The concept, much like the name, is uncomplicated yet elegant. Belgian-French cuisine with a contemporary twist is served here, in a stately townhouse in the heart of Ghent. Our party of eight is greeted with such smooth professionalism, you’d never guess it is just the second day after opening.
From ordering the aperitifs (mostly gin and tonics in tall-stemmed bowl glasses) to deciding on the five-course menu (€69) with paired wines (€30), we are guided by sommelier Benjamin De Buck. The former sommelier at the three-star Oud Sluis in the Netherlands educates our table on the finer points of wine and food pairing. Each of the five courses comes with a wine that lends itself perfectly to the flavours in the dish.
Throughout the evening, there’s not a single moment we go without, well, anything. There are even three amuse-bouches and surprise appetisers between the courses. The first is a round slice of marinated Jerusalem artichoke, an earthy tuber, topped with green lentils and a paper-thin slice of rich Mangalica ham. Next up is a beautifully presented white radish cannelloni filled with minutely diced apple and celery, with cream of tuna. Then there are two miniature spring rolls, stuffed with pulled pork and seasoned with ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend) and a BBQ dipping sauce.
With the pouring of the first glasses of white wine, we realise we’ve yet to start on the first course. The tempered menu lists only three ingredients for each dish, in this case mackerel, pickles and avocado. The mackerel is top bill. The soft marinated fillets come with sliced red beets, red beet cream and greens, avocado, cucumber and crunchy bits of cashew. Fresh and delicious, it’s a successful marriage of earth and sea.
The next dish contains a tender chunk of cuttlefish in dashi, a savoury Japanese broth. Its flavours are subtle and pleasantly acidic. By contrast, the third course is bursting with flavour. The long, fleshy fillet of gurnard, yet another North Sea fish, is surrounded by a powerful garlic rouille, fennel and cockles. I’m impressed by several things at this point, not least of which is Vrijmoed’s clear preference for local products.
He also makes a point of working with the seasons, as evidenced by the main course: lamb with root vegetables and sage. Neck and shoulder meat were slow-cooked, pressed together, lacquered and braised. Earthy veg proves to be the right match for the hearty lamb. The same can be said for the bold red wine served with it.
Before dessert, De Buck comes around with what looks like a large lemon but is actually a citron. He lets each of us smell it to get an idea of how fragrant this citrus fruit is. Our dessert features thin strips of citron – which Vrijmoed let marinate for a few months in sugar and salt –with apple, cucumber and white chocolate.
Not surprisingly, there’s a dessert after the dessert: crunchy cookie crumble and ice cream. Now we’re really done … right after a round of coffee, Irish or otherwise.
Vlaanderenstraat 22, Ghent; 09.279.99.77
Tue-Fri 12.00-13.30 & 19.00-21.30; Sat & Mon 19.00-21.30
New venture by a talented young chef with a penchant for local cuisine at a democratic price
This article was originally published in Flanders Today