In De Wulf – The Flemish Noma? (Dranouter)
In de Wulf is one of those restaurants you would never find if you don’t know the place. It is located in Dranouter, in “het Heuvelland” in West Flanders (near to the French border). “Het Heuvelland” literally means “the land of hills”, and that’s exactly what it is: a region full of small, beautiful hills. There aren’t many big cities in this region, and people live mainly of farming and cultivating. This agricultural sphere is influencing the kitchen of “In de Wulf” in many ways, but more on that aspect later on.
The restaurant is situated on a small and picturesque road and the building was an old farmhouse originally, which still gives it that authentic and romantic feeling today. Before Kobe Desramaults took over the restaurant, it was run by his mother as a brasserie/hotel.
Inside the restaurant you can find lots of wood, dark colors, and a very intimate, rural and authentic atmosphere.
Kobe Desramaults is one of Belgium’s most talented young chefs. He trained his skills in restaurants like Oud Sluis (The Netherlands) and Comerç 24 (Barcelona). He returned to Dranouter in 2003 and has been creating gastronomic rumor since then. His first Michelin star was obtained in 2005 (as one of the youngest Belgian star chefs ever), and we wouldn’t be surprised if a second one will follow soon.
Kobe is founder/part of “The Flemish Foodies” (http://www.flemishfoodies.be ) together with Olly Ceulenaere and Jason Blanckaert, and recently opened a second restaurant in Ghent (De Vitrine: http://www.de-vitrine.be/ ) where he serves a more “brasserie kitchen” at a very accessible price. Please find our post on The Vitrine here.
The beautiful thing about Kobe and his kitchen is the fact that he does things totally out of the box – which makes eating at In De Wulf a very different experience. First of all, he serves (almost) exclusively local products: we had an aperitif that was brewed only a few kilometers from the restaurant, and almost every dish contains very local spices, vegetables or other ingredients. This implies you will certainly eat things here that you won’t find anywhere else.
He is the Belgian pioneer of the “Right here and right now kitchen”, the type of kitchen (philosophy) which has made Noma the best restaurant of the world.
Secondly, he took the ‘tapas philosophy’ with him from his restaurant experience in Spain, which means your dinner will consist of (many) small courses. I think we had +- 12 small courses in our menu. Some are very pure and simple, other are very complex with many ingredients.
We went to In de Wulf on 30/07/2011 and took the ‘small’ tasting menu, with the following courses (I left the original Dutch text and only translated the main ingredients. Unfortunately, we did not take pictures* but we will certainly take some on our next visit!):
Granen & kruiden (Cereals and spices)
Rode biet, yoghurt (Red beet, yoghurt)
Ratte patat (potato specialty from « Het Heuvelland »)
Bouchot mossel in bouillon (Bouchot mussel in bouillon)
* Jonge komkommer, makreel & dille (Young cucumber, mackarel, dill)
* Noordzeekrab, karnemelk, postelein (North sea crab, buttermilk, purselane)
* Rog, scheermesschelpen, selder (ray, razors, seldery)
Bretoense kreeft, Oost-Indische kers, koolrabi (Breton lobster, cherry from East-India, kohlrabi)
Bladgroenten uit Dranouter, “Maroilles” (Leaf vegetables from Dranouter, “maroilles”)
Ui, eidooier, huisgedroogde ham (Onion, yolk, home dried ham)
* Bloemkool, spek, mosterd, dragon (Cauliflower, bacon, mustard, dragon)
After this we got an extra, free, dish: wild pigeon, firstly presented on smoking hay, later served in small pieces on our plate
* Lam “Pays du Nord”, prinsessenboon, geitekaas uit “Uxem” (Lamb “pays du Nord”, snapo bean, goatcheese from « Uxem »
* Bosaardbei, verse geitenyoghurt (Forest strawberry, fresh goat yoghurt)
* “Kaastaart”, Poperingse perzik (Cheesecake, peach from Poperinge)
* Braambes uit Dranouter, dragon, bergamot (Blackberry from Dranouter, dragon, bergamot)
* Coffee and “Petits Fours”
As you can clearly notice, not only the emphasis is put on local products: (seasonal) vegetables, spices and fruits really play the leading part. Kobe’s kitchen politics are often compared with the cooking philosophy of Noma (the world’s best restaurant according to San Pelligrino), and this is the reason why. Just like Noma, Kobe tries to create different, surprising and creative dishes with local – close to nature – ingredients.
I read some reviews and articles about In The Wulf were the food is called ‘highly molecular’. We did not experience it this way, but found ourselves enjoying a very pure meal where we were taken back to the roots of dining, close to the ingredients. The ingredients/dishes weren’t very ‘processed’ and most of them were highly recognizable – an element which is often different in the molecular kitchen.
I don’t have a lot of detailed notes on the wines. They were good, but not very memorable. However, we heard progression is being made in the wine choices recently, which will certainly get the wine selection to a higher level. When we visited, we felt the emphasis was put on the food and the wines were a bit subordinate.
The aperitif, however, was special and memorable: a glass of rosé sparkling wine, cultivated just a few kilometers from the restaurant. It was served in the beautiful saloon, where we also received the appetizers.
The “Belgian Taste Buds” Experience
In de Wulf was a very pleasant and memorable experience. The place, the food, the authentic West Flanders atmosphere, the region … it all blends perfectly together. For a 1 star restaurant, you do really get an amazing and unique experience on both the food and the atmosphere level (in our opinion this place certainly deserves 2 stars just because of this unique experience).
The small menu comes at 100 euro without and 130 euro with wines. In total, we paid +- 160 euro per person and we had no problem paying this price. This really is an experience and you receive + 12 plates and maybe + 50 ingredients during your menu, which certainly justifies the menu prices.
I would certainly recommend extending your stay while you are visiting the restaurant: have a walk before dinner and absorb the beautiful surroundings. Try to spend the night there as well (At In de Wulf or at one of the bed & breakfasts nearby) and enjoy a lazy (sun-) day the day after your dinner. It’s worth it.
We spent the night in a bed and breakfast nearby (Kalut – http://www.kalut-bb.be/ ) and woke up from the sound of mowing cows. That’s right; we could hear the mowing cows. And that is exactly how I would describe our experience in ‘In The Wulf’: enjoying local, pure and delicious products, close to (its) nature.
Belgian Taste Buds:
– Food Buds 8/10
– Wine Pairing Buds 7/10
– Price/Quality Buds 8/10
– Experience Buds 9/10
*Pictures in this post by Piet de Kersgieter