Brugge. A quaint town with UNESCO heritage listing, a plethora of stunning buildings and at least one amazing restaurant. Staying in Gent, we caught the train to Brugge for the day especially to visit Hertlog Jan. My dad had chosen many of our dining locations and his criteria was this: 1) have been awarded a Michelin star, 2) be in one of the areas to which we planned to travel, 3) have a special lunch menu so that we could afford to go to them all.
Hertlog Jan is bizarrely located out of the main city centre with a view of a gravelled car park and wire fencing instead of ornate architecture, gold leaf and carvings. It has gone for a minimalist interior with open space, natural wood, white and clean lines.
Starter one: curried potato cream. The smooth, mashed potato had been mixed with turmeric and cream. This went with country-style bread and potato chips that looked like waffles.
Starter two was avocado covered with the dust of dehydrated tomatoes and fleur de sal. Having been away from home for so long now, this could only remind me of eating barbeque shapes with guacamole… I liked it.
Next up was a frothy gazpacho made with green olives and basil. Under its white foam were cubes of tomato and croutons. It was only slightly chilled and was powerful in flavour.
Following the cold soup was an olive tapenade with a citrus cream and capers. It looked like plants growing out of dirt. The flavours were an interesting combination. The tapenade was not too strong having been dried, but the moist olive middle was intense.
The next dish was interesting, like a dessert made savoury with a few crucial ingredients. It was a crème of potato with mimolette cheese (from the North of France), coffee and vanilla. It was exceptionally smooth and then had the crust of cheese on top. It was easy to eat as soft food.
With appetisers over, the waiters took the plates and explained that a lot of the ingredients are from the chef’s garden. My first entrée expressed how true this was.
“A walk through our garden,” explained the waiter. The dish put before me was a poesy of flowers and vegetables. He enlightened us that the dish was made with 45-50 ingredients, all from the garden, all fresh and each different. Every time they prepare this dish it is unique based on the best ingredients from the garden that day.
There were flowers, peas, red beetroot cooked in butter, fennel, yellow beetroot cooked in butter, a spicy red capsicum puree, grape cucumber, snow pea, radish that had been slightly pickled, cabbage, purple parsnip, lavender...
It was a colourful experience.
The main was verbena foam with peas and broad beans onto which they poured a lettuce soup. The verbena foam was like a bubble bath. The soup was cold and seasoned. The plump peas and beans had been cooked in oil, herbs and chives and were served warm.
On the side was a potato mash that was deliciously creamy (i.e. full of butter).
Somehow, despite the quantity of food, the meal felt healthy, as if the nutrients from all the plants grown with love were permeating through us as we ate.
Before dessert we were presented with honey verbena flowers, again from the garden.
On to dessert. The first was tart with cranberries, yoghurt and home-grown strawberries. It was a tart with raspberry dust and meringue. The white strawberries looked unripe but were soft and sweet. The white meringue was crispy, the pink meringue was soft. It was innovative without being too complex, taking a single ingredient and preparing it in a special way rather than mixing them together. It was delicious. We all wanted to lick our plates.
The next dessert was pineapple with coriander ice-cream and star anise foam. I would have served this one before the pink one as the flavours were semi-sweet. The coriander ice-cream was refreshing, as was the pineapple, but the foam was a strange flavour.
Chocolates followed a dark one with beetroot and ginger (rich and delicious), a milk one with ponzu and sesame that crackled in your mouth and a white one with fisherman’s friends, olive oil and vanilla (you could feel the smoothness of the oil).
Dessert didn’t end there. Next was crispy caramel cylinders filled with caramel cream, which were sweet but enjoyable. Then came a caramel and yoghurt cup with a pretty bronze disk as a biscuit, and thick, rich caramel.
Hertlog Jan stood out for its innovation and local ingredients. It was an extremely decadent and delicious meal.
Torhoutse Steenweg 479
8200 Brugge, Belgium
+32 (0) 5067 3446