It took me six years to finally get to visit L’air du temps in Liernu, Belgium. The restaurant of Sang Hoon Degeimbre which has two Michelin stars has been on my radar because of his innovative cuisine. When I was listening to his story and approach to cooking at Chefs Revolution in Zwolle, I knew that a visit was a must.
I went to the restaurant in Liernu, in the heart of Wallonia, Belgium with very high expectations because it had also come highly recommended by friends. It is normally rather risky when you approach something with such high expectations because you can end up with high hopes dashed. But in this case, the expectations were not only matched but also exceeded.
The food was exceptional, the service without fault, the location stunning and on top of that the pairing of wines and water to the food was a memorable experience. The location must be stunning on a summer’s evening when you can clearly see the restaurant’s garden which supplies all the vegetables.
Let’s touch upon this aspect first. At L’air du temps, they prepare different flavoured waters which are served as part of the tasting menu like wine. So for example, for the first dish, the water that was served was a topinambur (jerusalem artichoke) and lemon water. This had a similar mineralogy to the Riesling that was served and worked perfectly with the first dish which was scallops with topinambur and dashi. So it actually makes sense to take a wine and water pairing because the three components work perfectly together. The flavoured water is created with an ultrasound machine and is served in the same wine glasses that are used throughout the dinner.
At the restaurant they serve two types of butter, one from a producer close to the restaurant (which is incredibly good) and a second which has hints of soya (also very good). Both were delicious on the freshly baked bread.
The first surprise of the evening came in the form of Sang-Hoon’s reconstruction of a Belgian classic dish the moules frites (mussels and fries) which is considered as one of his classics from 2010.
Then came a trio of white chocolate with caviar, steamed potatoes aromatised with marigolds and a squid ink rice cracker with liquorice.
This was followed by a gelee of sardine with tomato and ginger which was an explosion of flavours.
After the snacks and amuse bouches, it was time to start with the pairing menu. The first course was scallops with jerusalem artichoke served with crispy onion and dashi. The combination of flavours was exceptional.
This was followed by a surprising dish of fish (bar) matched with pineapple, broccoli and blue cheese. Italian purists who will say that you should never match fish with cheese under any circumstance would be in for a shock. Although I have worked on a cheese phobia which means that I now eat cheese, blue cheese is still not something which I look for. But in this case, the match worked perfectly.
The next course was squid which were cut thinly and served like tagliatelli with a squid ink sauce and crunchy beans. The squid were tender with a texture of al dente pasta and the squid ink sauce was exquisite.
What followed was one of the best dishes of the evening. A lobster was served with a creamy cheese sauce which had verbena added to it. It was topped with lobster and almond milk sauce. There are no words to describe the flavours. A dish created this year, this is likely to become one of the restaurant classics in future.
Then came a vegetarian dish which I had seen at Chef’s revolution in Zwolle. But nothing could have prepared us for the explosion of flavours. On the face of it, the dish looked very pretty, but unassuming, given it was just an assembly of thinly sliced vegetables and flowers. But the taste of the vegetables, lovage and fermented juice of cabbage intensified the flavours and made this a memorable dish.
For the main course, wild deer, currently in season was cooked slowly and then smoked from vine shoots and paired with a mushroom crisp. The meat, which was seasoned with wild mushrooms was perfectly cooked, tender and full of flavour.
What followed was, in my view, the only disappointing dish of the evening. It is still a dish which shows the inventiveness of Sang-Hoon but in this case, I personally felt that the combination of flavours was overpowered by the black olive and cocoa ice-cream which was merged with a fromage blanc ice and fermented pears.
But that slight disappointment was instantly forgotten with a dessert made of different textures of raspberries which was a treat to end a memorable dinner.
Verdict: A must visit. At Chef’s Revolution in Zwolle I was surprised by how humble Sang-Hoon was admitting that he had made mistakes in the past saying that in this job you win some and you lose some. What was evident throughout the dinner was the knowledge that all the staff had of the stories of the dishes and their ingredients. They were genuinely interested in ensuring that the experience was great without being over intrusive. This is clearly a cuisine which is in constant evolution. Highly recommended.
L’air du temps is open from Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. It can be found on Rue de la Croix Monet, 2, Liernu.
You may also want to read our article on Sang-Hoon Degeimbre’s presentation at Chef’s Revolution in September.