When traveling we love to explore local cuisine and if we can pair that with a fine dining experience, we will do everything we can to make that happen. I find myself looking more toward the World’s Fifty Best Restaurant list first, before Michelin or other fine dining guides as the World’s Fifty Best is in more locations are isn’t always showcasing restaurants of extreme price points.
I had no expectations of finding a restaurant in the areas we were visiting, they were touristy Bruges (particularly) and Ghent seemed less of a fine dining city, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found the restaurant that is ranked number 50 on the World’s Best Fifty list was located just a few dozen kilometers from Ghent. I knew that we weren’t going to drive back to Ghent after the tasting menu so we decided to stay at Lozerkasteel about 6 kilometers from the restaurant Hof Van Cleve. If you haven’t read about the beautiful Lozerkasteel, coupled with their shady business practices, I suggest you take a look at my review before booking with them.
We made reservations online about 3 weeks prior to our visit to Belgium and there were some hiccups when it came to booking, but after a couple emails with the surprisingly quick to respond team at HvC, we were booked with reservations at 19h30 on my final Tuesday in Belgium.
Our hotel arranged for a taxi which dropped us off at 19h15 and we were immediately welcomed in and seated.
Most of the tables were being seated at the same time. The meal is such that I believe they only do one seating a night, but it isn’t all at the exact same time – I don’t think they were turning tables during the night, so the guest who had that table had it for the whole night.
The first thing I noticed upon arrival was the uniforms: beautiful grey pinstriped suits for everyone. They even had matching belt buckles that I thought said HvC, but it was actually a Belgium designer who helped create the loom. I was envious, but couldn’t find a tactful way to ask for their belt “Excuse me sir, would you take off your belt”, and I didn’t have time to track down this designer. That’s next on my post trip research plan.
As we sat, a glass of champagne was offered and I don’t think I have ever turned down a glass of quality champagne in my life. Menus were delivered and we had already made up our minds that we’d be doing the full tasting menu with wine pairings. Hell, that’s why we stayed at the double-charge guesthouse. Menus were removed and our glasses were topped off.
Each course progressed the same. A new glass was delivered, then a couple minutes later the wine poured with a brief, yet detailed description of the selection was offered. Then the food arrived with another detailed description, and often details as to why the wine was chosen to pair with the course. Stellar service.
Any detailed questions on the wine were directed back to the sommelier, which I appreciate. You can’t expect servers to be fully versed on all aspects of the wine, that being said, when I asked about the region the wine came from they knew where it was from, some basic characteristics and the neighboring regions. They were definitely ahead of the competition.
The restaurant was celebrating their 30th anniversary, their Golden Anniversary. The tables were decorated with golden accents, many of which were custom created for the occasion by local artists. Even the courses were accompanied by gold garnishes.
The chef joined us for a few minutes midway through our dinner. We had a bit of a communication breakdown. I congratulated him on his 30th anniversary. He paused and asked if we were celebrating our anniversary….which technically we were, so we confirmed. Well, before the main desserts were served, a small cake with a candle came out. The server asks which of us were having our “anniversaire”…which is French for birthday. Ugh. The chef thought we were telling him we were here for a special birthday, not congratulating him. The worst part, this conversation was in English, so I wasn’t butchering the French language. Double ugh. I made Mike blow the candle out and eat the cake immediately. We were both embarrassed.
The other funny part of the even came about ¾ of the way through the meal. I asked the somm if he could call our driver at the appropriate time for a proper pick up. Evidently we had asked WAY TOO EARLY. The driver said to call an hour before we wanted to be picked up. The somm did that oh-so-typical French thing where he looks at you, puffs up his cheeks then slowly blows the air out. It is the equivalent of a less rude eye roll / shoulder shrug. He looks at me and says he’ll take care of it, but worst case scenario the cab is late and we all hang out and they serve us more wine. Yeah, that’s an awful option. The cab arrived before we were ready, but they waited without an additional fee.
Hof van Cleve was such a unique experience. The food was wonderful, but the service really knocked the whole meal out of the park. It was definitely an expensive meal. It wasn’t the most expensive meal I’ve ever had, but it was a close second. This restaurant isn’t for the faint of heart, but I loved it so much more than Steirereck in Vienna, which ranked much higher on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Have you been to Hof van Cleve? Where did you stay? Was your wait staff surprisingly hot? What was your favorite course? Mine was a tie between the Tomato + Rocket + Shrimp Amuse. or King Crab.