All posts filed under “Fine dining

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Seven plates at Gramm, Brussels

Ham and celery

Places like Gramm are special. Eating their five-course tasting menu (with a cute amuse bouche and a cheese board), is not dinner. It is something else. Attention has gone inte every tiny detail on the plate, and the flavours are innovative, yet go together perfectly. Gramm is the kind of place you go to when you have time, and good company, because you will spend four hours eating little dishes, sipping away on a smooth wine.

Fish, carrot, vinegar

Arriving, we were met by a charming waitor who explained the concept of the evening for us.  He brought us aperitifs for the amuse bouche, and then a dry natural wine, tasting surprisingly much like a Gueze beer, but with more complex aftertaste. The first nibble was a goat cheese jelly served on a bed of beetroot, which was both tasty and amusing.

Oyster mushroom and fish

The second dish on the menu was a soup of pumpkin, chestnuts and umami crisp. It was sweet, rich and beautifully balanced with the salty umami. After the soup there was ham with celery and herby mayo, which married like the most beautiful ham sandwich. The meat-free substitute to this dish (three small cucumber pieces) was one of only two small let-downs during the evening. However, a skipjack (a member of the tuna clan) sailed in to save the day, dreamily soft and just barely touched by the pan, with carotts and vinegar.

Veal and oyster mushroom

Then the real heroes arrived – the main dishes. Fredrik was served tender cod with a herby sauce, together with perfectly fried and salty oyster mushrooms from Permafungi, grown only a kilometer away in the cellars of Tour & Taxis. As a meat-eater, I was served a 12 hour slow-cooked, almost caramelised veal. It was the most succulent I have ever tried, simply sublime.

Pear sorbet

As if we were not sold already, we were also treated to a cheese board with goats cheese, rocquefort, nettle cheese and a golden Belgian hard cheese, accompanied by home-made bread and fluffy butter. That the pear sorbet that followed on this was a bit of a disappointment was entirely forgivable, because all the rest was so enjoyable. Aside from the acoustics, which are a little loud, Gramm is close to perfect. Prepare for a slow, thorough dining experience well worth your time.

Gramm, Rue de flandre 86, 1000 Bruxelles, tel: +32 2 324 99 66

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A surreal Tram Experience

The tram experience

Ever wondered what it would be like to slowly trundle through the messy streets of Brussels on a white tram whilst bow-tied waitors bring you champagne and delicacies? Look no further. This niche interest has gained quite a following through the Tram Experience, where a tram in Brussels has been decked out with fancy white leather, Michelin-starred chefs and its own timetable.

Cauliflower and onion

It’s pricey, but a perfect and weird excursion if you want to treat yourself. The food is beautiful and exquisite, if perhaps not quite as excellent as I’m sure it would be in the home restaurant of Michelin-starred chefs Luigi Ciciriello and Bart De Pooter.  The wine pairing is nice, and you are offered generous glasses of champagne as soon as the tram starts its rickety ride from Palais de Justice. Upon departure, our table was set with three tasty hors d’oeuvres and amusing, hard bread balls on sticks, attached to a slab of stone: everything on the table had to be attached, in order to avoid accidents.

Black truffle ravioli

The three mini-strarters included a foie gras brûlé, a tomato doused in caramel, and pickled beetroot-coloured onion. We devoured them merrily, whilst waving like royals to the confused and bemused people we passed on the streets outside. The starter was a black truffle ravioli with meat consommé, delicate and delicious.

Holstein beef

My main was juicy Holstein beef with mushroom terrine and chocolate sauce. The meat was cooked to perfection, but the chocolate pairing was a little odd. The fish main was beautiful like a painting, but had been left too long and was a bit dry. Chocolate sauce was served also to this, and again it was a slightly odd pairing. But the sweet, full red wine went down a real treat, and we were given a little food rest to enjoy the view as we made our way further out from the city, towards Tervuren.

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For dessert we were given a trio of ice cream, rice pudding and a plum in spices. Being rather tipsy at this point, I don’t remember anything remarkable about the desserts, other than that they disappeared very quickly.  Quite giggly as we rounded Tervuren and rolled back into the city, we lamented that the excursion was coming to its end so quickly. This tram trip was a bit like I imagine old extravagant traveling the ways its portrayed in Wes Anderson films. A quirkiness suitable for Brussels.

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8-course luxury at La Buvette

Potted rabbit and celery

I had my first eight course dinner this week, and given my complete inexperience with these kinds of luxuries, it is possible that this review will be biased. But it was so much fun! When you eat eight little meals, it feels like you’re eating the Eurovision song contest. Each dish has its own character, and looks nothing like the previous one. Given the tiny size of the dishes, it’s more about tasting than eating – sometimes like an investigation, trying to figure out what is on the plate. Although we were left the menu at our side, we only had very vague ideas about what we were actually eating at times (and had to google some of the ingredients like sorrel and verbena).

Seaweed and trout

But aside from my excitement at the four-hour activity of eating eight little dishes in one evening, La Buvette in itself is a lovely place. It’s situated opposite its sister restaurant, the brilliant Café des Spores, but feels a bit more upmarket. When I asked for a nice red wine at Café des Spores, I was served a glass of their excellent house wine. At La Buvette you can only order by to the bottle, and if you ask for advice, the waiter goes to fetch the sommelier.

Carrot, sorrel and ricotta

La Buvette is a tiny resturant, a little bit like someone’s house – the front still looks like the old butcher’s shop it’s housed in, and the upstairs like someone’s living room. The decor is simple.  Getting lost trying to find the toilet, I ended up in someone’s artist studio at the top of the house. While the location far away from the centre, it is obvious that La Buvette doesn’t need a grand location to attract customers. The clientele seemed like local Bruxellois food lovers, not eurocrats.

Leek, plaice and potato

As soon as we were seated, we were given sourdough bread with candied sunflower kernels and truly delicious porcini butter. We ordered a bottle of red organic Merlot at the recommendation of the sommelier, which was probably the biggest disappointment of the evening – it was a bit too dry, and not very special. The first dish, however, was very exciting: sea trout, seaweed, cucumber and some kind of vinegar-y wasabi-flavoured dressing.

Confit lamb and red cabbage

The second dish was delicious, and perhaps the most visually appealing – potted rabbit with celeriac and lemon creme. The crunch of the celeriac against the tender, savoury rabbit was lovely. Fredrik, who opted for the vegetarian menu, was was served beetroot with blue cheese and celeriac, and wasn’t the biggest fan of the composition. However, the rest of the evening, I was impressed by how well they catered for a non meat-eater. The third dish was pretty: a colourful salad of sorrel, carrot, red onion, squash and ricotta cheese. Although we were delighted by the sorrel, which we used to eat wild in Sweden as kids, I thought the ricotta was too heavy, and there was not enough salty tangyness to the dish. It felt like a dessert-salad.

Vervier sorbet

The fourth dish was one of our favourites: plaice with hay potato in a buckwheat broth. The fish was perfect: crispy brown on the outside, but falling apart into tender flakes, and soaking up the flavoursome broth perfectly. This was followed by the second main, which was confit lamb with aubergine cream and red cabbage. This was absolutely delicious, and I savoured every little bit of it. Fredrik’s option was also very tasty: Peeled, fried aubergine in some kind of soy vinaigrette. We were both very pleased with our mains, and I began to feel a little full.

Rice pudding

The first dessert was absolutely perfect: white chocolate ice cream, meringue, blackberries and verbena sorbet. I think it was one of the nicest desserts I’ve ever tried. The fresh verbena sorbet unlocked a whole forest of flavours, which contrasted beautifully with the blackberry and the crispy meringue. The second dessert was a rice pudding with buckthorn sauce and salted caramelised almonds. This was also nice, but the least special dessert for me. The final dish was incredibly heavy, so it was lucky it was so small: dark chcolate tart with salty hazelnut praline. It was a grand finish of the evening, with very heavy flavours.

Dark chocolate tart,  salty hazelnut praline

We were then served a small acidic coffee each, which was best combined with some sugar – somehow very apt for the kind of meal we’d had. While the eight course dinner in itself is not entirely unaffordable given the high quality of the food (45 euros), the wine, water and coffee upped the bill quite a lot. But for a very special treat, I would completely recommend La Buvette – great service, beautiful food, and actually quite exciting entertainment for a couple of hours.

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Mushroom orgy at Café des Spores

Tomato, watermelon and mushroom salad

Last week my best friend and I discovered a little gem in Saint Gilles called Cafe des Spores. It’s a restaurant specialising entirely in mushrooms. We thought it sounded quirky, as well as brilliant, as we are both mushroom lovers. But we didn’t expect it to be exquisite gourmet food.

Truffle soup

The meal began with three little dishes: truffle soup, fried mushroom dumplings and stuffed champignons. The truffle soup was delicious, and as expected with truffle, the smell was divine. The dumplings were nice, but probably my least favourite part of the meal – tasty, but rather simple.

Ginger and mince stuffed champignons

However, the stuffed champignons were spectacular, on many levels. First of all, they arrived sprinkled in some sort of dried fish flakes, which fluttered like butterflies in the heat for several minutes. Marianne and I were so freaked out that we asked the waitress if part of the food was alive. She just giggled at us. Having overcome our fear, we dug in and were shocked by the taste explosion. Tangy ginger, umami-fishy flakes, rich meaty stuffing and mellow mushroom mixing wildly. Perhaps that sounds weird, and it was, but it was also absolutely delicious.

Mushroom gnocchi

For starters we had a salad of watermelon, tomato and mushroom (pictured at the top of the post). It was very refreshing as the sweet and sour flavours came together with the dense mushrooms rather unexpectedly. But it was very tasteful, and we scooped everything off the plate rather quickly. We also has mushroom gnocchi, which was mellow and autumnal, tasting of porcini (although, as can be seen from the picture, it was some other sort of mushroom – I’d never tried it before). It wasn’t as sensational as the salad, and the gnocchi were a bit too soft, but it was still nice.

Duck with girolles

For mains there were two choices: duck with girolles and a salmon dish. As salmon is more staple than chicken in Sweden, we both opted for the duck, especially as it was accompanied by our favourite mushroom. The duck was perfectly pink inside, and the girolles packed with flavour. While it looks like a rather small main, it was just the perfect size at this point.

Truffle pecorino

Since neither of us are dessert people, we opted for the cheese with cherries instead of mushroom-infused sweet stuff. The truffle pecorino was very strong, and tangy to the point where it almost hurt our mouths. It was again something of a taste sensation, and a perfect finish to the meal.

Le café des spores

These unexpected taste trips coupled with high-quality house wine, friendly service and nice atmosphere meant it was a lovely food experience, perhaps the best I’ve had in Brussels so far. The bill, which came at 71 euros, felt perfectly reasonable given the high quality of the food. I will definitely be going here again.