Reet is a small and quiet village not far from the highway that links Brussels to Antwerpen. When driving through it, one wouldn’t expect a Michelin-starred restaurant nested here, but the proximity and nearly equal distance to 2 big cities naturally justifies its location, and I wouldn’t say that this village with its elegant brick houses is lacking charm.
It is within a former rectory which rather resembles a château-like mansion that Bart de Pooter and his wife Marie-Claire have found a home for their restaurant De Pastorale. This sounds very conservative at first, but one realizes quickly that this classic building is actually an elegant container for modernism. A first indicator of this dualism is given by a modern bronze statue at the entrance which emits a laughing sound once you pass by.
Art installation by Arne Quinze
But it truly becomes clear once you enter the house. At the left one sees very old wooden stairs that lead up to the first floor. And on the right one has to pass automatic slide doors to enter the main dining room: contrasts couldn’t be more opposed. And what a dining room! An immense art installation by Belgian artist Arne Quinze made of connected wood planks is growing through the 2 areas of the salle.
This installation is completed by digital screens showing black and white videos of moving lips made by the same artists. Some found it a bit irritating but I thought it definitely captures your attention and puts your senses in an awaiting mode.
Once you crossed the dining room, on the other side of this symmetric mansion, another door leads onto the terrace with a garden that is arranged with equal symmetry and reminds a bit the likes of Versailles with its carefully cut bushes and hedges. What a beautiful environment! And again, modern art is included with huge red puppy plastics watching you from the side and an orchestra director bronze in an astronaut suit facing the terrace.
One is quite overwhelmed with all these visual impressions. To an extent that the main purpose of our visit is blanked out of our heads for a few minutes. But once we were warmly greeted by Marie-Claire de Pooter, Bart’s wife, we found back to reality. The two had started De Pastorale in 1991 when Bart was only 23 years old. And 15 years later he was the youngest Belgian chef with 2 Michelin stars. Impressive.
As for his cooking style, I didn’t know what to expect since it was my first visit, gladly joining my dining friends of Gastros on Tour to a generous invitation by the Chef. But the contrasts and humouristic touches, the elegantly classic next to the creative modern maybe are a hint: would a cuisine of contrasts await us?
And it truly was a cuisine with contrasts that awaited us. But also a cuisine of great generosity. Where else are you greeted with such an impressive series of amuses? Incredible how much thought and creativity has gone into each of these little ones!
Canneloni of Kohlrabi, Sardine, Citron Confit has again a very refreshing effect on us. The Sardine appears very mild and pure and flavours of lemon zest and quark as well as comforting, pureed Kohlrabi are dominating. The slice of blanched kohlrabi of which the canneloni is made of adds a good crunch – playful textures!
Focaccia, Veal roulade, Bonito flake, very clever and tasty. As Stéphanie remarked, this could be Vitello Tonnato reconstructed, but then with reversed roles. Here, the veal is creamy and the tuna, dried, acts as a condiment.
Tandoori cracker, Watermelon, Tomato, Basil, somehow reminds me of Greece, where watermelon is often paired with Feta cheese. Here the salty part is played by a well spiced cracker. Again, very clever and tasty.
Brown Shrimp (crevettes grises) cold and warm, a surprising construction with, on the lid: cold shrimp paired with crunchy cauliflower bits and fruitful elements that are exciting the palate. Within the bowl a poached quail egg, mashed potatoes, mousse of shrimp fumet that act as the comforting part of this Amuse. Delicious and, needless to say, the shrimp was of excellent quality.
Smoked aubergine, Parmesan, Young garlic, Parsley, as a final Amuse and I would say final gong before the start of the main meal. It smells a bit simple and one dimensional of grated Parmesan at first, but when you taste it, it strikes you with unreal intensity. Delicious aubergine purée, a cream of garlic with a hint of lemon. An excellent trick! A coup de maître! It was such that the taste was still lingering on our palates when we received our first course at our inside dinner table, a good 15 minutes later.
What an impressive series of Amuses!
Asparagus from Wechteren, Crab, Capucine - The asparagus are thinly cut, maybe just slightly blanched and of a sublime taste without any bitterness. Then there is a great play on textures with the crunchy asparagus next to a velvety Capucine sauce. Finally, the tender and sweet crab is opposed to the tart and green flavors of the Capucine. A dish full of freshness and opposites – I love it. Also, it is very well paired with a fresh and tart 2010 Grüner Veltliner from Weingut Stadt Krems from Austria (more reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc actually).
Langoustine, Lime, Cucumber, Courgette - The tender langoustine is covered with a very thin and crunchy coating of lemony spices. It is lying on a dressing of lime giving an instant acidic response. A dollop of courgette cream is warm and soothing. Then, a thin stick of celery adds crunch and freshness. On the side, 2 drops of an intense lime-mayonnaise are adding a dimension of richness. Again a superb dish, balanced and with subtile nuances.
As a wine-pairing for the langoustine, an autochtone white varietal named Carricante from the famous Planeta winery in Sicily. A wine with very ripe fruit and quite some power that responded well to the lemony elements of the dish but maybe crushed a bit its more subtle aromatics. Nonetheless, an interesting discovery.
Lobster, Carrots, Honey, Salamanci, Saltwort (Salicorne) - A somewhat funky dish, where the slight orange-citrus taste of the Salamanci and honey are on the fore and the lobster with its calm and pure taste is a delicately hidden treasure on the plate. The Salicorne adds a crunchy textural element. And then there was a grandiose wine pairing with a 2008 Kesseler Riesling Kabinett trocken from Rheingau showing a nice acidic freshness.
Eel, Quinoa, Pine nuts, Jabugo ham, Navets (Rutabaga) – Good bite to the eel which is slightly coated with soy sauce. Then a dollop of luscious horseraddish foam and crunchy quinoa on the side with some raddish and the rich feel of pine nuts make for a well balanced ensemble. The Pine nuts seem to be the binding element. They are representing the most long lasting flavor on the plate and create a charming link without overpowering. An excellent dish!
This 100% Viura grape white Rioja by Bodegas Artadi was slightly oaked and went very well with the smoky flavours of the eel.
Hake (Merlu) poached in smoked milk, Cabbage – Wow! What pure and calm expression of fish. First of all it is perfectly cooked. Then it is only marked by the slightest vanilla-like hint of smoke and the mild cabbage adds a comforting component that makes it an ultra-yummy dish.
Bass, Celery, Lovage, Cicely (Cerfeuil musqué) - is again very well cooked and elevated by an acidic preparation of crunchy celery brunoise on which it is lying. The calm and richer part is played by a purée of bulb celery. Again a dish full of contrasts, here with slight acidic accents which are instantly appeased by a comforting element and at the center a piece of fish that is shining of purity. Sublime balance! What a perfect succession of seafood dishes!
2009 Hallgartener Hendelberg by Peter Jakob Kühn from the Rheingau region. A great Riesling, with such an intensely exotic nose I’ve mistaken it for a Chenin Blanc at first. Crazy fruit for this dry wine, but at the same time this is so 09! By the way, lovers of German Riesling will enjoy the winelist with for example a few of Breuer’s dry masterpieces on offer.
Pigeon, Barbecue, Green peas, Nacelle - The focus is definitely on the pigeon and its perfectly executed cooking. The meat is tender, juicy and with great flavor. Green peas are a harmonious background melody and some lightly fresh mint-notes here and there add some welcome punctuation.
2008 L’Orientale, Cuvée Jean de Fenouillet, Domaine Alary-Dumoulie – A Cabernet Sauvignon from Southern France I wasn’t familiar with. We tasted it blind and only a slight hint of bellpepper in the nose indicated the varietal. A very juicy wine that was a good match with the pigeon.
Ox tail, Goose liver, Artichokes, morilles - The Ox tail shows some crunch and is paired with velvety goose liver and sensual morels. Again some accents are added by small bits of artichokes on the (recurrent but pertinent) acidic green mayonnaise.
Grapefruit, Spices, Acacia - What a great refreshing dessert! Incredible contrasts between bitter, sour, crunchy, mellow , delicate, juicy, jelly-like as well as between cold and not cold. This is exactly the refreshing explosion that we needed. You couldn’t announce a new phase of the meal more clearly than that. Also this type of complex dessert reminds me of Alex Stupak who used to be the pastry chef at WD-50 in New York.
Cherries, Hazelnut, Chocolate, Caramel - After the refresher comes the comforting dessert, where contrasts are less on texture but rather on opposing mellow and voluptuously creamy chocolate with fresh and acidic cherry juice. The hazelnut flavors represent a superb third element here. Again: delicious!
Wow! What a superb succession of desserts to end this meal. This was cleverness and virtuosity at the same time and personally the best 2 desserts in a row I had for a long time. Great!
What a nice dinner! There were so many aspects about it that I enjoyed, starting with the meticulously elaborated series of Amuses that in itself already represented a tiny degustation menu.
Then there is this perfectionist quest for contrast and balance in each single dish that impressed me. Contrasts in texture, temperature, flavors, acidity are to be found in every creation and they are truly one of the foundations of world class cooking in my opinion. After all these courses it became clear that Bart De Pooter puts a lot of thought in his dishes and applies a lot of sense to his creativity. One could say that he has found clever ways to structure his creativity. But there is more than that if you want to describe his cuisine. Ingredients, of course, play a key role and local sourcing is applied when possible.
Needless to say that the quality of ingredients was irreprochable and even sublime. Especially the fish and seafood dishes were of highest freshness and also cooked with such exactitude that they certainly represent the highlights at Pastorale.
Then I have to mention the young and friendly staff who made every possible effort to make us feel at home. Especially the young co-Sommelière made us very happy by serving every wine blind plus she chose some very interesting wines that were unknown to many. And as I already mentioned before: the wine list contains quite some gems for lovers of Riesling.
So to put it in one sentence: this was a visit that literally touched all my senses and left me perfectly satisfied. And in my humble opinion Pastorals is a restaurant that clearly deserves its 2 stars but at the same time I suspect is very close to its third one!
So, thanks again for this generous dinner and hospitality. And Thanks Laurent!
PS: For a beautifully poetic report in French with sublime photos, check Stéphanie’s blog.
Bart De Pooter
closed on sundays and mondays as well as for lunch on saturdays
Menus at 90/180 Eur