It was the night of the already legendary game of Belgium against Brazil. While the whole country was cheering for the Red Devils, I went out to dinner. What else can you do as a food critic?
Despite every self-respecting Belgian watching the football WC, there were three other parties at Le Zoute Zoen. This refined restaurant in the Zirkstraat, a street off the Lange Koepoortstraat, invited me in a black and white interior inspired by Paris. I entered through white doors, saw chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and was ushered past a black cutlery cupboard to a table by the window.
At that time, the windows were opened, allowing for a gentle breeze (and football fan cheers). Furthermore, the walls opposite the door were lined with shelves that displayed books, bottles of water, and (I suspect) apothecary equipment.
Although I wasn’t the restaurant’s only customer, football was never far removed. On one table, the male head of the family was keeping an eye on the score while on another table, the male half of a couple was following the game on his smartphone, even though he was there to celebrate his girlfriend’s birthday. At least the man had the decency to place his smartphone in such a way that his girlfriend could watch along with him.
All night I was served in a friendly way by business manager William Loonen. His performance was a cross between servitude and familiarity. Despite his elaborate knowledge of wine, the explanation about the red Fonbadet wine was lost on me, because I’m already happy when I see a Merlot or Bordeaux and don’t have to force some sour grape extract down my throat that some Antwerp bars dare pass for wine.
As an appetizer, homemade hummus with focaccia and a ham and pistachios cone were brought out. The hummus was spicy and the nuts on top added the necessary bite to the soft hummus. The cone was presented in a fun bowl with nuts and I have to admit I did indeed try to eat the nuts like a moron. Moreover, the cone was nice and salty.
After the appetite had been stimulated, I ordered the Kiss menu, a three-course meal at the affordable price of €39 ($45.59). Of the Kiss menu, I chose the vegetarian first course: Burrata from Puglia with tomato varieties, chives cream, garden herb sorbet, and focaccia. Burrata is an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. Despite this first course containing many liquid elements, I was not automatically given a spoon.
William cared to inform me that one of the tomato varieties was a consommé and another was sweet tomato. The former added a salty element to the dish, but the sweet tomato reminded me more of salsa. The sun-dried tomatoes were a delicious variety, though. The Burrata was seasoned mildly with garden herbs, making the tomatoes and chives cream, which added some oomph, essential additions.
After the first course, I was given an in-between snack, but William unfortunately couldn’t remember what it had been seasoned with. Luckily, chef Lars Block was near, chatting to the couple watching the Belgium-Brazil game. The chef recalled that the snack (a pimped chicken nugget prepared with buttermilk) had been sprinkled with Chipotle seasoning.
I can’t help saying that chef Lars is quite a hot snack himself. As a matter of fact, I follow all Masters of Taste 2017 on Instagram and Le Zoute Zoen had posted a picture of its two head chefs. One of the gentlemen (meaning Lars) looked so handsome I couldn’t help but ask if the food was as nice as the chef. Le Zoute Zoen replied that it was even better. At the couple’s table, fine Lars was also positioned just right so I could see his shapely ass.
Back to the in-between snack. The red cabbage was crunchy while the spicy chicken nugget was crispy on the outside and beautifully tender on the inside. Just like the chicken, there was a good bit of heat of the Chipotle seasoning in the cold buttermilk sauce.
After the in-between snack, the main course followed: fillet of guinea fowl with “lardo di Colonnata”, broccoli, and polder potato mousseline. This was accompanied by an extra plate of vegetable structures that I hadn’t asked for. In the end, those extra vegetables turned out to be too much, because they tasted unpleasantly acidic. Without that extra plate, this dish would have worked, but Le Zoute Zoen had put it in front of me, meaning I have to judge it and unfortunately disapprove of it.
On my plate, there were two mini pieces of barely tender guinea fowl. These days, I try to eat less meat, but my consumption doesn’t have to be reduced that dramatically. The lardo di Colonnata, lard that is rubbed with herbs and then aged in marble, looked a little funny, but added an interesting texture. The broccoli was nice and soft just the way I like it and the mousseline had a beautifully velvet structure. The sauce was so phenomenal that I asked for an extra cup.
The meal was brought to a close with ganache, homemade apricot ice cream with farmer’s honey crunch, dulce de leche, and caramelized almond. Shaped like a pair of lips, the solid dulce de leche (sweetened condensed milk that is boiled until thickened) honors the restaurant, which calls itself “The Salty Kiss”. The dulce de leche was very sweet and as smooth as cream cheese, matching the refreshing, acidic apricots.
The apricot ice cream slapped me in the face with an incredible flavor. The white ganache added some acidity, but couldn’t withstand the ice cream’s power. Because of the dulce de leche, the ice cream, and the ganache, there were a lot of soft elements on the plate, so it needed more structure. This was (a little insufficiently) provided by the slightly burned caramelized almond and the crumbly crunch, which tasted of strong honey.
Despite the Belgium-Brazil football game, I managed to perform my duties as a food critic. Le Zoute Zoen served a three-course meal at a high level, but the first course didn’t win me over entirely and the extra serving of vegetables finished this restaurant off. In the end, I received a five-course meal for €39 if you count the appetizer and in-between snack, which is quite a bargain. I’ll consider the view of chef Lars Block a bonus feature. This Master of Taste receives the following scores:
- Food: 3. The extra plate of vegetables has cost Le Zoute Zoen an entire point.
- Atmosphere and hospitality: 5
- Eat – repeat: Leave the vegetable structures be and hand me chef Lars’ phone number and I’ll give it a rest.