To start with a double feature is quite some task. But I can’t write about my very recent visit at Oud Sluis without also giving some details about my first visit almost exactly one year ago (yes, you will find me in Knokke every year around July;-))
Oud Sluis is a treasure in Sluis located in the south-west of the Netherlands on the border to Belgium, six kilometers from Knokke(-Het Zoute, one should add) and about 15 kilometers from Brugge. Sergio Herman’s grandfather once ran a simple restaurant and his parents served informal fish dishes. Since 1990 Sergio is in the kitchen, first supporting his parents before taking over three years later.
From the outside it is somehow unspectacular compared to other more pretentious three star restaurants. Every once in a while you can observe some strangely dressed tourists reading the menu just before the entrance (so part of the terrace), shaking their heads and immediately running away…
The restaurant has a very clear modern interior with two separate dining rooms. There is some clarity and pureness in the air… One feels at home at once and later discovers that the interior and atmosphere is a reflection and counterpart of Sergio’s cuisine.
Sergio Herman did not start his training as a chef since he began as a student at a well-known restaurant school in Brugge and then worked for one year under Cas Spijkers at “De Swaen” in Oesterwijk near Eindhoven before he came back to Oud Sluis in 1990. So big bnames on the resume, but open eyes for a lot of influence from eating all around the world which is very well reflected in his cuisine. He often refers to a visit to Pierre Gagnaire as his eye opener with respect to creativity, dedication and emotionality. In 1995 the first Michelin star was awarded, 1999 the second and the elevation to the Olympe took place in 2005 when Sergio got the third star. In the Gault Millau he holds 19.5 points since 2004.
Relaxed and formal where it needs to be. Clearly one does not expect stiff penguins to act in a surrounding like this. Most of the team is male and wears stylish suits in brown seemingly especially made for them (maybe I should ask for their tailor, but, as you know, that’s one of the best kept secrets of us men, and mine would utterly complain…).
What to expect? Yes, Sergio’s cooking style is modern, “creative” as the Michelin calls it. But there is more to discover than just these labels…
The restaurant offers a official five course menu (“Pere & Fils”) which turn out to be seven courses as the desert is served in three small portions. There is also a four course and a lunch menu. Naturally, we take the Pere & Fils and I add in two preparations of Foie Gras (well, I have to go in oyster season as Sergio is also famous for his variations around oysters.)
On our first visit we started out with an appetizer of buckwheat spaghetti, mackerel, yuzu foam and a sorbet of wasabi, lemon and apple. What a perfect start and how programmatic for the rest of the menu. All senses are sharpened as Sergio wonderfully plays with sourness, sweetness, spiciness, smoke aroma of the mackerel and the lightness of the lemon/yuzu. If I remember correctly the mackerel was served as tartar so that also some texture came into play. All together it was just yummy!
Then we were served Belgian waffles with a mouse of eggplant and pumpkin, quite surprising. This was to calm down a little.
Then a bonbon of goose liver and apple. This is molecular cuisine at its best. The sphere explodes in your mouth (as expected) and the two flavours are just beautifully balanced. Another characteristic of Sergio’s cuisine.
After some nitro caviar of oysters and mustard...
… we were got the “real” amuse bouche consisting of
- Egg yolk filled with north sea crabs, yogurt mousse and parsley oil
- Mussels, bouillabaisse, tomato
- Marinated cucumber with tzatziki
- Ratatouille with its own foam
The combination was fresh, of incredible product quality and intuitively right. Each little element was perfect in itself, together it was the best amuse ever (so far). Unfortunately, the overview picture got lost, so here are only the last two elements:
My two preparations of foie were amazing. First, some foie macaroons filled with foie pate and PX vinegar reduction with a brioche (I think the macaroon was flavoured with anise)…
Foie Gras Macaroons
… and a hamburger of foie gras consisting of thinly sliced foie pate, green apple, nougat caramel, rucola and summer truffles on white bread accompanied by nitro foie caviar. Simply breathtaking, among my top 3 foie gras dishes (among Wissler’s savings of foie and Klein’s roasted foie with wakame) ever!
Then the real menu started with wagu beef tartar, slowly cooked lobster with a sable of Parmesan and eel and a potato mousseline flavoured with lemon and vanilla. Product quality was astonishing and the seemingly unrelated parts created complete harmony. Again freshness and different textures singing and dancing in my mouth! A subtle perfect cold starter.
Second course (yes, I know…): tuna marinated with lard, sauteed langoustine, fresh almonds, eggplant creme and parsley oil. A clear step-up in flavours which became more pronounced, the langoustine was very good, the tuna excellent with a nice smokey flavour due to the lard. Again a perfect dish!
Then a grilled sole with macaroni of peas, Zeeland mussels flavoured with coriander, peppermint and lemon in a chicken bouillon. On top you can see some crispy chicken skin (modern these days). Somehow a miss compared to the previous dishes as all elements for themselves were good but did not work very well together. The chicken skin was a little dominant and the sole slightly overcooked.
The main course Anjou pigeon with truffled bulgur, chickpeas mousseline and butternut was very good but not quite at the level of the first two courses. The sweetness of the butternut worked very well with pigeon.
We skipped cheese and got three desert two of which where excellent. First, a granny smith sorbet, garnache, granny smith tagliatelle, panna cotta of vanilla and poudre d’or (curry), dark chocolate with sea salt – excellent, best apple sorbet ever!
Variation/textures of raspberries (filled with white wine vinegar, paper, powder) – good
Sphere of pasion fruit, sorbet of exotic fruits and jelly of different citrons – excellent!
What a meal! Thoughtfully created as perfect menu where each course had a clear part in the dramaturgy. The idee fixe along the menu was the usage of some sort of lemon/citron in almost every course which created an unexperienced lightness. Moreover, he rarely uses standard stock or butter thereby amplyfying the latter impression. The dishes in itself show an ingenious talent for assembling different flavours (from all over the world with some preference for Japan) and textures so that an astonishing harmony with some rough edges is created. Modern (molecular) techniques are only used where they improve the taste of a dish. With respect to ingredients Sergio uses very good qualities with a clear focus on products from Zeeland especially for seafood and vegetables. Interestingly, all dishes are created “intuitely”, there is no scientific developmenet process (as, for instance, at The Fat Duck) – I would really like to have an insight how this creative process works…
Sergio’s cuisine is a must-go, it is modern in its best sense and challenges the senses of the diner without asking for too much. Most importantly, he has developed his own handwriting in composing dishes and menu which is rarely to be found even among three star chefs. I can only agree that he is regarded as one of the best chefs in Europe and worldwide. Clearly in my Top 3 (so far), thus high-end food!
Wine – yes, I did dink some by the glas, but didn’t take any notes. For me, it is very hard to concentrate on both food and wine so I normally opt for the first.
Well, I will definitely go back (which I already have done see the next post)…