The World’s 50 Best list is famously known for the rises and falls of restaurants. In 2014 my favorite restaurant was the “In De Wulf” (At the Wolf) and it didn’t surprise me when I’d learned that it was at number 61 among the top 100 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. But in the 2015 edition the In De Wulf was, however no longer on the list. I did not have time to check the restaurant in that year but at the end of 2016 I decided to go there and try to reveal what ‘d happened to it.
So at the end of December I arrived in the village Dranouter/ near Ypres, where the In De Wulf was located, (here took place some of the bloodiest battles during the Great War WW1). Before entering the restaurant I refreshed my memory what I liked in the past here and that was how Kobe Desramaults-the owner and the master chef-blended the traditional with the out of the box; in the “stoemp”, the snail dish and specially the beef tartare,- they were both fabulously done. Since I’d made the reservation well advanced I was led to a cosy table, and when I ordered the menu I was told that the restaurant would be closed down by January 2017! I was sad to hear that but I could understand why Kobe Desramaults felt that the time was ripe for starting a new project (he will open a bakery in Bokrijk and he has been running two restaurants since couple of years in Ghent De Vitrine and De Superette), now that he is at an age (35 years old) which combines energy and experience! But it’s pity while the food what he created in his magic kitchen was unbelievable!
17 small dishes
I have to say in advance that the 17 small unbelievable dishes were very natural but full of flavor, and on the top of that every single plate looked like a piece of art.
The lunch started with five appetizers. There was a delicious flash-grilled spring onion (coated with a thin and crisp batter), dipped in a thick and creamy ramson vinaigrette and coated with cabbage flowers.
This was followed by “Mille Couleurs”, a plate with fresh and crunchy vegetables, like young broad beans, grilled green asparagus, pickled kohlrabi with young spruce tops, and a Japanese style (nuka) dry-fermented beetroot,- the latter having lovely sour and salty flavors and great crunch.
Next up was a whelk, served cold, and successively dipped in soy bean miso and a whelk mayo (made with whelk juices).
Then there was some heavenly, moist mackerel, flash-grilled skin side and the smoked over dried curry plant. Best of all though, was an egg shell, filled with egg custard, followed by shrimp miso, some turbot roe, mixed with sour cream and finished with a few drops of hazelnut oil. Exquisite flavors, with a divine creaminess from the custard and the sour cream delivered a nice sharp contrast.
The sourdough (24 hour fermentation) talked to itself (that was the next). It was house-baked in a wood-fired oven, and served with homemade butter and first cold pressed rape seed oil from Hof ter Vrijlegem in Asse (near Brussels).
Then the tasting menu was a dogfish with crème fraîche served on crisp rye toast, served with a green asparagus puree, a lovage-celery sauce and garnished with a few tubereous nasturium leaves. Excellent piece of off-raw dogfish with a wonderful soft texture, and the rye toast added flavor and crunch. The asparagus puree, lightly seasoned with angelica, had beautiful clean, grassy flavors, but its smooth texture also made it nice and creamy. Loved the intensity of the lovage sauce, which complemented the dogfish perfectly.
Second course was a freshly picked Northsea crab, lightly dressed with yoghurt and accompanied by a cauliflower and rhubarb parfait, decorated with fragile white radish flowers. Well-made parfait with balanced flavors: first the tangy rhubarb hits you, quickly followed by the nutty and creamy cauliflower. An elegantly presented dish with a fantastic interplay between the crab and the parfait. Equally successful was a ring of charcoal-grilled ribbons of white asparagus with a steamed and lightly smoked yolk in the middle, topped with a miso foam and finished with a Geuze reduction.
Fabulous, bittersweet asparagus, the grilling adding a nice extra flavor dimension, and the creamy and soft yolk delivered a wonderful warm contrast, both in texture and flavor.
And I had also room for a simply poached lobster (from Audresselles, France), coated with a lobster head sauce enriched with butter, and finished with some coral powder. An outstandingly pure dish with exceptional lobster flavours, particularly the sauce which had great complexity.
The fifth course was “Zurkel stoemp”. Stoemp is a traditional Belgian dish of mashed/crushed potatoes mixed with vegetables, such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrot; The “Zurkel” part refers to sorrel. The three components of the Zurkelstoemp were served separately, and the idea was to mix them together yourself. There was a plate with sorrel and wild spinach, some whipped hogweed butter and a salt crust baked potato. The outcome was a gorgeous flavor combination of warm and comforting flavors, with the sorrel and butter offering a lovely touch of sourness, each mouthful wonderfully satisfying.
On to the sixth course, a marvelous piece of turbot (first grilled, then finished in the oven), accompanied by overwintered leek (leek that has been kept in the ground over winter), covered with a green leek-top powder and garnished with chive flowers. The over wintering had given the leek a lovely earthy, less sharp flavor. Also on the plate was some aged preserved cucumber juice (aged for a year, then fermented with lactose), resulting in a terrific sauce with a great depth of flavor, as well as a hint of cucumber crispness.
Next up were snails (from Comines), cooked in garlic butter for an hour, then briefly grilled and served on a skewer. With the snails came a sharp ramson vinaigrette with spring onions and mustard leaves. An inspired take on the snails-garlic-herbs combination, the snails being wonderfully tender and with a pleasant garlicky edge, and the pungent vinaigrette delivered a nice brisk contrast.
Eighth course was roughly cut Holstein beef tartare covered with a raw chard leaf and perfectly arranged poppy petals. The tartare had been deliciously seasoned with miso, chard and blackthorn (sloe), an imaginative choice of seasoning. But it wasn’t just the seasoning that left a lasting impression. Poppies have become the symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died during wartime and the use of poppy petals in this dish is an incredibly thoughtful and moving touch.
The menu continued with a crisp flax seed (len) cup with a soft filling of pork cheeks, neck and brains, covered with a thin layer of pork jelly. A fantastic bite with real powerhouse pork flavors. Some delicious house-baked flatbread followed, topped here with a sharp goat’s cheese, onions and horseradish.
The next course was a light and refreshing cheese course of goat’s curd (aludt tej), young spruce tops and verbena.
This was shortly after followed by a gorgeous dessert of mountain ash ice cream, pumpkin seed ice and plump and juicy halved cherries. The second dessert was a meringue shell filled with rhubarb compote, sorrel ice cream and pineapple vinaigrette; a delightful combination with just the right balance between sweetness and tartness. The real showstopper, however, was a superb hazelnut mille-feuille. Sublime pastry cream flavored with hazelnut, créme fraîche and chicory, sandwiched between layers of fabulously crisp and darkly caramelized pastry (made with smoked butter).
It was my last meal in the “In De Wulf” but I promised to Kobe Desramaults that I will visit him in Bokrijk and in Ghent next time for a food orgia!