Viljhjalmur Sigurdarson, the Iceland chef of restaurant Souvenir and his wife Joke Michiel have announced that they will move their restaurant in the small Flemish city of Ypres to Gent.
After four years in Ypres, Vili and Joke have decided to move due to roadworks which will make their restaurant in the village of Ypres inaccessible for a long time.
When announcing their decision they said it was a very difficult decision but one that has been taken out of necessity. “It was time to reflect on how we could continue to do what we were doing,” they said.
Gent has become one of the most important culinary cities in Belgium. Earlier this year, Kobe Desramaults opened his new restaurant Chambre Separee after closing In De Wulf in Dranouter, 20 kilometres away from Souvenir. Vrijmoed and a number of other restaurants like Publik and Oak go from strength to strength.
“We have had four beautiful years in Ypres. It has been a rollercoaster of hard work, rewards, sacrifices, great times and also hard moments. We will close this chapter on Saturday 3 March,” Vili and Joke said.
Vili told Food and Wine Gazette that they chose Gent because it was the city which would enable them to retain access to their suppliers who are extremely important to their vision. “The move to Gent allows us to continue to work with the same suppliers and to get them closer to customers.@
In an interview with Food and Wine Gazette earlier this year, the Icelandic chef had spoken about the importance of his suppliers and how an ecosystem has grown in the region which supplied him and other restaurants with vegetables from carrots to cabbages, tomatoes to vegetables that have been unknown for many years. With such a supply, the chef made vegetables his signature.
At the moment the chef works with the produce he has and serves a menu that has attracted foodies not just from Belgium but also from beyond.
The Icelandic chef told Food and Wine Gazette that while the restaurant in Ypres is a bit of a destination restaurant meaning that he serves a menu, they want the new Souvenir to have more of a city ambiance which means that they will have a menu as well as a carte blanche menu which will give the chef the opportunity to be fully creative. “I will be mainly working with vegetables and fish because that is what I enjoy doing,” he said.
The restaurant in Ypres will close on 3 March and will reopen in Gent in a new format on Monday 13 March. The new restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner for Monday to Friday (except lunch on Wednesday). “I will not be opening on the weekend to spend time with the children,” he said.
After working at Texture in London, he returned to Iceland only to decide to leave after three weeks. He then moved to Belgium where he got a stint at In De Wulf. The rest is history. “I booked a one-way ticket and never returned back to live in Iceland.”
That week at In De Wulf, the restaurant owned by Kobe Desramaults which no longer exists changed his point of view for ever. At the end of the traineeship, Kobe Desramaults, the Flemish chef called Vilhjamur and asked him what his plans were. “I am staying here,” he told him. “He must have thought that I was mad,” the Icelandic chef said.
He has been in Belgium since then working for nearly two years at In De Wulf, then at Hertog Jan, the Belgian three Michelin star restaurant of Gert De Mangeleer and Joachim Boudens in Zedelgem, Brugge and later at La Buvette in Brussels before opening Souvenir in Ypres. That chapter will be closed in March next year to be reopened in Gent at Brabantdam 134.