Anyone who has had the privilege of spending quality time in the area just south of Watou and Ieper – the Heuvelland – will be aware of the many treasures that await discovery.
A favourite used to be the once great ‘De Kauwackers’, a bar with a great view, very near the French border in the countryside between Nieuwekerke and Dranouter. It used to have a massive beer list of 300+, but things are quieter there now, as the place focuses on house beers only (or mainly...).
However, just round the corner, great things are happening at the marvellous hotel and restaurant In de Wulf.
We have stayed there before, of course, but that first overnight was in the olden days, two years ago, before the arrival of the Michelin star. Simon von Tromp – another Heuvelland hero – tells of the good value home cooking available at the Wulf. Sadly Simon’s book is long since out of date, and anyone turning up at In de Wulf hoping for a plate of Flemish beef stew is going to be sadly disappointed.
However, anyone hoping for a gastronomic experience par excellence is in for a treat: as long as they have a healty credit card or a sack full of cash.
For In de Wulf is not cheap: it IS, however, now a classy restaurant, where T and I had the pleasure of spending last Sunday night. We had booked a room for a last, cheeky night in Flanders, before returning to the dross of a Monday morning at work, so we were due a very early start the next morning, to make the 07.56h shuttle from Calais, which was to deliver us back into the real world by a reasonable hour for a full day’s work the next day.
Sunday night, however, was all about the food. Or at least it was all about the performance of food. You see, this sort of restaurant is not one from which you will leave full of belly. You may leave empty of pocket, but you will not die from over expansion of one’s stomach, despite the number of different items of food that are presented.
During this most amazing of meals, we were presented with what was billed as 7 courses, but in actual fact was a jaw dropping range of immaculately presented plates, which I reckon totalled 24 separate ‘dishes’ (depends on your definition of a course and a dish).
First up was the starter, a selection of 6 ‘tapas’ style bites:
• Belotta Ham and small piece of bread presented on a test tube with watermelon juice to drink in the tube below the bite;
• Parmesan and tomato – cold soup like thing which I passed on;
• Mussel in various herbs presented on a spoon;
• Sardine in shell like crusty thing;
• Baby squid in nice sauce;
• Avocado, tuna and sesame seeds – not for me, I passed on this one too.
The first ‘main’ was three more bite size dishes: foie gras, with pistachio and apple; then another tomato and parmesan combo presented with masses of dry ice which pumped out the dry ice ‘fumes’ you’d expect – very atmospheric, though I didn’t care for the dish; then langoustine and aubergine with frozen peas – over-elaborate for me, though I did eat most of it.
Next ‘main’ was a superb tiger prawn on rice with mushroom sauce – sublime, but too small for my liking…..then we had cod with some other fish which was also very good (again a small plate); then veal with mushroom, onion and almond which was also fab (but small); next up was suckling pig (in reality very nice ham) in a carrot cream/orange sauce with smoked potato and ham – also wonderful (but yes, it was small as well!).
Dessert was amazing: effectively 11 different things, as follows:
• Lemon & toffee on a stick – sumptuous;
• Yoghurt mango ice cream;
• ‘Raspberry kiss’ – a raspberry sorbet thing;
• Chocolate orange ganache in creamy sauce.
Then a board on which the following were delicately placed:
• Creamy cherry ‘yoghurt’;
• (amazing) rich sumptuous white toffee chocolate thing;
• Tiny chocolate truffle;
• Cherries – whole;
• ‘Madeline’ biscuit;
• Coconut marshmallow;
• Test tube of coffee flavoured drink with meringue thing on top.
The service was unbelievably good: how on earth they keep track of the progress of 36 people through all these different plates is beyond me. The wait staff were impeccable, the co-ordination of the service of all these never ending plates was a wonder to behold.
Wine: you could choose the meal with or without wine. Thankfully, given the early start we were due the next day (I am the driver), I chose NOT to have the wine, but T did, and she was rewarded with as much wine as she could drink. All was matched perfectly with the food. Her glass got filled as soon as it was remotely empty, and there was no limit to how much you could have. All the wines I had sips of, and all were the top quality you’d expect from such a classy joint.
The full 7 courses cost 75 euros without wine, 100 with wine. You could have one course less for 10 euros less, and two less for 20 euros less, but we’re glad we saw the full spectacular performance. Yes, it was very pricey, and we won’t soon return for a meal here, partly because it was a one off splash, but also because it was a meal of a certain type – as I said above, one that doesn’t over fill one’s stomach. But the quality and presentation of the food was indeed absolutely amazing. The chef has clearly got a flair, and has managed to turn the remotest corner of the Heuvelland on to this stylish, expensive food: the whole place was full with 36 covers on a Sunday night, and everyone appeared satisfied. The dining room is spacious, sumptuous yet comfortable, and absolutely gorgeous, especially last week, on a sunny evening with the sun slowly setting and shining its long rays into the room through its open windows.
After the meal, I enjoyed a St Bernardus 12 – thankfully, although the place is no longer beery, there are still a few decent brews, including 3 from St B, Westmalle Tripel, Duvel, etc, so the beer geek need not go unhappy.
Having enjoyed my nightcap on one of the cosy sofas in the dining room by the fireplace, we retired upstairs to the wonderful room which we had for the all too short night.
By 5.15am the alarm was going off, at 6am we were pulling out of the car park along the deserted country roads and into the French dawn, through Bailleul and onto the A25 up towards the French coast, where we got to Calais in under an hour, in plenty of time for our shuttle back to reality.
Oh, and did I mention that we didn’t even give Kauwackers a second thought?.........
In de Wulf: a masterpiece for fine dining, cosy lodgings and overall just a great, stylish place to spend some time. I can recommend it to you all.