Now, Mealmole is an animal of culture so the term “Flemish Primitives” immediately conjures thoughts of the masterly Belgian painters of the 15th and 16th centuries. An obvious assumption to make. Yet more recently the name has been adopted by a group of chefs who work together pioneering and promoting developments in Flemish cooking.
One member of the group, Filip Claeys, is from De Jonkman, a beautiful restaurant on the outskirts of Brugges, which he runs with his wife Sandra. Once the hunting lodge for the castle of Male, the restaurant has a lovely terrace with lots of green open space beyond. As it was chilly when Mealmole unearthed this place, a spot by the fire seemed more appropriate for an aperitif.
The dining room, while modern in style, blends well with the history of the building and the low lighting lends a cosy intimacy. There is no à la carte menu – just a choice of tasting menus of various lengths, so a healthy appetite is a must. The food, made using the finest Belgian produce, focusing on freshness and natural flavour, is firmly rooted in the Flemish tradition. It is certainly not old fashioned though with many ingredients cooked using modern techniques.
“Message in a Bottle” was Mealmole’s favourite dish, not simply because it tasted divine, but because of its imaginative presentation and the innovative message it carried. First, live grey shrimp are brought to the table, bobbing up and down in a glass bowl, before being taken back to the kitchen to be freshly cooked. Next, a bottle arrives with a rolled up piece of paper in the neck. The bottle, which has been cut in half, opens to reveal the shrimp, perfectly cooked using three different methods and served with potato puree, hazelnut and kohlrabi. The message unrolls to explain the thinking behind North Sea Life, a project Filip helped to set up with a fellow chef, which encourages fishermen to bring live shrimp to shore rather than cooking them at sea; ensuring greater freshness and therefore, greater flavour. This idea and De Jonkman’s inspiring food are sure to catch on…