Belgium- Hof Van Cleve- ✪✪✪

Perched on a hilltop surrounded by idyllic Belgian countryside, renowned Flemish chef Peter Goossens has taken a gorgeous farmhouse and made it into a 40-seat restaurant of truly global quality.

 Hof Van Cleve's View

Hof Van Cleve's View

KRUISHOUTEM, BELGIUM

SERVICE: 8.5/10

FOOD: 9.0/10

PRICE PAID: $456 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

 

Taking full advantage of their sweeping views and gorgeous physical layout, the wait staff greeted my late self just off a red-eye flight with courtesy and even hauled my ridiculously heavy carry-on bag into storage with enthusiasm bordering upon glee. I was invited onto this sun-drenched patio deck to enjoy an aperitif and the first few preview-courses as a means of easing into the meal. 

The deck was full of beautifully cushioned, hand-carved wooden chairs and tables. Carefully-laid brick underneath and manicured hedges and greenery surrounded me, emphasizing the glorious peak-summer day of my visit. In the far distance, silent wind turbines wound on and trees swayed in the breeze along small rivers. The only sound audible was the occasional chatter of other guests, but mostly we sat silently and enjoyed the perfection of the moment. A truly impeccable space. 

Service was extremely formal- no personal questions, not much eye contact, minimal hanging around at all times. With the many awkward arm bumps and hesitant command of English, I got the sense that much of the younger staff was here on some form of a summer internship. The average age for the service couldn’t have been more than 25.

 First Bites: Strawberries + Cream, 9/19

First Bites: Strawberries + Cream, 9/19

First out was a small strawberry-and-cream dish that tasted like a fantastic smoothie. Creamy, light, and refreshing- perfect for the hot weather. 9/10.

 First Bites, Continued: Seafood Crisps, 7/10

First Bites, Continued: Seafood Crisps, 7/10

Next up, a small set of seafood crisps- one with crispy-fresh, crunchy cucumber and herring, the other with shrimp. Each corner of the dish was immaculately presented, and you can tell right off the bat that the kitchen is taking these dishes seriously. 7/10, a bit greasy and actually a small challenge to eat, since the crisps disintegrated immediately.

 Course 1: Herring + Lettuce, 10/10

Course 1: Herring + Lettuce, 10/10

Then, a bowl of herring with young lettuce- the colors were fantastic, and the plate selection was perfect here- salty herring playing off against fresh vegetables in a unique and fun way. 10/10.

 Course 2: Beet Root + Liver, 10/10

Course 2: Beet Root + Liver, 10/10

Sadly, the last dish served on the terrace- a beautiful compilation of beet root, chicken liver, wheat block, and gelee. First, just look at the colors and the structure of this dish. Disassembled but still in a story that made sense. Super creative, I just love the look. 

The flavors were all correct as well- healthy lean beets go nicely with evil, rich liver, and the salty gelee sat somewhere in the middle. I can’t help but say this was another 10/10.

Arriving into the main restaurant in a seat towards the back corner closest to the kitchen, I was struck by the small size and intimacy of the place. In two medium-sized rooms there were no more than 12 tables in total, giving the place a very special, romantic feel. A youngish family of four Germans sat nearby, along with several loud, obnoxious French ladies who didn’t understand how or why one should disarm the ringer on one’s smartphone while dining out. A table of uncomfortable-looking dudes in short-sleeved button-ups stared awkwardly as if misdirected to the place while en route to the sports pub, and a couple on anniversary kept eyeing the menu prices nervously.

 Course 3: Squid + Iberico Ham, 9/10

Course 3: Squid + Iberico Ham, 9/10

The first dish to arrive at the restaurant seat was a lovely, playful combination of squid, iberico ham, and squid stock. The squid was so fresh it almost resembled pasta in texture, and the squid’s sea-freshness was almost squeaky to chew, and went well with the salty iberico ham. 9/10. 

 Course 4: Ponzu + Langoustine, 9/10 

Course 4: Ponzu + Langoustine, 9/10 

Check out this presentation of ponzu, langoustine, and radish. If it wasn’t clear that the kitchen was working their faces off up to this point, it should be now. Each individually-sliced radish appears precision-cut, and the “roof” it forms on the top of the dish balances out the flavors with that earthy radish flavor. The ponzu has rich flavors of banana, backed up by a nice coriander flavor. Very impressive dish. 9/10, only because it’s a little too filling.

 Course 5: Lobster + Green Peas, 10/10

Course 5: Lobster + Green Peas, 10/10

Next, a dish that brought in the Oosterschelde Lobster (a lobster from the Netherlands' Eastern Scheldt in the North Sea, they are unique for their black-blue shells and turn bright red when cooked as you can see). The preparation included some snappingly fresh spring peas that complimented the shellfish perfectly. Some hearty green beans and lovely shies leaf rounded the dish out- a spectacular 10/10.

 Course 6: Sea Bass + Broccoli, 8/10

Course 6: Sea Bass + Broccoli, 8/10

The sea bass dish was light, buttery, and paired perfectly with the crunchy, purposefully-undercooked broccoli. As the meal wore on, the filling dishes started to get a little overwhelming. 8/10. 

 Course 7: Farm Chicken + Zucchini, 8/10

Course 7: Farm Chicken + Zucchini, 8/10

A fantastic take on a traditional roast chicken with artichoke, m'hamsa, and zucchini. The restaurant was clearly making the most of the summer vegetables available to them; lovely eggplant flavors throughout but another thick, buttery broth to fill thy cup o'er. 8/10.

 Course 8: Pigeon, 9/10

Course 8: Pigeon, 9/10

An interesting if cruel final main dish- young pigeon served Anjou-style with sage, cauliflower, and burned onion. Small flowers, a foamy vegetable base, and rich pigeon sauce served as the final slam-dunk in a long and worthy meal. I'll be honest, I was beyond stuffed at this point. 9/10.

 Course 9: Strawberry, 10/10

Course 9: Strawberry, 10/10

In a nice change of pace, a relatively light and fruity strawberry-based dessert with basil, lemon, and yogurt flavors. A thin strawberry broth backed it up, and I'd have to call this the close to perfect dessert. 10/10, a fantastic close to a fantastic meal.