Hertog Jan is a three Michelin Star restaurant in Zedelgem, just a few miles outside Bruges. Gert De Mangeleer took over Hertog Jan with his culinary soulmate Joachim Boudens in 2005. The duo have been a refreshing addition to the Belgian gastronomic world ever since, championing the motto “driven by simplicity”.
The restaurant was originally a 180-year old barn that has been completely redesigned inside while retaining some of the original features. The architecture is unusual, with a very modern building extended out on one side from the original barn exterior. The new dining room looks out over the extensive vegetable garden.
Before sitting down in the dining room we took a long walk in the vegetable garden, that Hertog Jan uses to create its innovate and exquisite dishes. The garden symbolizes the departure point for the guests’ journey of discovery and changes, like the dishes, with the seasons.
I decided to go with the big degustation menu and they were able to match my wife's vegan dietary restrictions course for course. I will tell you about her dishes and experience later. My dinner however, started with six starters, small amuse bouches that packed tremendous flavors and was very visually appealing. The biggest surprise and also my favorite was a raspberry meringue, filled with goose liver and dusted with beetroot powder. A fantastic combination of flavors and textures.
The following course was very representative of the whole menu. Stunning colors, fantastic arrangements on the plate, great use of vegetables (in this case tomatoes) and filled with immense flavors. The variety of tomatoes in this dish was unbelievable and it all came together in a wonderful way.
The next course was a smoked eel with foie gras, fennel salad and miso. The salad was sublime and amazing. The smokiness of the eel worked very well with the liquorice aspect of the fennel and the smoothness of the miso. It was followed by the pepper with iberico ham. The pepper was cooked to perfection and the crunch of the iberico ham created a beautiful balance in the dish.
The next course was the only letdown of the dinner. Yellow beetroot with lobster and sea buckthorn. There is nothing wrong with course in itself, but together with the all the other fantastic dishes it gets lost. It was followed by cockles and dill served together with Nasturtium which I dont think I ever had in food before. Nasturtiums are related to garden cress and mustard, and has a peppery and somewhat tangy flavor. It worked very well together with the cockles. The fresh dill added another layer of flavor which completed the dish. Beautiful to look at, wonderful to taste.
The following dish was called “A walk through the garden”. It’s an amazing plate of raw and barely cooked vegetables and salad held together with caviar d’aubergine in the middle. We were told to taste them all individually. This dish is such a good representation of the chef’s philosophy. Chef De Mangeleer is confident enough in the quality of his fresh produce to let it speak for itself.
To end my savory section of the meal, the waiter brought me two plates, one was filled with snow peas and young onions, the other has three wagyu sirloin pieces cooked to perfection. The meat was melt in your mouth good, with a peppery flavor and together with the snow peas and the young onions the course came together really well. It was a great way to transition into the sweet part of the menu.
What about the vegan options served to my wife. Above you can see a selection of the courses she had. Incredibly beautiful to look at as well, using the full vegetable garden, and showing innovation and creativity even with vegan restrictions. My wifes favorite was the eggplant with a miso paste. It was not as good as the one she had a L'Astrance in Paris but it was pretty darn close. And combined with the other courses that was served, she felt that Hertog Jan serves one of the better vegan menus in the world.She also enjoyed a visually striking dish of avocado with tomato powder, fleur de sel and olive oil.
They had a great selection of cheeses, and I went with two blue cheeses, two cheddar's and two comte's. They were all great. After the cheese trolley we were served the first dessert of the menu. A silver ball was brought to our table and dropped into a plate from 2 feet up. When it hit the plate it broke and displayed a wonderful dessert of apple, mint, herbs, elderflower and pop rocks!!! The pop rocks elevated this dish with a strong fizz which scored high on the fun factor scale.
My wife had an assertion of berries, and I had to highlight this dish in the post as well. The picture doesn't give this dish justice, in real life the colors were even more eye-popping and every berry had an intense flavor. A simply stunning dish.
The final sweet course before the petite fours was another visually striking dish with chocolate, wild strawberries and violet. Delicious, delicious, delicious!! Now I was feeling pretty full so when they rolled up the selection of petite fours on a huge trolley, I could only muster three. They were all very good though.
The waiters are very friendly, Joachim Boudens was a perfect host for the evening making our visit to Hertog Jan a great experience. I was surprised how pleasantly full that I was after the dinner, especially after enjoying the degustation menu at De Karmeliet earlier during lunch. Little details as a stool to put your handbag on, and a hot towel after the finger food appetizers adds to the dining experience. After the dinner we had the opportunity to check out the kitchen. It was huge and the uniforms the cooks were wearing was entertaining. They all looked like gardeners.
All in all, Hertog Jan is a great experience and well worth their 3 star rating.
Focusing on the ways flavours, structures and contrasts take shape, Chef Gert makes sure that his dishes touch all the senses and carry his signature style. And I loved every moment of it. It highlights local produce, especially vegetables and herbs, and demonstrates how varied the flavors from these food groups are.
The wine pairings were spot on, the service was personal and effective, the barn is beautiful and the food is some of the best food that I have ever had. I can only think of a handful times where I have had a similar or better food experience. Hertog Jan must be in your list of places to visit when in Belgium. It is worth the trip.
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