One couldn't help but notice the number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Belgium. I was told that today, there is a total of 121 of these restaurants scattered over the country! Isn't that a delightful news to the foodies who are visiting Belgium or those staying here?!!
One of them remains as Luc's favourite. The Pastorale in Reet, founded by Bart de Pooter, whom is also the chef and Executive Director is a 2 Michelin Star restaurant with a humble front. If you pass by the restaurant building on the outside, it looks like a regular classic building but it has a very eye-catching gold statue of a laughing man on the right side of the entrance. As you passed by the entrance, the laughing man starts to make laughing noises and it's quite funny.
The Pastorale gave me an artsy-fartsy feeling about this place. Upon entering the main door, there is an automatic sliding glass door that leads to the dining area. In the dining room, one is mesmerised by the unequal wooden slats that are nailed horizontally to the wall from one corner to the other. This is the creation of Arne Quinze whom started out as a Belgian graffiti artist. On the walls, one could not but notice the video installation of Arne Quinze's works which is called EYE.C.U and EYE.LIP.U running across 16 screens in the restaurant. The video features an arty extraction of eyes and lips and its movements, opening up one's senses and emotions.
The Menu. Luc is browsing through the 1-inch thick Wine List!
Pastorale succeeds in creating an interesting dining experience to its patrons. From the moment I stepped into the restaurant, I felt that there is something different about this place. I like the space created in the dining hall, the table that overlooked the finely-trimmed garden and an intriguing golden statue of a music conductor in an astronaut suit. The menu itself is a piece of art that needs a little decoding. If you ask for a wine list, be prepared to browse through for at least 20-30 minutes due to the vast selection. That is not all for Pastorale has an impressive spirits list including Gin I have never seen before and also a fine whisky list. One can even have a taste of Brora for less than 20 Euros.
With Bart de Pooter whom was so nice to come over and have a nice chat with us. This is the second time I met him and the first time was at his 2nd restaurant WY at The Mercedes House in Brussels which he had obtained a 1-Michelin Star since opening it one year ago. Well done Bart!
Amuse Bouche was a plate decorated with Scheermesje (Atlantic Jackknife/Bambo Clam) with Citroen sauce and mussels with a celery sauce. Amongst the decoration were fried whitebait and also seaweed. I love the presentation as it gives me a feeling that I'm by the sea. The pot of breadstick with sesame seeds, peas and hummus was really delicious. Even the butter, salt and pepper resembled pots in the garden. A pair of scissors is provided for us to cut the green leaves from the little pot when we savour the bread.
This restaurant serves probably the best bread I've ever eaten in a fine-dining place as the bread was made with fresh ingredients and natural yeast from the air and not the commercial yeast for bread. It is served with a special Olive Oil selected by the chef and bottled specially for the restaurant. The bread was so good that I told the staff that I would like to have it for breakfast and they were so kind to seal two breads in a bag for me before we step out of the restaurant!
These 2 dishes are still the amuse bouche. The top dish is a salad of duck confit, bulgur (a cereal food made from the groats of several different wheat species, most often from durum wheat), with a smoked mozzarella from Italy. I like the cereal textures of the dish and the mozarella binds them together. The 2nd dish is a marinated scallops served with a cream of carrots and curry decorated with pickled vegetables. The curry flavour is very subtle but it's a nice combination with the fresh scallop.
Finally after an hour and a half, we are served the first dish of the 4-course Bizz lunch (EUR60). This is a smoked pigeon, cream of celery, pickled onion and carrot with ice-cream of mustard. I must say the taste is as good as it looks. It looks like a funny combination but I love the contrasting textures the chef creates with this dish as the vegetable flakes are crispy, the ice-cream of mustard is creamy and the taste was very subtle. A good combination for the smoky pigeon cubes.
For my main, I chose a fish dish while Luc chose a pork dish. The Pike-Perch was served with a celeriac sauce, girolles mushrooms and hazelnut. The nutty flavours of this dish matches the fish really well as the fish was really fresh and the flakes of meat was juicy and sweet.
This is Luc's main which has slices of pork loins slightly smoked, speck and lard and parsnip puree. It was equally delicious. The dishes here are not only well presented on the plate for the pleasures of sight but the taste is equally satisfying. Bart focuses on seasonal ingredients and freshness which brings out the wonderful tastes of the dishes without overwhelming the main focus of the ingredient in every dish.
The dessert gives me a feeling of autumn which the brown-coloured ingredients and crispy crepes of muscat resembles the falling leaves from the branches. Served with an ice-cream muscat, caramel, walnuts and white chocolate. Lovely sweetness balanced out with the nutty flavours.
We were served with a surprise dessert. As I was lamenting how unfortunate that I had to miss Luc's My Tribute Glenfarclas 1968 dinner here at Pastorale last year and how much I heard about the Glenfarclas 1968 ice-cream but never tried it, the dessert chef made the exact one they had last year for us at lunch! It was really sweet of them and I finally had a chance to try one of the most expensive ice-cream made with the precious Glenfarclas 1968. It was really good, creamy and had a slight taste of whisky with sweet and bitter notes which paired very well with the dark chocolate. Well done!!!
The sommelier, Jon Stalmans is a very friendly guy with a passion for wines and whisky. During the whole time, he chatted with us and at the same time introducing some nice whisky from his selection since he knew Luc was into whisky. We had a dram of the Bowmore 1968 Tasttoe of which there is only 24 bottles out there at EUR36/dram. Damn.. it is a great whisky and a good finish. Ouch... the pocket hurts...
If you think that's the end of the meal, they came with a white-matted-porcelain box with a few pieces of chocolates on it. Those chocolates were really delicious. Just as when I opened my big mouth and asked "Is that all?", lo and behold, the staff opened the top layer of the box and it revealed more chocolates! Some of the chocolates are made with Pierre Marcolini chocolate and they really taste so good!!
We love the place so much that we went there for lunch twice in a week! After the Lindores Whiskyfest 2013, we brought our guests from Singapore and Malaysia (Emmanuel, Arun, Ben, Michael and Li Ling) there for lunch and again the staff surprised us all with an ice-cream made with the Glenfarclas 1968. After a 4-hour lunch, we all went home stuffed and lazy.
Pastorale indeed supersedes my expectations. The service was good, the staff were friendly and the ambiance is really nice too. Most importantly, I knew what I was tasting.
Laarstraat 22, 2840 Reet
tel: +32 03 844 65 26