When Kobe Desramaults announced that his restaurant In de Wulf would closed its doors in December 2016 in October last year we knew that the clock was ticking and it was either now or never.
The list of places to visit is endless but with closure of the restaurant looming, it was becoming more and more urgent to find the time to visit this restaurant in Dranouter, on the Belgian border with France.
You could say that the restaurant is in the middle of nowhere but that is all the more alluring given what this Flemish chef has created. In De Wulf comes with a huge reputation given that the Flemish chef had created one of the top destinations in the world for foodies (it was number 1 in the top 100 European list of Opinionated about Dining in 2014 and 4th in 2015). The restaurant, which has a Michelin star disappeared from the 51-100 list in the World’s Best Restaurant list last year but is an incredibly special place to visit.
What we experienced was an exceptional dinner which not only showcased the talent of chef Kobe Desramaults but also builds a narrative of who he is, where he comes from and where he wants to go. That philosophy might not fit squarely with Michelin’s criteria and that might be the reason why he has not managed to attain more recognition, but the experience in many ways shows why the system is faulty.
This is really worthy of a final ‘food pilgrimage’ to experience what Kobe has managed to achieve since he took over the restaurant from his mother 14 years ago.
He is today one of the most internationally recognised Belgian chefs and the reason is the story he manages to create in the kitchen and at table.
His cuisine is simple, humble and natural but is also extremely complex because he takes risks by focusing on your memory and doing this by showcasing only one ingredient in each dish. There is a very complex frame of thought behind what he does. How else would you describe a buttermilk mashed potato served as a sauce to accompany a potato cooked in a salt crust with ashes? The dish was simple, humble and out of this world.
There is a lot of innovation going on here and it is the reason why the kitchen is filled with staff from around the world who come to experience and learn something unique. It is the sort of innovation that looks to the past and turns the best into something that is contemporary without necessarily overdoing it.
When I had interviewed Kobe more than a year ago he had explained to me that he was deconstructing dishes but not in the Ferran Adria way but rather in a natural way. You could see why throughout the meal. But what was all the more impressive was his use of humble ingredients and how he worked with them to bring out the best and make incredibly tasty dishes.
The meal started with a cappucino of crab, pork loin and beetroot with sloeberry.
They then served a ravioli of confit duck and celariac and this was followed by Judas Ears (a mushroom dish).
The star of the first courses or amuse bouches was the last one, a custard cream of dogfish served in an egg-shell with Belgian caviar. It was accompanied by a potato crisp with mayonnaise, capers and herbs.
It was now time to start the meal but before that their famous sour dough bread fermented for 24 hours and then baked in their own stone oven was served together with pork fat and grains as well as home churned butter with cream.
A carpaccio of scallop was served together with cod’s roe, endive and chevril.
Next up on the menu was a grilled oyster with pork fat and heather smoke.
Cod head was served together with a stock of cod and young leek which was a dish that really packed some great flavours. They then served a dish called ‘Le Monde des Mille Couleurs’ a dish of vegetables which was extremely colourful and well presented.
We were then served with Flamiche Maroilles, a regional speciality with cheese from the region.
Then came the ‘humble’ potato cooked with buttermilk and served with a small potato baked in a salt crust and ashes which was served by Kobe himself (chefs come out at every stage and in every course to explain what they are serving). It was so good you actually wondered why there was no second potato.
The next dish was gurnard. The fish perfectly cooked and lead to the next dish, a ravioli stuffed with pork and a reduction of pork stock. Before the main dish, Kobe sent out one of his signature dishes a tarlet stuffed with pig’s head. This was followed by Sheep from Renigne and salsify (served both raw and grilled).
The pre-dessert was goat’s cheese served three ways (a cookie to create texture, a foam and grated goat’s cheese. At the bottom of the dish was a rowan berry jam which matched perfectly with the cheese.
A trip of desserts followed. The first was a buttermilk ice-cream served with fermented red barley. It was extremely good. The second was a simple but incredibly good dessert.
Hogweed ice-cream matched perfectly with the apple to create a great dish. Hogweed is a type of herb that grows very commonly in the region and also pretty much explains the philosophy of the restaurant. The herb is dried and then turned into a flavoursome ice-cream creating a stunning dish out of nothing.
The final dish was a chocolate mousse and crisp served with a reduced beer and black garlic sauce.
Kobe served small doughnuts cooked in pig fat and a chocolate tart with jerusalem artichoke with the teas and coffees.
It is indeed a pity that this restaurant is set to close its doors for the last time at the end of this year. There again, given Kobe’s work ethic, the story he has managed to build and the long hours he has dedicated to In De Wulf, we are really looking forward to experiencing his next projects.