I’m not a fish eater, but the past year, many Masters of Taste have surprised me by serving fish. So, it was with high hopes that I made reservations at Brasserie Dock’s, a restaurant specializing in fish and seafood. However, my hope dissipated when the first course was placed in front of me.
In my home, fish was never on the menu. The little fish we did eat were fish sticks, tuna salad or terribly overcooked salmon. Seafood did go down well with us, because we happily cooked any type of shrimp you can think of and during the holidays, scallops found many takers too. Furthermore, we could consider ourselves lucky if my mother allowed us (her not included) to eat mussels once a year.
Having been raised to avoid rather than enjoy fish, it sounds incredibly unlikely to go to dinner at Dock’s, a seafood restaurant on the former docks of Antwerp. Inspired by French-Italian cuisine, this Master of Taste offers a wide range of seafood and has even cultivated its own oyster species. It would seem rather difficult to avoid dishes with fish, but this restaurant, as any catering business these days, also offers vegetarian alternatives.
Yet I wanted to test my limits and eat fish, not in the least because other restaurants have already served me some very delicious fish. Ultimately, my choice would be based on price rather than preference. After all, I ordered the Dock’s three-course meal for €36.95 ($43.33), quite a bargain if you know that first course meals here range from €9 to €18 and main courses only go up from €18.
On the ground floor of Dock’s, there’s an undulating bar in wood and copper. The bar’s undulating pattern continues in the curves of a large, central staircase, which takes you to the second floor. Just like downstairs, you’ll find numerous cozy tables here, but also a separate wooden booth shaped like a lighthouse around a large table.
The Portuguese architect Pinto has fashioned the entire interior in water blue steel and dark wood and has implemented many Roman elements. For instance, there are Ionic columns and winged brass balls that reminded me of the divine messenger Mercury. Across the floor of the ground floor, there’s a Latin phrase which I suspect refers to the date of establishment of Dock’s.
Alone at my little table on the top floor, I anxiously awaited the first course. From the Dock’s menu, I was given the choice between a Dutch new herring and six oysters, but even though I wanted to give fish a try, slimy oysters were a bridge too far. I still wasn’t looking forward to the Dutch new herring. Usually, this small fish is held above the mouth, head thrown back, and then devoured in one bite. I didn’t quite see myself doing that.
In the end, I wouldn’t have to, because the hand-cleaned Dutch new herring was accompanied by green beans, green apple, and a mustard vinaigrette. You can usually eat a Dutch new herring as is because the bones are too small to lead to asphyxiation, but I preferred not to take any risk. I chewed carefully and fished too scratchy bones from my mouth. As you can tell, I survived the first course.
The meat of the Dutch new herring had a fatty structure that went well with the refreshing vegetables. Because they’d been sprinkled with oil, the vegetables were slightly “cooked”, but they still had bite. The mustard was subtly present in the vinaigrette.
The main course was brought on a boiling hot plate (my food was certainly not going to get cold) and consisted of fried fillet of plaice, fennel, samphire, a tomato and fine herb sauce, and an indefinable purple heap. According to the waiter, that purple heap was rice boiled in red wine. The purple rice was sticky and had been given a good dash of pepper.
I suspect the plate was so hot because the plaice had been covered in cheese and put under the broiler (before the sauce being ladled on top) and precisely this has made the fish taste so incredibly delicious. I really got a lovely Mediterranean feeling with this dish. The plaice had a soft texture, the samphire added (as so often) a necessary salty element, and the fennel had gotten beautiful color, but was still soft.
When I took a bite of all components together, this dish didn’t work. The separate flavors of the products couldn’t compete with each other, causing even the Mediterranean fish to get lost. The rice boiled in red wine and the fennel did work together, though. Either the elements on the plate need to be eaten separately, or the dish has to be adjusted.
After the main course, the waiter asked me if I wanted the cheese or the sweet dessert. ‘The sweet dessert obviously!’ You don’t have to ask a sweet tooth if he wants the dessert. In this case, I got strawberries, meringue, chiboust cream, yoghurt ice cream, and saffron coulis. Chiboust cream is a pastry cream that is mixed with (unbaked) meringue.
On the dessert plate, there were juicy fresh strawberries, deliciously sour yoghurt ice cream, and the sweet chiboust cream. Thankfully, those were complemented with texture by pistachios, roasted almond flakes, and a crumbled cookie. Unfortunately, the smeared coulis didn’t taste very pleasant because the saffron came through too strongly. Remove the saffron from the coulis and then Dock’s would be serving an absolute killer dessert!
This Master of Taste predominantly serves fresh products from the sea, such as oysters, lobster, and plaice. Because I wasn’t raised eating fish, this restaurant became a big challenge. I especially struggled with the Dutch new herring, but the scrumptious fillet of plaice and the almost killer dessert have compensated for a lot. So, Dock’s can be proud of the following rating:
- Food: 4
- Atmosphere and hospitality: 5
- Eat – repeat: I hope to discover more fish dishes thanks to and in this restaurant.