In restaurant Onder de Toren, in Hansbeke outside of Ghent, 32 year old chef Sam van Houcke creates wonderful Flemish food. It’s an up and coming restaurant, and he has been included in the 2015 Flanders Kitchen Rebels, Outstanding Young Chefs.
This is where we finished my trip to Belgium back in September. Yes, it was an intense trip, with a lot to write about! We had an excellent meal, three courses plus snacks, and plenty of excellent beer.
Onder de Toren means under the tower, and the restaurant is on the main street of the little village, right across from the church, and its tower. We were greeted by chef Sam van Houcke outside, and after a lengthy photo op, we were invited in. First we had a beer cocktail, a delicious mix of St. Bernardus Wit, gin, mint and lime.
First snack was a cheese cracker with cheddar cream, with a glass of Bush de Nuits, the wine barrel aged luxury beer from Dubuisson. Then we were seated for the second snack, a prawn croquette or garnaalkroketje like we had also had for lunch at De Halve Maan. It was less mushy here, made with much less batter. It may have been less traditional, but it was better that way. We had the sweet cherry beer Kasteel Rouge, which played well to the sweetness of the prawn, as opposed to the more refreshing tripel we had paired with for lunch.
The third snack was veal tartare, served with a mustard sauce and sliced radish. Served in a glass bowl, it was a beautiful little thing, though I would happily have eaten a lot more of it. It was paired with Triple d’Anvers from De Koninck. The relatively sweet tripel was a good match with fruitiness and enough alcohol power to stand up to the more sharp flavours of mustard and radish.
The actual starter was Nobashi prawns, served as ceviche. Raw, lightly marinated prawns, served on avocado, with herbs. A very delicate and tasty serving. It was paired with two beers. Gouden Arend, the 125 years anniversary beer from De Ryck, a dry, tasty tripel that worked perfectly, and Ename Tripel which had more alcohol showing and didn’t work quite as elegantly.
For the main course we had partridge, with sweet potato, shiitake musrooms, and pumpkin. Some sweetness and plenty of umami. We had Straffe Hendrik Heritage Vintage 2013, an oak aged version of the quadrupel. An absolutely brilliant beer, where the sweetness had a little counter balance in the alcohol and in tannins from the oak. In this case, it was more of an issue of the partridge standing up to the beer than the opposite, but I thought it worked.
The other beer for the main course was Gouden Carolus Cuvee van de Keizer. Always a great beer, but not quite with the same level of complexity as the Straffe Hendrik. Still, you can’t really ever go wrong when pairing these (well brewed) strong and dark Belgian beers with meat dishes.
For dessert we had a nice little composition with green tea ice cream and fresh berries playing the main parts. I’m not a dessert expert or a dessert lover, but fresh berries with their acidity to match the sweetness always makes me happy. The obvious beer pairing was Lindemans Framboise, playing directly to the raspberries on the plate. These sweet fruit lambics are good for one thing only, and that’s pairing for sweet desserts.
The other beer was Barbar Blonde, a strong blonde with honey from Lefebvre. Again, the sweetness of the beer matched the dessert, but I didn’t care much for the fermented honey flavour in the beer. I generally don’t care for honey beers.
After the restaurant visit, it was time to say goodbye to some great people that we had met during the weekend, and who had joined us for the dinner. We went back to our hotel in Ghent, went out for a few beers and that was it. I had my breakfast alone the next morning, went for a quick shopping trip to De Hopduvel in Ghent, and then had a few hours at Cantillon on my way to the airport. Thank you very much to Visit Flanders and to Belgian Family Brewers for an outstanding weekend.