In culinary terms, speaking of Flanders clearly means much more than just the Belgium region. In the former County of Flanders that encompasses parts of present-day France, Belgium and the Netherlands many interesting “modern” restaurants have mushroomed over the last couple of years that resulted in the formation of the Flemish Primitives named after Northern renaissance painters inspired by various arts. There are many reasons for this development – on the one hand the Flemish tend to be curious and open towards new ideas and dining has always been an important part of their culture. On the other hand, such an evolution needs some spearheads that pave the way for a next generation of chefs.
Akin Sergio Herman on the Dutch/Zeeland side, Peter Goossens is the most important chef if not the “godfather” of Belgium high-end gastronomy – he is involved in many gastronomic projects and also plays an important role as a judge in the Belgium version of Masterchefs (and thus is, as Sergio, widely known in the public). His restaurant Hof van Cleve carries three stars since 2005 and is located in a typical Flemish farm house in Kruishoutem near Kortrijk/West Flanders. And, it is always on my agenda when I am in this region…
What’s so special about Peter Goossens and his restaurant? Whereas Sergio Herman has certainly left his mark on the plates of many modern Flemish chefs (Geert de Mengeler from Hertog Jan, Filip Claeys from De Jonkman or Kobe Desmaraults from In de Wulf, to name just a few), Peter Goossens’ handwriting is less ubiquitous (or copied) across the region. Goossens cuisine is not ultra-modern, he rather successfully manages to combine both classic and modern structuralistic facets. He is not the inventor of new techniques and his cooking in the last couple of years has clearly been inspired by Sergio’s play of texture and flavors. The result of which is very astounding and just right – now, the plates are very elaborate and rest on the very best products the wider region has to offer. It’s not a me-too cuisine but a quite unique style… Nothing is redundant and the overall dining experience is in a sense geared more towards delivering perfection with just the right amount of creativity and modern techniques.
As the a la carte selection is quite pricey almost at Parisian level (starting from 50€ up to 170€ for a caviar dish) I opted for the seven course menu ‘Freshness of Nature’ (now at 215€, 310€ with accompanying wines) which over the years got reduced from a 9 course menu in 2007.
A very nice start with a potato ‘ball’ with a chicken ragout and a chicken skin cracker with mimolette cheese and porcini cream. Delicate, yummy, salty – a perfect start
Then, a perfect mackerel tartar with cucumber sorbet and apple – a refreshing counterpoint. The smokiness of the mackerel worked very well with the intense cucumber and the acidity of the apple.
Visually stunning: the egg consisted of bacon, yoghurt and cheese (I guess mimolette again, but didn’t take notes).
Another amuse was a variation of oosterschelde eel: as a whole piece covered by a crispy thin bread, as tartar wrapped with beetroot and as cream. Very programmatic of Goossens as it shows a masterly reliance on the outstanding product quality and then elevates it by a very sensitive variation to increase both textural and flavor dimensions. In essence, an almost classic accord of beetroot and eel augmented by just the right dosage of lemon oil and passion fruit ‘puree’. Outstanding.
The parade of amuse ended with crab, kombu and sesame which I found good but not at the level of the other appetizers. Overall, an impressive start.
What a masterpiece! Breathtaking because of the amazing product quality and the ingenious hand of Peter Goossens in ‘designing’ this dish – just the right amount of white tomato jelly as the basis (a bit reminiscent of some Berasategui dishes), fantastic sardines, olive crumble, mozzarella cream, green celery granite, dried tomatoes and a wonderful frozen ponzu jelly which in turn seasoned the tomato jelly. À part Goossens served a traditional piece of coeur de boeuf tomato with olive and mozzarella and as a second a part a sardine with verbena in an olive jus. Whatever you did, every bite was sensational and intense playing with textures and temperatures. Divine.
By the way, a different caprese take using the same ingredients was on the menu in 2009 but this version was far more modern and delicate.
Goossens presented a succulent and very aromatic piece of sea bass cooked to perfection at low temperature and combined it with fried eggplant blossoms, eggplant puree, a wonderful gamba and fennel coated with quinoa. Especially the latter accord worked surprisingly well contrasting the slightly sweet and herbal fennel with the crunchy and earthy quinoa. Outstanding!
It is programmatic that in 2010 Goossens began to let vegetables shine and elevated them beyond their pure side dish function. Moreover, he created a vegetarian menu on which I will comment later.
Essentially this ‘seafood’ dish was a modern interpretation of a traditional paella that could not be better. The chorizo was used with utmost diligence and added spiciness and intensity whereas it interplayed very nicely with the saffron. All products were of best quality with the mussels being more important than the angler fish that had a mere textural effect. Excellent to oustanding – only the chorizo crumble was a bit wetted by the paella sud…
Before the main langoustine plate, Goossens served the langoustine head with its sugo to prepare the dinner for the intrinsic langoustine taste. Indeed, the quality of the langoustine on the main serving was breath-taking. A very typical Goossens sea and land creation whereas the bellota was braised and did not dominate the langoustine at all – cauliflower was the accelerator in providing a textural element and formed a bridge between all elements. Only the foie gras didn’t really add much. Excellent.
A perfect main: pigeon paired with butternut, celery, chanterelles, pigeon confit and jus: again a showcase of product quality, again building on a known flavor accord but with less surprising elements than the dishes. Nevertheless, the overall combination worked very well – excellent to outstanding!
Wow, what a dessert: raspberries, blueberries, white chocolate, pistachio sponge, hazelnut cream, litchi sorbet, lime cream and ginger jelly combined with a raspberry, elderberry ‘soup’ – couldn’t taste the mint, however… Amazing intensity grounded by the surprising hazelnut cream. Simply outstanding!
Another fine dessert, maybe a bit less spectacular than the first. A very smooth accord without that many edges. Excellent.
Sometimes a meal like this needs to be digested and contemplated. Immediately afterwards I found this meal more coherent and compelling than my dinner at Oud Sluis, maybe partly to my little disappointment with some of Sergio’s dishes. As weeks have gone by, I would still rate this as an outstanding meal, a benchmark in combining classic craftsmanship and modern elements where necessary. Additionally, you need to factor in Hof van Cleve’s splendid warm-hearted service, a unique sommelier and the cosy farm house atmosphere which make the whole experience so special. But, there were less dishes that I can still taste and remember compared to the night at Oud Sluis. Thinking about the latter evening creates more sparkle and excitement, yet Goossens’ performance was nearer perfection in overall execution, product quality and flavor construction. So, in the end, I cannot wait to go back in 2011 and see how things have developed… It’s a just a nice double feature☺
The Vegetarian Menu
As I have mentioned earlier, Goossens started to offer a pure 8-course vegetarian menu “Pure Nature” (8 courses at 165€, now reduced to 7 courses at 150€) in Summer 2010. Interestingly, it is not offered as a second menu but as a choice listed in the normal à la carte section. Somehow, this speaks for itself as I had the feeling that this offer seems a bit half-hearted to surf the new naturals wave…
Anyway, in the following you can get some impressions without any major tasting notes. Overall, I had the feeling that this menu was not yet at the level of the normal one: some dishes seemed like a ‘ripped’ version of their ‘normal’ counterparts, some seemed a bit too simplistic. Not at the level of Michael Hoffmann’s green avantgarde… But I am very sure this will be a very valid choice at Hof van Cleve in the near future – will be interesting to watch…
The caprese without the sardine – outstanding as well, yet the smoky counterpart was missing a bit but the herbal avocado dots worked quite well…
Rather simplistic but very authentic in flavors, especially by the use of purslane. Remined me a bit of Scandinavian dishes in its purity. Excellent!
Quite traditional with an interesting textural overlay, very yummy, excellent.
A little bit like a stripped version of the sea bass dish with clear emphasis on the wonderful fennel/quinoa combination enriched by the slightly sweet anise. Outstanding!
Modern interplay like a first main course. Excellent.
A bit dense and overly potato dominated.
Can’t wait to be back!
Restaurant Hof van Cleve
Phone: +32 (0) 9 383 4848