“There are only two animals in the world with bones in their ‘sex’ ” our waiter noted. Welcome to Hof Van Cleve, where the endless array of delicious food is eclipsed only by the fact that you will cut some of it up with a knife made from whale penis. Hof Van Cleve is currently ranked 26th in the San Pellegrino list of the top 50 restaurants in the world. Liz and I made a special detour to the remote town of Kruishoutem on our trip to the Benelux this summer to cross it off our list. Through a misunderstanding on the part of my esteemed dining partner, we arrived half hour before the restaurant opened, and were faced with the prospect of either extending our cab ride through rural Belgium or walking around the deserted dirt roads and corn fields that surround the restaurant’s grounds. We chose the latter and in the process built up a healthy appetite which still proved no match for the amount of food we’d be served. Both our stomachs would bend and break by the end of our 5+ hour meal. A couple more courses and my fat would have grown around and into the bottom of my seat cushion, requiring forcible removal by crane. That said, this was an unbelievably good restaurant. Heavy on the seafood, but still with a wide variety of flavors, textures, and preparations. Certainly up there with the best restaurants we’ve been to, though it didn’t have the playful element with the food that would really put it at the top.
It seems customary in nice Belgian restaurants to trot out a series of amuse bouches before the meal begins. Here they are:
The frog leg may have been the best bite of the night
The amuse bouches had already sated our appetites and it was hard to believe the main meal had not yet started. With some concern for our cholesterol and livers, we pressed on. The menu was in French and Flemish – I’ll include the French as it appeared and then explain what it is to the best of my ability (or to the best of babelfish’s ability)
Several langoustines covered with cucumber fettucine, avocado, and some kind of watercress gelee. I didn’t notice until now but it kind of looks like a face. Several of the main dishes also came with a side dish. This came with a side of what seemed to be pork consomme (not pictured).
Mackerel four ways with coriander, tomato, and razor clams. This came with a side of crab prepared two ways with an avocado mousse. See below.
This was the least successful dish of the night. Squid with yuzu, dashi, and seaweed. The complimentary flavors worked well but squid seems to be impermeable to flavor. So what you’re left with is an ordinary piece of squid with a nice sauce on top, as opposed to the rest of the fish on the menu which were fleshy and porous enough to absorb whatever they happened to be in. Although it did come with a tasty soup of cockels and mussels on the side.
Lobster with cauliflower puree, egg, mushrooms and ham.
Danish cod with leeks, brandade (a puree of salt cod, oil and milk), and crab. Came with a side of what seemed to be lightly battered and fried baby shrimp and a zuchini flower chip.
Veal with tarragon, peas, chanterelles and roast potatoes. And of course, the whale penis knife we used to cut it up.
At this point we were already very full, but when the nice waiter came by to ask if we’d like cheese before dessert we just didn’t want to disappoint him. Lucky for us this was hands down the best cheese plate we’ve had anywhere.
There was another tier of cheese that you can’t see in the picture. We tried 12 of them.
Everything was delicious. Unfortunately, due to the fact that cheese plates come at the end of the meal, after a lot of eating and drinking, we can never remember a thing about any of the cheeses.
….and the food just did not stop coming
This was an assortment of interesting and refreshing fruit preparations. Frozen little pearls of fruit on jellied fruit with some kind of fruit puree.
Strawberries with mint, white chocolate and prosecco
This dessert was outstanding. It came with a chocolate madeline that was so good I just had to force it down my throat.
But I think it was some kind of play on fruit, yogurt and granola.
At this point we were getting scared. Would this meal ever end?
Then things just got ridiculously out of hand with the dessert wagon. In case we hadn’t had enough out came our waiter with a cart of pastries, cakes, madelines, truffles, macaroons and who knows what else. Realizing this would probably be my only trip to Hof Van Cleve in my lifetime I endured some more gastrointestinal pain to choke down a delicious eclair, a madeline, and some kind of apple glazed donut. I’m not proud of it, but it had to happen. Years of being raised by Italian women has instilled in me the principal of “never decline what you are offered”.
Hof Van Cleve is definitely worth the trip if you are within several hours driving distance of Waregem (Amsterdam, London, Brussels, Paris). We stayed at the St Janshof Hotel, a perectly serviceable hotel a short taxi ride away. It was the perfect way to kick off our vacation.