

Porc “Iberico” coux fleurs / soja / xères – I can’t really remember what the cauliflower etc. added to this dish. The fantastic pork (belly and loin I suppose) stood out strongly and dominated the sides. With regard to dramaturgy this was a nice step up and preparation for the main. Very good to excellent.

The third masterpiece of this meal: Veau corrèze “sous la Mère” fevettes / morilles / petits pois. Look at the plate – isn’t it just beautiful? The best veal ever, even better than the one we had at the Auberge de L’Ill a couple of weeks before. Goossens sources his suckling veal from the French department Corrèze in the Limousine which is one of the best sources for this product. Together with the peas puree, morels and corn this was a perfect accord with the veal melting in my mouth. Outstanding!


The first dessert Fraises “Gariguettes” verveine / litchi / thé samba is surely among my best three desserts ever (among “Il Gioccolato 2008” of the fabulous Massimiliano Alajmo and “The beautiful Helena” by Juan Amador). Refreshing, superior strawberries, light and just pure pleasure.

As a “side” some texture as a counterpart beautifully balancing the first dessert. Outstanding!

Then Chocolat “Ecuador 70%” framboise / pistache / caramel which incorporated all textures, and once again superb products. Excellent.

Overall

This was one of my best meals ever on par with Oud Sluis, Le Calandre and Alinea (and Arzak/Amador). Combined with the very nice atmosphere and the impeccable service this was a true three star experience.

The direct comparison to Sergio Herman suggests itself as both are modern in the best sense. Goossens’ creations are more reduced, less playful and with more traditional elements and are based on extremely well selected products of astonishing quality. In contrast Sergio’s plates are more dense using more elements and more exotic/Japanese flavors. It is hard to choose – do both as they are references with slightly different approaches.

When writing this I was re-reading Steve’s and Andi’s report and can only state that Goossens has modernized his style (using less butter) but still links back to French Haute Cuisine. At least in that menu he used less local products than before and showed quite a variety of products and types of dishes – I personally think he can even develop further if he consistently creates dishes like the langoustine…

Can’t leave you without this part (!) of the mignardises which concluded this perfect feast:

Can’t wait to go back!

Comments

comments

5 thoughts on “Hof van Cleve – A True Master (July 2008)

  1. Hi IFS,

    quite interesting… Indeed from what I understand reading your report Goossens has gradually perfectioned his cooking. My last visit in 2006 was far more classic… Definitely a must-go next time I am in the area!

    Guten Appetit!
    MXH

  2. Thanks MXH,

    at least it seems so comparing old and new reports. BTW, Gstros on Tour have a very nice report on the same menu on their website…

    Best IFS

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