Taking The Time To Savour
A weekend of slow exploration in Bruges means you return home feeling healthy and revitalised
The pace of any holiday often depends on its duration. If it’s a weekend mini break, your packed itinerary might have you charging around a city. Whereas on a longer trip you can afford to slow down and explore slowly, punctuating the time with frequent stops to eat and drink.
Visiting a city like Bruges – even if for just 48 hours – demands a leisurely pace. The ancient Belgian city offers a wealth of cultural and dining options, and is famous for beer, chocolates and diamonds. But arguably it’s best take-home is the feeling it promotes: to take your time and enjoy life.
Whether it’s climbing the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry to savour the view from the top, ambling around the charming cobbled streets or sampling the nuances of different beers, here the emphasis is on the quality of experience rather than the number of experiences you can amass.
Nowhere is this more evident than the food scene. Tellingly, there’s no such thing as a ‘street food’ culture here. Why grab and rush a meal, when you could make it the culmination of a relaxing day well-spent?
In the small town of Zedelgem, just a few kilometres from Bruges, restaurant Hertog Jan creates the kind of plates that remain lodged in the memory for years to come. Flavour combinations, such as cream of potato and coffee with vanilla and Mimolette cheese from Lille, are as unique as they are delicious.
The duo behind Hertog Jan, Chef Patron Gert De Mangeleer and Restaurant Manager and Head Sommelier Joachim Boudens, began their partnership in 2005.
They relocated the restaurant to its current site in 2014, moving into a converted 180-year old barn where the gloriously light dining room looks out over the extensive vegetable garden. They organically produce many herbs, vegetables and flowers – including over 60 types of tomato – providing over 95% of the fresh produce used in the kitchen.
This fact is underlined by a memorable signature dish called ‘a walk through the garden’, which is one of a handful usually kept on the ever-changing menu. A beautifully colourful plate, it features vegetables and herbs, including turnip, radish, courgette flower, yellow beet, cress, beetroot, garlic flowers, cauliflower, marigold flowers and cucumber, all grown on site. It’s simplicity celebrates the quality of the ingredients and encourages the guest to enjoy it slowly and with appreciation.
Other stand-out dishes include foie gras and liquorice meringues, langoustine ravioli with pumpkin and passion fruit, and wagyu steak with red cabbage and fermented garlic. The final main course – hay roasted duck – is sublime.
After the meal guests are encouraged to explore the gardens with a glass of homemade chai tea to ruminate on the experience.
Service is impeccable, and the pace of the meal is distinctly and proudly leisurely – taking around five hours to unfold if you have the full menu. Of course, it’s not every day nor every month you will be able to. But every once in a while, there is no bigger treat than to eat an unforgettable meal in sumptuous surroundings and celebrate being alive.
After which all that remains is to stroll through Bruges before unwinding into sleep. The chic, comfortable and unpretentious Monsieur Ernest sits on the bank of the canal in a quiet street in the historical centre. It’s the perfect spot to reflect on the importance of taking the time to soak up new experiences. We might not always be able to avoid the deadlines, diary-commitments and the dreaded alarm clock, but occasionally switching off means we are all the better at switching back on.
For more information visit www.hertog-jan.com.
To book Monsier Ernest visit www.monsieurernest.com
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