I feel a bit nervous writing this post. Can I capture in words how amazing this dinner was? Will I do it justice? Words will never compare to actually experiencing it, smelling the wood fire which permeates your clothing, breaking the freshly baked bread and inhaling the beautiful sourdough scent before lathering it with homemade butter and a tiny pinch of salt. When bread and butter are perfection, you know the rest of dinner will be too, or at the very least close to it. So if you ever need a weekend getaway, I strongly suggest going to In De Wulf. You may have to plan ahead though, we made our reservations 6 months in advance…
The chef at In De Wulf is the highly praised Kobe Desramaults. After a number of stages at top restaurants like the now defunct Oud Sluis and Commerç 24, he returned home to take over his parents’ French bistro and turn it into one of the most talked about restaurants in Belgium, gaining its michelin star in 2005. In De Wulf is situated on the border of Belgium and France, in the town of Dranouter, and an area called Heuvelland (hill country). Hill country – it sounds like a place in a fairy tale, and when we got there, it sure looked like it. Softly rolling hills dotted with farms and small patches of woods. Beautiful scenic views and designated walking trails. The restaurant and hotel itself looked like an old farmhouse, with smoke coming out of the chimney and fire grates burning at different places on the grounds. The weather was actually quite awful when we were there, but even through the constant drizzle, the beauty of the place clearly shone through. Our attempt at a walk through the hills was quickly aborted and we settled into our cozy bedroom to wait out the hours before dinner.
At 19:45 on the dot we arrived at the entrance of the restaurant. Before going into the restaurant we were taken on a tour of the kitchen where the cooks greeted us and the layout of the kitchen was explained to us. Standing before us was clearly a very proud team. This was emphasized even further when our waiter turned our attention to the cleaning station and reinforced their belief that everyone, from chef to cleaner, is an important part of the team. With that message we were brought to our table where we started our evening with champagne and eight amuses. Thirteen courses were to follow these amuses, so sit tight, this may take a while.
The first amuse was a clear scallop broth poured over thick sour cream. The flavors were rich and deep and we desperately wanted another sip. But before we knew it the next amuses were placed in front of us: freeze dried beetroot with lemon balm and crispy savoy cabbage crackers sandwiching a cream of white cheese and herbs. The chef that brought it out told us to eat it quickly as it wouldn’t remain crunchy for long. The earthy flavor of the cabbage paired perfectly with the cheese in the middle. By now we had seen three different chefs. What’s interesting is that the chefs bring out the dishes at In De Wulf, and each course is brought out by a different chef so you see the entire kitchen brigade during dinner, even chef Kobe.
We were so far enjoying ourselves and our champagne immensely. The chef then brought out what looked like a brown mangled root. It was salsify rolled in a mustard powder made from local mustard and we were informed that the entire thing, including the green tops, would be edible. Again, earthy, delicious and the powder gave a gentle kick, perhaps not even a kick, but a nudge. It nudged your mouth ever so slightly. The next amuse was brought out in a frozen bowl. It contained a tartare of hay smoked mussels on a mussel and beer foam, and tasted, to us, like the meat filling in some types of dim sum. It was amazing. May I have some more please?
The whelks were next, brought out in a plate filled with rocks, which seems to be what everyone I’ve shown the pictures to notices first: “they serve it on rocks?”. Umm yes, but more importantly, it was awesome. The whelks were served in the shell pierced on twigs. They were perfectly cooked, chewy not in an unpleasant rubbery way, but almost like a crunch, a little towards cartilage but not quite. They tasted slightly smokey and were infused with a japanese style marinade. They were served with a bay leaf vinaigrette. Next up was roasted mackerel, served on the bone, literally, made with curry leaves which they had lit on the plate so the burning curry leaf aroma penetrates your pallet as you taste it. They told us only to eat the cubes of mackerel and not the ‘serving’ mackerel – I guess they could tell we were the kinda people to rip the fish head off and suck out all the cavities.
Next amuse was perhaps our favorite dish of the evening, a play on eggs royale. Salmon roe on egg custard. Creamy custard with creamy roe on top – a mix of fish, and meat, and egg flavors. This eggy concoction was a freakin’ miracle that ended far too soon. Last amuse was a sea bass ceviche. We ate the fish and drank the rest of the broth, which basically clears your pallet so you’re ready for what’s next. Which was bread. I already told you about the bread, but it’s worth a second mention. They bake it themselves in the wood fire oven outside. The crust is thick and crunchy and the center is dense. The aroma is to die for. They serve the bread with homemade butter and pork lard with crispy pork bits.
After all these bites it was time for the real dinner. They brought over a little cutlery sack filled with spoons and forks. We’d never seen anything like this before at a michelin star restaurant and were absolutely delighted by it. Instead of worrying about putting the cutlery out every course they just give you enough to get you through the next 8 courses. The down-to-earth-ness and completely lack of pretense of this place is refreshing. The first dish was called ‘lune’, referring to moonlight, and consisted of various lightly fermented vegetables grown in the dark or nighttime, such as chicory. The wrap it was in was filled with coagulated pork fat and the creamy white sauce flavored with bacon tasted like really good charcuterie. Delish. The wines we had this evening were all natural wines, which we know too little about. The first wine was a Remi Poujol, Le temps fait tout, 2012.
The second course was an oyster smoked over pine. This was perhaps our least favorite of the evening but still a good dish. You could really taste the pine smoke in the oyster. We just prefer oysters straight up with nothing except maybe a squeeze of lemon. The third course was scallop with raw slices of celeriac. There was also celeriac underneath the scallop which had been cooked slowly in coals overnight and tasted very sweet. The wine was the Domaine Tour grise, non dosé 2002
Next up were two vegetable courses which were paired with the Sebastien Riffault, Sancerre blanc, ‘Akméniné’, 2011. The first was kerremelkstempers, a take on a classic Flemish dish of potatoes mashed with buttermilk. This version was a beautifully light puree of potato, buttermilk and cheese, which was accompanied by a potato baked in a salt crust. Underneath the white puree was a concentrated brown sauce made of the potato skins and the green sauce was made of leek. The baked potato is dipped into the puree and sauces and you are left with a full, very creamy, and very flavorful bite.
The second vegetable dish was pumpkin puree, an egg yolk, and pumpkin mousse. It was served with a brown, oily crab jus around it that was reminiscent of the lard seasoning sauce provided in Indomie’s Mi Goreng instant noodles. Now this may sound like an insult, but those noodles top the list of best instant noodles. Needless to say, that sauce was great. Anyway, the dish was served with a ten-grain bread, which was heavy but worked really well with the pumpkin and the egg yolk.The next dish was a fish course. Tub gurnard cooked perfectly. Alongside it a roasted baby leek coated in leek-ash. The whole sprinkled with a mustard, honey and rose hip emulsion. The wine with this dish was Marco Merli Tristo, 2012.
Now we had seen pictures and this video of our next dish earlier that day on the chef’s instagram. Zottegemse hoen, a Flemish heritage breed chicken, stuffed with hay roasted on the Josper. The entire roasted bird was presented to us first, before being brought back to the kitchen and prepped for our plate. The bird was cooked to a beautiful pink medium and we were served a piece of breast meat, a piece of thigh meat and some crispy skin. So flavorful, so juicy, so awesome. Accompanying the chicken were braised salsify and a wild herb sauce. With this dish we drank the amazing Domaine des Cavarodes, Savagnin Presse, 2011. An orange wine from Jura, with notes of apricots and savory touches.
Next up, boudin noir and the signature pig brain pie served on a pig skull. The boudin noir was really bloody. I wonder how they did that. Possibly by injecting the boudin noir with some extra blood with an anticoagulant. It doesn’t really matter. It was good, served with roasted baby onion. The pig brain tart was light, nay ethereal, with a nice crunch from the tart base. We drank Les sabots d’Hélène, La Mauvaise Réputation, 2013.
Onwards to the cheese course. Flamiche Vieux gris de Lille pizza, served with their house made beer ‘Mira belle’. Mira belle, named after Kobe’s daughter, is a geuze style beer and is flavored with hog weed and chamomile. The cheese pizza was really nice. The funky cheese with the soft, crispy, chewy dough, matching wonderfully with our beer. Our wonderful sommelier, noticing that we were thirsty, left us the rest of the bottle to finish in preparation for the desserts.
On to the desserts! I was quite stuffed at this point and thought I would have a hard time getting through the desserts. But that wasn’t the case at all. All the desserts were light and had perfectly balanced flavors of sweet and sour or salty. The first dessert was a crispy caramelized slice of beet with yogurt and rose hip. Tangy and sweet. Next up was really interesting, fermented carrot with caramelized white chocolate and meringue that tasted salty and sweet at the same time. It was a heavenly dessert.
Then came the apple and hogweed granita, in an apple. It tasted slightly sour and sweet and the people at the table behind us loved it so much the waitress brought out another serving of it for them. The last dessert was the mille feuille. It was like, like the other desserts, very well balanced – slighlty sweet and salty. It was light and crispy and creamy with notes of caramelization. As a last surprise we also got some mini ‘smoutebollen’, small deep fried dough balls, with powdered sugar. The dessert wine was Fleur d’Erables, Les sablonettes, 2012. We finished dinner with coffee and tea, and the coffee was a sensation as well. Slow-drip coffee that tasted very sweet and fruity.
If you made it to the bottom of this article, well done! Re-reading it brings back memories of a great evening. Not only was the food perfect, but the service was great as well – easy going, laid back, friendly, and professional. It was easily one of the best meals we have ever had. The next morning we had an amazing breakfast with different home baked breads, a cheese and charcuterie plate, the best paté we’ve ever had, and some more of that amazing coffee. We left at about 11:00, just as the chefs were arriving to start their day, ready to delight and enthrall the next group of people with the food they create.