L’air du Temps – A magical experience (Noville-sur-Mehaigne)
L’air du temps is the best-known 2 Michelin star restaurant in Wallonia. The place is located in a small and inconspicuous grey building in Noville-sur-Mehaigne, a small town in the open fields of the French speaking part of Belgium.
The small place boasts a minimalistic and modern interior with artistic details, while keeping a certain warmth in the dining room.
Sang-Hoon Degeimbre is more than a chef: he’s a food magician. I think he’s the first chef I really wanted to visit when I became interested in gastronomy, because of the remarkable articles I read about him, his story, and his kitchen.
Born in South Korea, Sang Hoon migrated to Belgium at the age of four. He started his career as a sommelier, became a (self-taught!) chef soon after, and opened L’Air du Temps in 1997. He quickly earned two Michelin stars for his extremely creative, evocative, original and molecular cuisine. Together with his wife Carine Nosal-Degeimbre and his team, he created one of the most surprising and inventive gastronomical temples in Belgium.
Sang-Hoon’s kitchen today is focused on the use of (wild) herbs, vegetables, Korean/Asian accents and… stories. In every dish, he really translates his cooking philosophy into a story, and these stories are sometimes even described on little cards that come with the dish.
A good example this philosophy can be found in the dish “Walk in the forest”. In this dish, he tries to imitate a spring walk in the forest: potatoes are steamed in curl paper with moss on a cherry wooden plate on the barbecue; a juice from “oseil de l’espagne” and “Egopode” is added (which tastes like green apples), and the dish is finished with a variety of herbs from the woods. Inspiring!
We visited L’air du Temps on 2 June 2012, and got the menu underneath. San gave us the chance to sample some of his new and also some of his classic dishes, which made this menu an unforgettable journey through his kitchen. It’s really unbelievable that this man got such cooking skills without a professional training, as he clearly masters all traditional and modern cooking techniques.
Table / Crisp starter
We first received a small glass of water with “panicum-like grasses”. Sweet yet fresh, the perfect kick off!
Asperges vertes de Madame Gustin, émulsion d’anchois
(Madame Gustin’s green asparagus, anchovy emulsion)
A green & fresh start, where the Anchovies delivered the needed salty kick in this appetizer.
Chou-fleur, mozzarella et riz noir soufflé (Cauliflower, mozzarella and puffed black rice)
A nice demonstration of the molecular cuisine: mozzarella bubble injected with cauliflower.
Tomate imprégnée au vinaigre de riz, crevettes Obsiblue marines, huile dissociée au suc de crevettes (Impregnated tomato, Obsiblue shrimp tartare, split juice and pickled oil)
A salty tomato snack with Asian accents.
Couenne soufflée de porc, mayonnaise thaï, citronnelle (Puffed pork rind, Thai mayonnaise, lemon grass)
And again: Asian accents in a Western, green & crunchy jacket.
“Bouchées (Dainty morsels)”
Œuf coque, mousse de fèves, mouillette à l’olive et origan (Soft-boiled egg, bean mousse, bread fingers with olive and oregano)
The yellow part of the egg was left, slightly cooked, with oregano and beans mousse. Quite a ‘heavy’ appetizer though.
Fidéua, coque, écume d’ail des ours, voile de shitake (Fideua, shell, wild garlic foam, shiitake veil)
Another proof of San’s knowledge of the molecular cuisine: foam, jelly, and flower. Delicious!
Asperges blanches / Pommade de jaune d’œufs fumé / Eau d’asperges / Huile de citron vert / Renouée du Japon (White asparagus, yellow smoked eggs, citron, renouée)
A nice and balanced dish with loads of asparagus, where citrus took care of the acidity/freshness.
2012 : Acidulé (Tangy)
Foie Gras / Verjus / Champignons / Crème d’oignons / Kimchi blanc (Foie Gras / Verjuice / Mushrooms / Onion cream / White kimchi)
A surprising dish with Korean elements (Kimchi), where the mixture of all the elements delivered a unique, yet salty, flavor.
2012 : Cabillaud Sylvestre (Forest-style cod)
Cœur de filet / Pistou de pousses d’épicéa / Craquant d’olives vertes (Heart of fillet / Pistou of spruce shoots / Green olive crisp /Ecumine)
Perfectly baked cod, accompanied by pine needles and a crisp of green olives. San is telling a “forest story” in this dish.
2012 : Route des épices (Spice Route)
Homard breton / Tomate gingembre coriandre / Gesse / Consommé de homard (Breton lobster / Tomato, ginger and coriander / Lobster consommé)
This was a try-out of a new dish – just look at the colors! Beautiful, just as the tastes: lobster, Korean/Asian spices & fresh herbs… Delicious!
2011: Ballade dans les bois
Pomme de terre à la mousse / Herbes et fleurs sauvages / Jus d’égopode et primevère (Steamed Potatoes with moss, Wild herbs and flowers, Juice from Egopode)
One of Sang-Hoon’s signature dishes… Please read the comments on this dish above.
2010 : Chimère (Chimera)
Œuf de pulpe / Textures de noir (Octopus egg / black textures)
This dish is a piece of art. Minimalistic, modern, simple. But yet suprising in flavours and textures! Squid was the main star, prepared in different manners/textures.
2012: Etats de Veau (Veal in disguise)
Une part du filet en juste cuisson / Joues et mousserons / Tartare et furikaké, au bouillon frais (Fillet cooked to perfection, cheeks and small wild mushrooms / Tartare with cumin, carrot and furikake)
The smoked/baked veal was presented at the table first, to absorb the scent. On the plate, it was presented in different preparations and with Korean accents. Tender, surprising and very tasteful.
2005 : Favori intemporel : Local Food
Aiguillette de pigeonneau de Waret / Crapiaud du Morvan / Fèves de tonka (Pigeon from Waret / Crapiaux / tonka beans)
This is one of the « classic, timeless » dishes, and we understand why. The pigeon comes from the region (Waret), and comes as a fillet and a leg. With an amazing juice of Tonka bean and different vegetable presentation, this was one of the highlights for me.
2012 : Imprégnation
Melon à la cardamone / Rhubarbe en gaufrettes / Glace au lait battu et wasabi (Melon with cardamom / Rhubarb wafers / Buttermilk ice cream with wasabi)
Once again, a beautiful, colorful plate! The first dessert had power, with surprising taste combinations (wasabi, melon, cardemon,…) and enough – but not too much – sweetness.
2012 : Petits Fruits
Fraises au demerara et huile d’olive / Myrtilles et mûres au citron et menthe / Sorbet concombre et verveine (Strawberries with demerara sugar and olive oil /
Blueberries and blackberries with lemon and mint / Cucumber and lemon verbena sorbet)
This dessert was prepared step by step at our table (a birthday present from the team), so we could closely follow the assembly of the ingredients. After the preparation a small bowl was filled with nitrogen/ dry ice, which delivered a smokey/misty effect on the whole table. A true spectacle indeed!
A small collage of this preparation:
Coffee & sweets
Coffee accompaniments were presented in a beautiful Asian bowl, and came with 6 different “Food pairing candies”: surprising food combinations which deliver unusual taste sensations (more info on http://www.foodpairing.be/)
Unfortunately I did not take detailed notes on the wines, but all of the wines were of very good quality. As Sang-Hoon has been a sommelier himself, the wine choice matches the dishes perfectly, yet in an often surprising way. We had 10 different wines, going from 1992 till 2010, from quite acid till sweet, from white over rosé to red, from France to Slovakia.
The “Belgian Taste Buds” Experience
The experience? What can I say… We had very high expectations about L’air du Temps – and they were all fulfilled, exceeded even. This was an amazing culinary journey with lots of surprises (the use of herbs, vegetables, the Korean accents, etc.) and an overall level of creativity and quality that was extremely high in all aspects.
Sang-Hoon really tries to offer each guest a unique experience and exceeds culinary boundaries. The service, the presentation, the flavors, the wines, the experience… they were all of such top quality that this restaurant should be a must-visit for every foodie out there.
As a goodbye gift, everyone receives a luxury box with his personalized menu and little cards with the explanation/philosophy of some dishes:
Belgian Taste Buds:
- Food Buds 8.5/10
- Wine Pairing Buds 8,5/10
- Price/Quality Buds 8.5/10
- Service Buds 8.5/10
- Experience Buds 9.5/10
L’air du Temps
Chaussée de Louvain 181