The Flemish Primitives are coming up – this urgently reminds me that I owe you some reports on my Belgium/NL trip end of last summer. Although I have written about the Service à Six Mains at In de Wulf, the restaurant itself very well deserves its own post to provide deeper insights into the philosophy of Kobe Desramaults and his team.
In de Wulf (IdW) is located in the Flemish part of Flanders in Heuvelland/Dranouter not too far from Lille (about 30 minutes by car from the central station) and near Yper. Even if you have the address it is hard to find – we were glad to stay at the wonderful Rentmeesterhoeve (because the rooms at IdW were fully booked) and Ann, our lovely host, drove us there. Embedded in a very agricultural territory with only a farms here and there, IdW is a unique place – immediately after stepping out of the car the special atmosphere captivated us and didn’t release us up to the end.
The interior is just fitting – neither posh nor informal, very natural and authentic, a modest ambience where natural elements like stones and wood set the stage. A natural reflection of the landscape. A place to feel at home at once even though it seems rustic at a first glance.
Although I wasn’t lucky enough to spend the night in one of the 8 nice hotels rooms, I can only recommend to stay there as it just complements the experience – at least from what I have seen so far. Breakfast is splendid – maybe you have a look at Trine’s fine account of her morning experience…
Kobe Desramaults was born into a gastronomic family as his mother Heidi converted the old farmhouse where Kobe grew up gradually into a tavern/brasserie/hotel. She also arranged his apprenticeship in the Restaurant Picasso in the next village Westouter. After this Kobe went on to work for Sergio Herman in his fabulous three star restaurant Oud Sluis – he stayed two years which were really hard in the beginning as working in a three star restaurant is a bit different from a ‘village’ restaurant. Nevertheless, Kobe somehow survived and caught the eye of Sergio who then arranged a stint at Charles Abellan’s Comerç 24 in Barcelona (actually when Filip told me that I made me go there). After 10 months Heidi ‘called’ him back to Dranouter to run the kitchen at IdW.
In 2004, a larger audience took notice in Kobe’s cooking after a favorable article of Pieter van Doveren in the Weekend Knack (initiated by Sergio btw) and the award of Golden Whisk for Young Talent by the same magazine later that year. Thereafter, the time of the brasserie was over, Kobe started to serve only one fixed menu and renovated the hotel. In 2005 Michelin awarded the first star to IdW.
There is only one 10-12 course menu which changes monthly along with seasons, priced at €115 and €160 with wine pairings. Of course, one can also shorten the menu but this was certainly not an option for us. We went the whole way:
Sitting on the nice terrace we enjoyed some delicate nibbles along with a nice glass of Cava Jané Ventura. Whelks with whelks mayonnaise provided a superb start and kicked off a parade of regional products of astonishing quality. Although the menu reads Keiemtaler kroepoek I strongly believe we had the pork kroepoek and honey vinegar version. A wonderful balance of crunchy rustic porc kroepoek and smooth cream of honey vinegar lightened by some fresh herbs and flowers. Kobe further accentuated this contrast in crispy chicken skin served with wild herbs.
Brioche, smoked sardine and dill was next – the slightly salty dimension of the two previous bites continued, yet the smoky sardine was really fresh and opened up our palate. This ballet of nibbles concluded with a nice cucumber presentation which was just a very fresh finale. Overall an excellent start.
Escorted inside, we found the restaurant party in the shadow which created a very special intimate atmosphere. So, we could relax and free our minds for the courses to come…
But before the start of the actual menu Kobe served one amuse: vegetables, herbs and flowers from the ‘Zwartemolen’ with Keiemtaler cheese. Clearly reminiscent of Bras’ gargouillou (the ‘father’ of all the vegetable ‘salad’ dishes), it offers a much more transparent and accentuated picture of what a nature has to offer, less complex and more to the point. All 20+ ingredients (except the beer in the cream of Keiemtaler and beer) come from an area of 1 km named the ‘Zwartemolenhoek’ near Kemmel – vegetables* each cooked to perfection, garnished by various herbs and flowers** and accompanied by a powder ice of dill, chervil, parsley, chives and young spinach.
The freshness was immediately appealing but the dish turned out to be more subtle by offering various textures, temperatures (here the powder ice kicked in rather surprisingly) and the pleasant slightly sweet and nutty cream of beer and Keiemtaler. Simply a masterpiece which I prefer over the Bras’ original – outstanding.
First course: razorshell, mackerel, cucumber, algae. The crumble of algae made this one really special as it added texture and brought balance to the smoky, herbal/fresh/acidic notes of the mackerel and the cucumber. Visually it reminded me a bit of the sand on the beach…
Products were spot-on and gently cooked – interestingly the razorshell was one of the only products not from the region as Kobe prefers the Scottish specimens. Very noma-esk I must say but in its very own way. Excellent+.
2007 Chablis, Domaine d’Eglise, Burgundy, France
Then Kobe served french beans, rucola, egg yolk and broth of lard. The combination of the flowing yolk and the intensive broth made this dish deep with a long after-taste, delicate and yummy – the beans were al dente and added just enough texture. And, the herbal cream of beans brought balance. Excellent.
Grilled courgette, North Sea crab, tagetes was next – the crab was a bit too dominated by the rich roast flavours of the courgettes which however was necessary to make the dish survive after the intense one before. Maybe the crab is too subtle for this accord. But I loved the roast notes, so nevertheless a very good dish for me.
The Riesling from Müllner had clear petrol notes (good match with the roasted courgettes) and my companion discovered cheese cake in the after taste. The subtle acidity of the ripe Riesling worked very well with the dish.
? Riesling, Johann Müllner, Krems/Austria
Ray (from Niewpoort), cauliflower, hazelnut butter, capers of elderberry, jus of ray and beer. Given my love for Ray and its texture and delicacy I just had to love this – for the first time there was a ‘main’ protagonist as an anchor point and clear stand-out of the dish. The special moment came when I tried the Müllner Riesling – it had completely changed its character. Now it perfumed the dish in an astonishing way and nicely picked up on the fruity notes from the elderberries. This clearly showed what a good wine pairing can do – create synergies and elevate a dish to excellence. Bravo!
Then Kobe surprised us with an almost minimalist presentation: Eastern Sheldt lobster simply served with mashed potatoes with buttermilk. The latter worked sooo well with the slightly sweet lobster, the potatoes were present but only to add some creaminess. Excellent to outstanding – one of the best dishes of the night. Some more contrasting texture would have made this divine…
2005, Chardonnay en Chante-Merle Vieilles Vignes, Rijckaert, Arbois/Jura, France
After all these highlights it is also good to recover a bit, to breeze and to relax. The Easter Sheldt eel with Bouchot mussels, lavas and fennel was good but couldn’t stand up to the previous highlights – the eel was a bit overcooked and the mussels would have needed a bit more seasoning. Good.
Lard of pork’s belly, pickled vegetables, burnt onions – wow. The pork belly was simply amazing – tender, juicy, crispy, both rustic and light at the same time. Whereas the acidity of the pickles served as a fundament of the dish it helped the belly to ascend the throne and reign flanked by the slightly sweet and roast flavours of the onion powder. Outstanding!
2007 Poggio D’Arna, Tenuta di Sesta, Montalcino/Tuscany, Italy
Finally, the main course arrived: pigeon from Steenvorde, red beet, jus of confit cherries. Here the beet, cherry and raspberry flavours clearly overshadowed the very good pigeon. Also a bit of salt would have been necessary. Still very good.
The dessert parade began with raspberries, chocolate, wild strawberries from our garden. The intensity of the IdW strawberries was amazing, the pairing with the raspberry macron and sorbet, chocolate, black currant ingenious. Simply outstanding.
As a second dessert we had rice pudding, marigold, honey. A very complex dense and bit too homogeneously icy and also too sweet dish, still tasty and good.
Last but not least a Kobe classic: sorrel, lemon balm, mint, green strawberry. A perfect light and not too sweet finale – chapeau!
A wonderful meal ended with some nice petite fours…
This was a splendid meal with lots of highlights and only two weaker dishes. For me, the vegetable salad, the mackerel/algae combination, the lobster/buttermilk dish as well as the pork belly were truly special and memorable, even after several months. Ah, and the wild strawberries, hmmm…
The menu continuously changes but the message of Kobe’s cooking remains the same: an intelligent and novel use of regional products can make a high-end cuisine really distinct and authentic – paired with the right dosage of modern cooking techniques and plating, a certain touch of combining flavours and… voila! Kobe’s style reminds of noma and it is related in spirit, but it is a Flemish (and not Nordic) relative. Thus, it is unique – a Flemish noma. This was a magic evening because we were transferred to an oasis of Flemish delights in a very special atmosphere.
Thanks, Kobe & the whole team. Can’t wait to be back!
* Mini courgette, mini pumpkin, mini cucumber, radish, cauliflower and yellow carrot
** consisting of flowers of courgette, rocket flowers, tagetes, anise hyssop, flower of radish, calendula, daylily, borag, rocket salad, East-Indian cherry, cardamine, purslane, red orach, sorrel, lungworts, green orach and common chickweed. Thanks to the Flemish foodies and their precise ingredient accounting;-)