The world’s worst restaurant is Belgian, or at least located in Belgium, but maybe there is one even worse in Bosnia-Hercegovina (this needs to be investigated urgently, but I doubt it). I hate bad restaurants!
St Etienne eats really well. I have here and there my favourite eating places and if you stick long enough with my blog, you will find out where. But of course I am still looking around for new addresses, where the product is everything and where the wine is pure. Last winter I was invited by company Z for a lunch at restaurant X from cook and owner Y, a very well-known place in Flanders, the Northern part of Belgium, where people if they don’t complain about the weather like to wave with ugly yellow flags with a black lion on it. Arriving at the location I was surprised to see such an ugly building, typical for the seventies, a period where architects forgot that there are some aesthetics rules to take into account. To accentuate this ugliness the owner built a huge pebbled parking space around it. I hate parkings, but do understand that they are functional for car drivers. The welcome at the reception was very cool and since the many culinary television programs I know that a warm welcome is key. The interior was a mix of modern ugly objects and tasteless classic and this caused an unpleasant feeling, due to the impression that someone couldn’t make a choice. And it was this strive for indecisive that came back during the entire meal. Also the modern tight chairs sat so uncomfortable that even the most athletic person would have myalgia and a sour ass by the time the starter was served. Is it that difficult to choose seats that provide comfort for the entire duration of a meal?
When invited the host makes the choices of the lunch meeting, and for once I decided to stay passive. The aperitif was not an aperitif, but a non-fresh sweetened fruit juice, supplemented with a shot of alcohol and a mint leave. Painful! It made me very thirsty and luckily there was a bottle of sparkling water on the table. The decision was to go for the 7-course degustation menu, with matching wines, something I didn’t do for years. Shall I start with the dishes, the wines or the combinations? What was the worst or do we have to start with the best? I frankly don’t know, but in fact it doesn’t matter, as everything was bad. I never take notes during a meal, as people might think I am one of those inspectors. This mean I need to dig into my organoleptic memory for this awful experience and believe me this is not fun.
The meal started with appetisers served in some ‘artistic’ table service (see picture). There was a lot of deep fried stuff, as this restaurant wanted to proof that Trans-fat is healthy whatever science says. I also remember clammy cheese, again accentuating the point that the kitchen didn’t know the concept of freshness. And as so often the appetisers are a good indication for what will follow. The first plate was a pumpkin soup, characterised by an intense dominating nut smell and accompanied with a floating long hair from a black haired employee. I received a new plate, but this time someone decided to add some cream, as if the cook realised that the taste of walnuts should be masked. Do you serve wine with a vegetable soup? In restaurant X they do and why not a sweet Austrian Riesling, only loved by fat old ladies who survive on cake and pie. The next dish that I remember was a creation of coloured foam, the kind you can find in your bath after you have been spilling wildly with some liquid soap product. The taste of it was mainly basil and according to the menu there should also be tomatoes in it. This made my stomach turned upside down and this for three reasons: the taste was without a doubt awful; my stomach is not made to digest a foamy material and serving summer product, even in an unrecognisable form deserve a knee kick in the nuts. Foam and wine? Yep! To accentuate the air bubbles on the plate, we now received a sparkling wine, one of those so badly made that it can only be served at cheap receptions for old war warriors. The very effeminate sommelier looked astonished that I didn’t touch my wine glass. I needed water, a lot of sparkling water.
The saying that ‘prawns are for queers’, once pontificated by a wannabe cook on television, is something which I will always remember, especially also because for years I have influenced a growing grandnephew by saying at every family meeting that ‘cake is for queers’, as I don’t like it. This Pavlov experiment wonderfully succeeded, as my grandnephew doesn’t like cake or at least he never tried it. Prawns are very often tasteless and that’s why you need to add something to it. Cook Y of restaurant X thought that curry in a fatty cream would match perfectly with the prawns, which made me think that an amateur cook took over the entire kitchen. Was this candid camera? Where were the hidden cameras?
Suddenly a few stumps were put on the table. When looking closer we could detect glasses of broth with Mediterranean herbs. This was clearly a gimmick, but one with profound consequences. After drinking the extremely salty liquid our entire taste palate was insensitive. Afterwards this was not too bad, knowing what plates was still to come.
Getting a tasteful and well-prepared fish in a restaurant seems to be a challenge, and so also in this restaurant. I don’t get a hard-on from an over-cooked piece of cod on a fucking spread of leek and mashed potatoes, ‘pollinated’ with a sweetened sauce on the basis of a ‘vadouvin’ mix. The art of seasoning was another thing that Chef Y didn’t master, as all dishes were over-salted. I hate it when too much salt is used. Somewhere in between we also received a sorbet of parsley. Now, you can make sorbet from all kind of ingredients, but really parsley is not recommended based on this experience. The meat was wild hare and sucked big time. The only thing I can say for sure is that the animal most have had 4 legs and a tail, but I am not sure if it was hare, and for sure it didn’t taste wild. Cheese croquettes, yes cheese croquettes were served with it, accompanied by caramelised chicory and a sauce of red fruit. This plate was unworthy any restaurant and I felt the need to rush into the kitchen to check if today’s cooks were replaced by the dishwashers. We skipped the cheese plates, although I was curious about the ‘exquisite’ selection. But I didn’t have any illusions; choosing good products were by no means a hobby of Mister Y. For dessert there was a choice between something completely with chocolate or some kind of modern panna cotta. I went for the chocolate, which is often a ‘safe bet’, but not here. How is it possible to serve tasteless chocolate in Belgium? I don’t know, but cook Y of restaurant X can. And this made me sad.
The toilets were clean, just proofing the point that when it is good we say so, but like so often in this part of the world they were too cold. Not that I am so sensitive to it, but this was ever reported to me by a foreign lady. First I laughed it off, but now not anymore…, as it is so true.
Oh yeah, I forgot the wine. The wines were industrial wines from regions that don’t give me goosebumps: Bordeaux, Chili and Australia for example. Probably they have good wines in those regions, but bland woody expensive wines are not for me. With the so so espresso they served again this tasteless chocolate and also some unpleasant sticky sweets, just to accentuate that the entire meal has being going downwards (yes, down the drain). When leaving the place we received a little bag of candy in memory of a splendid experience, what made me smile spontaneous. This was Belgian – this was surrealism! Paul Delvaux was not far away. I love Delvaux.
I guess you are now wondering when I will reveal the name of this place, but actually the answer is already given, even twice, but well-hidden. Should you not find it, please send me a mail, so I can prevent you from an unpleasant meal.
Your humble servant,