Hof van Cleve
Telephone: +32 938 35 848
Overall rating: 7/10
Date of visit: September 2013
Hof van Cleve is run by chef Peter Goosens in a building that used to be a farm. The restaurant opened in 1992 and received its third Michelin star in 2006.
The restaurant offers some of their classic dishes a la carte and also offers two tasting menus, one being a vegetarian seven course menu for €195, and the other being a menu with meat where you could choose either five courses for €195 or seven courses for €245. At lunch they serve a menu for €125. We chose the meaty one with five courses.
The bread served here was really good. Especially the one with Belgian beer Westmalle was very, very nice.
First a string of appetisers arrived:
Crisps with dip.
Carrot and ginger juice.
A crispy base filled with cuttlefish and chorizo. This was probably the best of the appetisers and might have been the best dish in the entire meal. This would probably score 8 or 8.5/10.
A very fresh mackerel was served with a soy ice cream. This was one of my favourites of my wife at the time.
Very lightly cooked salmon was served with mushrooms, fish eggs and a light soup.
The last appetiser was cured Spanish beef and a slice of bone marrow on top of rocket pesto spread on a crispy bread. This was very close to being as good as the cuttlefish dish. Lovely!
The first actual course from the menu was perfectly seasoned king crab, avocado cream, the core of tomatoes, a flavourful soup of tomatoes, and a very salty sardine cream I would have preferred had been left out completely. The crab itself was lovely, but the tomato cores weren’t quite as good as they could have been (and miles away from the ones I had at Al Sorriso and Dal Pescatore). But overall a nice beginning to the menu (7.5/10).
From there it unfortunately went downhill. The next course was grilled halibut with spring onion, grey shrimps, a firm mushroom cream, a bit of pesto, and a few spinach leaves. The sauce was made from mussel juice, mushrooms and prawns. On the side we were served a crisp with prawns and a lovage cream. The crisp was better than the dish itself for a few simple reasons: The fish was overcooked. All three fish courses we had on this trip were overcooked, but this was the worst one. The rest of the dish was as such okay but simply very ordinary, the pesto being the best element – well-made pesto is always a treat (5/10).
The main course was wild duck with celeriac, lingonberry cream, mushrooms, pearl onions and a crispy sphere stuffed with confited duck leg. This was beautifully presented on the plate, and what was on the plate was well cooked and perfectly fine as such, but I had nevertheless expected more of a three-star place than this. It simply seemed like something you would be able to find in a one star place or even in a place that is striving to gain its first star (6/10).
A small pre-dessert was served, but I must admit that I don’t remember what it was, and for some reason I didn’t write it down among my other notes. I think it was pineapple stuffed with maybe mascarpone. The one thing I do remember for sure is that the red thing on top was made of campari.
The first real dessert was granny smith apples, lemon and cucumber and with a bit of tea dusted on top. The waiter then poured olive oil on, and the oil was apparently the best in the world (?). My wife at the time liked this one a lot more than I did. It was refreshing but still a bit ordinary. I would give 6/10 at best. My wife would probably score it 7 or 8/10.
The second dessert was a round disc, partly a chocolate mousse, partly a chocolate sponge cake soaked in orange liquor. On top was a very smooth sorbet of a somewhat tasteless butternut squash, around it chocolate cream, nougatine, and then a mango sauce poured on top. It definitely looked great, and the combination of chocolate and mango always works. That might also been the problem here. I felt like I had had this dish before (7/10).
At this stage I had overall been a bit disappointed by the meal, but the massive petit fours then came and saved the show:
A small bowl with lemon ice cream, lychees, and rose water (which was luckily perfectly restrained to avoid that soap flavour).
A cocoa Madeleine.
A Belgian treat which is very similar to the Danish æbleskiver (which means a pancake batter either cooked as a sphere in a special pan with round indentations, or deep-fried).
And then the trolley came. The waitress told us that we could try everything if we wanted, and we could also ask for a second helping, so of course we tried everything:
Four different macaroons (lemon, raspberry, pistachio and chocolate), marshmallows, a chocolate bonbon, an almond cake with a creamy filling, a Madeleine, a vanilla sponge cake, an éclair with just a touch of coffee, an apricot tart, a lemon and meringue tart, and a tart with custard and raspberries. Lastly a rum baba with crème Chantilly.
This was a powerful display of the classic desserts, and most were excellently executed. The rum baba had been soaked in rum for a day. From what I read, the difficulty with this dessert is to make it moist enough, and that was definitely not a problem here. We even felt that it was too soggy, runny almost, and it was a bit too boozy from the rum. The apricots in the tart were not as flavourful as they could have been, but maybe I’m just spoiled with the magnificent apricots my wife at the time brought from Iran. That is really the only bad things I have to say about these petit fours. The rest were classic but well-made and they had flavour. So, they didn’t need to be creativey – it was simply a joy to end the meal like this (overall at least 8/10).
So, all is well that ends well as the saying goes. 7/10 is a good score, but if it hadn’t been for the petit fours I would have marked it down to 6/10.
The food was at times very creative and included unusual ingredients, while at other times it seemed too ordinary. Then there was the less than perfect tomatoes. When tomatoes were such a key element in the first actual course, it ruins a lot when they’re not up to par. Even worse was the overcooked fish. I bought a super fresh halibut some years ago and cooked it myself, and there was a world of difference from that one to the one I had in this restaurant. A three-star restaurant shouldn’t serve food you could cook better yourself. The biggest problem, though, was that none of the dishes in the actual menu were dazzling. The best one was 7.5, which of course is still good, but in a place like this it should be better than just good. Two of the appetisers and the petit fours/cake trolley were 8 or 8.5, but that’s a low percentage of the entire meal.
Nevertheless, I was impressed by the creativity but not always by the result. It is perfectly possibly that we were unlucky with both the over-cooked fish and the menu. Maybe this was the restaurant’s least good menu ever, so had we chosen the vegetable menu or come at a completely different time we might have been happier. However, it does strike me as odd that the appetisers and the petit fours, which are often things that stay when the menu changes, were better than the menu itself. Again, if this was a matter of chance or simply a lack of capability is difficult to say. I hope it was the first.
The pace of the meal started out well with all the appetisers appearing in quick succession. The first actual course was served 17 minutes after the last appetiser, so that’s okay. Then the pace slowed down, and the next course was served 30 minutes later. The main course was served 40 minutes after the fish course. The pre-dessert was served 37 minutes after the main course. Then the pace picked up again, and the two desserts and the petit fours were all up to the speed of the appetisers.
When we arrived we were greeted by the chef’s smiling wife. The other waiters and waitresses were polite and attentive but not particularly warm, nor personal. Although there was no small-talk, there was no arrogance either, so we felt much happier with the service here than in Victor’s Gourmet-restaurant a few days before.
When the waitress served us our petit fours, she did show some warmth and humour, which had otherwise been absent for the rest of the meal. When I was about to pay there was a problem with my card, but the staff was helpful in finding a solution that worked for all of us (and no, we didn’t have to do the dishes).
The chef also came out to speak to all the guests at the end of the meal, and I always appreciate this.
Finally, there’s the price. At €195 it was the most expensive menu of the three restaurants we went to on this trip (€185 at Vendome, and €163 at Victor’s Gourmet-restaurant). Although the petit fours made a bit up for it, I felt the food served didn’t match the price. Denmark has the highest prices on food in the European Union, and the price of a menu in Noma was €200, but the quality and the amount of food there matched the price better than here. A glass of wine in Hof Van Cleve was €15 for both white and red. This is double the price of a glass of wine in Spanish three-star places but it seems to follow the Northern European standards. A litre of water was €10 (also standard), while tea was a whopping €15. The total came to €242.50 per person (€485 in total for two)
The total bill for two was €60 more expensive than at Victor’s Gourmet-restaurant and €100 more expensive than at Vendome, but this was of course due the price of the menu itself and because the wine was included in the menu at Vendome. And although there were highlights here, the food simply wasn’t at the same level as in those two other places. So, the most expensive restaurant on this trip was also the least good one.