There is something playful about the choice of the name of the restaurant L’Air de Rien, in Fontin in the province of Liege. When I ask chef Stéphane Diffels what it means he smiled and told me that sometimes you might feel the air blowing from behind you, you turn and there is nothing, ‘rien’. There are other times when you just sit, relax and let time go by.
The name of the restaurant may come from a play on words but there is also something playful going on in the kitchen. The cuisine is inventive, avant-garde but relaxed at the same time. The chef has created a style that manages to showcase the produce of the area using different techniques and textures to create a unique set of emotions when you are eating.
The restaurant recently launched their new website and for the occasion they held a bloggers’ lunch which we unfortunately had to miss. Nevertheless, an invitation came to visit the restaurant and given the logistics (it’s around 120 kilometres away from Brussels) finding a day was not easy.
We arrived on Friday evening at L’Air de Rien, in the pretty village of Fontin, around 20 kilometres away from Liege.
Diffels is inspired by the produce that he finds in his region. There is no a la carte menu and the chef has created a 19 course menu (L’Air de Rien menu). The discovery menu has two dishes less. If you visit, you might as well go for the L’Air de Rien menu given that the two dishes were excellent.
The menu is a constant work in progress and evolves according to the seasons and the years.
Some dishes he serves have become classic in their own right including an egg cooked very slowly at 64 degrees and served with cream and bacon in a ‘carbonara’ style, or the fois gras snow which he created by grating frozen fois gras. There are also some unique combinations which I had not seen before such as a scallop crisp served with lentils or beef served with samphire and squid ink.
Diffels lives above the restaurant which means that he can dedicate a lot of time to slow preparations in the kitchen as well as test the wine pairing combinations with Marc Delvenne, from Terra Gusto.. He is using old techniques that have only recently come back in vogue in some of the world’s best restaurants. He ferments vegetables, pickles them, dries them and sometimes forgets them at the back of the fridge before he decides to bring them back to life in his evolving menus. He also makes his own yogurt which he cooks for eight hours before using it in one of his preparations.
As Diffels himself explained, this is a relaxed place where you come to eat without being in a hurry. He is assisted in the kitchen by Sophie Pierret.
After the dinner, we interview Diffels. It was evident while we were dining who the chefs that have inspired him are. And he confirms this when we ask him the question. (Read our interview in the coming days). By the time we leave the restaurant it is nearly 1.30am. It is as if time has stood still in this tiny village of Fontin. This is a place that is really worth discovering. And with just 22 covers, you might want to do so sooner rather than later because it may well become much harder to get a table in future.
L’Air de Rien: Address: 23 Chemin de la Xhavée, Esneux, Fontin.
The restaurant is open for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. It is also open for lunch on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The discovery menu costs 67 euros while the L’Air de Rien menu costs 75 euros.