It’s an impressive modern building, with a nice view over river Maas – Restaurant Beluga with no doubt is situated at a prime location in Maastricht.
Inside, it’s even more stylish with a bar in the front part and the spectacular spacious, hall-like dining area in the back. Many carefully selected design and art objects, this ist he benchmark of a modern Gourmet Temple which could be in any world metropolis – truly impressive but yet very welcoming…
Chef Hans van Wolde toured Limburg in his early years and perfected his cooking skills with Toine Hermsen in Maastricht. In recent years one expected him to catch with Jonnie Boer and Sergio Herman as the third three star chef in the Netherlands but couldn’t yet reach the highest laurels. We will see why…
The menu card is simple and comprises one seasonal menu and a fine à la carte selection with a couple of Hans’ signature dishes, both using mainly regional and local ingredients. Going for the full bounty costs you about €150 and entitles you to the serving of 9 dishes (if one counts in the pré-dessert), with a couple of appetizers and amuse upfront. Of course, we went for the spring menu with the substitution of tuna for chicken as the first course.
Tastes, Scents and Colours of Spring
Sitting in the bar area we were promptly served a couple of small nibbles which were kind of programmatic of the whole menu. The horse radish/apple bite was quite tasty and fresh with a sour-sweet accent but the couverture was much too thick and a bit cake-like.
Five flavours in one marshmellow – a little masterpiece comprising sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter flavours, very much to the point. Excellent to outstanding.
The next parade of appetizers was quite compelling, but not really memorable. A solid beetroot bite, a subtle variation of coconut, a splendid avocado roll and a very tasty veggi sushi made of fennel. All of the parts were very elaborate, yet the flavour spectrum to much on the sweet side so that the effect of each single nibble was blurred in the end. None couldn’t really stand up and provide a long-lasting effect. Differentiated aromas are urgently needed. Nevertheless, on a one-by-one basis an excellent start.
After the appetizers we were escorted to our table and were served a small caviar box which contained the Caviar Surprise (dated 2009). It was crème royale with tapioca and crème frâiche, a really delicate and well-composed dish but the small breadcrumbs had been in the dish for too long and thus were not that crunchy anymore. Excellent but with more potential.
The second amuse, Chef’s Special (2000), was one of the highlights of the menu – one (really one but sometimes that’s just enough) intensive tomato with a nice not too over-powering Parmesan espuma. Outstanding.
As a replacement for the chicken (‘chicken and its little egg’) we had ordered one non-meat course but we both got a tuna dish (maybe ‘tuna with its little egg’?). The tuna had a fresh vegetable filling whereas the virtual egg consisted of corn cream (resembling the egg yolk) and yoghurt cream as a side. The main plate was fresh, an excellent tuna with the crisp shortly blanched vegetables, yet a bit overpowering in texture. The “egg” per se was surprising as the corn cream was just yummy and formed a nice accord with the yoghurt but was overall too strong for the more subtle tuna. Indeed, this could have much better with the chicken especially since superior chicken are corn-fed which could lead to an interesting repercussion in flavours.
What an elaborate dish: a lukewarm truffles cake topped with outstanding thinly sliced scallops and celeriac cubes, cream of morels, crispy bacon (adding a very valuable salty touch), truffles cream and confit of onions. A surprising and balanced combination only the cake was a bit too sweet and rich/dominant. A herbal lightener would have done good. Overall an excellent dish, but again more on the cold and sweet side.
Next up was crab in bright caramel topped with squid espuma and (not enough) caviar accompanied by some crunchy kroepoeck made of squid. Virtually stunning, this had a mere snack than real course character and we found the caramel quite disturbing and absolutely not necessary. Very good in terms of the quality of the crab and accord with the two squid textures which were intense and to the point, yet a herbal counterpart was missing (again).
The oyster / cucumber variation was clearly the dish of this lunch. Maybe we were just thankful for leaving the sweet spectrum (at least for a second) and enjoy a refreshing, iodic and sour combination. Cucumber textures were paired oyster wrapped in a gel with silver powder and oyster cream. A real winner, all flavours were cristal clear and to the point, outstanding. Yet it was the fourth cold course which tired our palate quite a bit.
The next course was good and bad news as the langoustine with mushrooms from Limburg, Chorizo ice cream and kumquat was lukewarm (quite a relief – good!) but again on the rather sweet side (grrr – bad!). A clear step-in in intensity the ice cream was less harmful than we thought but the overall accord with the kumquat was not that compelling. Excellent in terms of products and execution.
Lobster with carrot puree, curry oil, ginger beer, coconut air and kohlrabi really suffered immensely from being the fifth sweet course in the core menu. Excellent on a stand-alone basis, poor in the context of the menu dramaturgy.
The first real ‘savory course’ was the main, a variation of Suffolk lamb from head to toe with white Asparagus and spring vegetables. Being rather classic the key point of the dish was to demonstrate the differences in flavours of the respective lamb part, each carefully roasted or braised to preserve its specific nature. Excellent but not really as breathtaking as Bühner’s lamb dish.
The pré-dessert ‘Love … conquers all’ was simply wonderful, light, rosy, intense. The harmony of white chocolate, rose, blood orange, vanilla and litchi was just outstanding.
Very disappointing was the main dessert ‘Passion of the Tropics’ which was just an assembly of various singular elements like banana, ginger, passion fruit, coconut, lemon, mint, rice, …. Not all adequate for a restaurant of this ambition.
“So, how was it?” one might ask – “sweet” would be my first answer and this captures very much the essence of our overall experience. It was just two sweet with only one non-sweet starter and one real savory course and that lowered our enthusiasm dramatically. Not that it was a bad meal, but the menu dramaturgy was just a clear no-go. Single dishes really worked very well (like the tomato/parmesan, the oyster and especially the pré-dessert) but this is just not enough to warrant three stars. So, in our humble opinion the two star rating is solid, but the GM rating is too high. The overall ambience, service and the modern cuisine makes it a worthwhile stop when in the area but does not warrant a big detour.