The Auberge de Herborist, cosy place, good food.

The Auberge de Herborist (1 Michelin star) sits in a field on the outskirts of Bruges. Considering that we arrived on one of the darkest and wettest weekends of the year it proved a little elusive and our GPS gave up about a kilometer short of the destination, but at the last second we saw the sign and pulled in up the narrow, tree-lined drive. After settling in to our room we came down to the cosy (i.e. small) dining room, with only four or five tables.

With our aperitif we received the selection of amuse-bouches. The cornet-shaped crisps containing a cream of anchovy and roquefort were very tasty. Maybe a little too salty for some tastes, but I loved them. There was also a finger of eel topped with soya foam. Foams are difficult to get right and in this case it evaporated almost as soon as I touched it and wasn’t exactly bursting with flavour.

There was no menu as such; you just choose whether you want three, four or five courses, and they bring you whatever they have that day (although they can accommodate you if there’s something you really don’t fancy). The first starter was very interesting. Carpaccio of scallop sprinkled with chilli and chives, on top of a layer of duck paté, with a brunoise of apple, celery and cucumber at the bottom. At first I wasn’t sure that those three disparate elements would sit together well, and I still have my doubts, but I think the scallop-paté combination was a success. The brunoise was a little too acidic for my palate.

Second course: a lovely lemongrass-flavoured shrimp and mussel broth, with a fillet of John Dory on top. I think the rather aggressive tapenade garnish on the fish didn’t really belong, and I was more interested in the delicate perfume of the broth.

I admit my heart sank a little when the waiter told us that the first meat course would be baked goose liver, but I needn’t have worried as this was one of the tastiest and most pleasurable dishes of the evening. The liver was soft without being mushy and it was topped with a slice of pancetta sprinkled with Space Dust.

By contrast with the (at times overly) elaborate nature of previous courses the main meat course was a simple piece of venison with a mustard sauce, but none the less enjoyable for all that.

The first desert; chocolate powder, speculoos biscuits and mango discs, was disappointingly dry despite the blob of ice cream nestling in the middle. Things picked up again with the following caramel mousse and ice cream stick duo. And finally, white chocolate-covered mini cakes and dark chocolate-covered mint leaves.

All in all an enjoyable meal, which would have scored even higher if the chef had resisted the urge to overcomplicate some of the dishes with too many contrasting ingredients.

Rating:**** : Four stars out of 5

We visited on Friday 12th November and paid 190 Euro for the five-course menu (including wine) for two people.

Simon

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