L.E.S.S. the bistro by Gert De Mangeleer and Joachim Boudens of three-Michelin starred Belgian restaurant Hertog Jan is a relatively new restaurant in the idyllic city of Bruges. It was opened in the place which was previously Hertog Jan before they moved to their new premises in Zedelgem in July 2014.
It stands for Love, Eat, Share and Smile and the idea is for friends or family to gather in a warm and relaxed atmosphere. When I visited Gert De Mangeleer and Joachim Boudens a few days ago, I asked what they aimed to achieve with L.E.S.S. and how it complements their three Michelin star restaurant Hertog Jan,
“It was quite hard to distance ourselves from the old location because for us it was like our baby,” Gert said. “We took it over as a brasserie and we worked very hard for five/six years to gain three stars. I started alone working in that kitchen and there were days when I was baking my bread at 6am in the morning and I was still doing mis-en-place at 1am or 2am.”
But apart from sentimental reasons there are also business reasons behind the opening of this restaurant. And one of them, is food waste. Gert and Joachim are incredibly conscious about food waste. When I am given a tour of the restaurant by Joachim, he emphasised that a lot of thought had gone into how to handle waste in the restaurant. Gert, had earlier told me that he was allergic to food waste. “We try to waste as little as possible. It is also one of the reasons why we started L.E.S.S. When we buy lamb for example, we can take some of the best pieces for Hertog Jan and make sausages with the trimmings for L.E.S.S. We can use excess vegetables and trimmings in L.E.S.S. What we do not use, we put back in the soil. This is extremely important for us,”
Both Gert and Joachim have incredibly fond memories of the ‘old’ Hertog Jan which is now L.E.S.S. After all, this is the place where they achieved their third star. Gert said that he literally worked day and night. “All my children were born when I was working there, I was married when I was there so this is a really important place for me. We also wanted to create a space where we would love to go and have lunch with family and friends and have a nice time. We wanted to create a space where we could eat well and enjoy good wine without it being fancy.”
The incredibly talented chef says the aim of L.E.S.S. is not to get any stars but rather for people to go there, enjoy a bottle of wine and share food. “It starts with tapas which we put on the table, though we are always looking for high quality products cooked simply. We look for the best fish, best meat but like to keep everything very pure. We look for intense flavours but pure products. We can use fresh anchovies just marinated. Everything is cooked on the grill.”
Joachim Boudens, the sommelier who is co-owner of Hertog Jan and Less agrees with Gert about the sentimental value of the location of Less. “But it was also a very good commercial building. It has parking and also a good kitchen. We had everything we needed to run a restaurant so it was ideal. We thought it was best to hold on to the location and use it. But for Hertog Jan, it had become too small and there were too many people working in that space. When we go there now, we really relax,” he tells me.
He jokes that when they go to L.E.S.S. it feels like a vacation. “We have two people working in service and three people in the kitchen. It is relaxed and people are very happy. It is a completely different style of cooking all focused on sharing. It has Spanish influence with lots of tapas. We have main courses but the concept is always about sharing. It is relaxed and you can order more as you go.”
I ask him how they keep control of the two restaurants. “To start with Gert and I are always at Hertog Jan. This is our flagship and we cannot forget that. In Belgium this is very important. I am not sure whether it is the case internationally but here in Belgium, our customers find it important that the chef is at the restaurant. “We therefore try to be here as much as possible. And when Gert is not here because he is travelling, I am always here. It is respect you show to your guests. When we go to L.E.S.S. we might just spend 15 to 30 minutes. We have a great team there doing a really good job.”
If you are in Bruges and want to get away from the crowds and explore the outskirts, then L.E.S.S. is really worth considering. Although it is completely different to Hertog Jan, you can rest assured that the quality of produce used is second to none and some of the vegetables and meats come from the 3-Michelin star kitchen.
L.E.S.S. is open from Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner.