Recently, we finally found time to have a proper lunch in Het Gebaar, although just before we did we were at rather a low ebb having just survived a week on not much more than bananas and crackers after being felled by a bad cold. So lunch at Roger van Damme’s for our first proper meal… that’s an extra reason to really let ourselves go!
Now, Roger van Damme needs no introduction. Thanks to his restaurant – Het Gebaar – and several television series the whole of Flanders has developed even more enthusiasm for patisserie. But Het Gebaar offers far more than just toothsome artistry. You can expect a lunchtime experience that represents perfection from A to Z, from the snacks, to the main meals and drinks. All in all it’s certainly worth the Michelin Star it’s been awarded.
This restaurant nestles in a small oasis of peace in Antwerp’s city centre. The restaurant has its own herb garden with a suitably fairy-tale castle, and inside it’s classically stylish.
We felt welcome immediately as our host Cindy led us to a cosy round table by the window, where we enjoyed an aperitif – a glass of champagne. We didn’t have long to wait to sample the first bites.
If you think curried chicken pieces are the very definition of dull; well you’ll be wrong here because from the first bite you can taste this is the chef’s very own interpretation of curried chicken. The chicken itself is cooked slowly and extremely tender, while the texture of the puffed steamed rice and the crispy chicken skin finish things off perfectly.
With an eye on all the delicious things that were on the way, we decided we’d share a starter. The tartare of Albacore tuna was unbelievably smooth and so tender it virtually melted in the mouth. Crispy red beet meringue and puréed avocado with cress made for a fresh and balanced dish. If any such thing as perfection of flavour actually exists then this dish probably comes closest to it.
Time for the first main dish: pan-fried sweetbreads with scallops served with autumn vegetables, potato croquettes accompanied by hazelnut and apple-beer sauce, all topped off with autumn truffle. The crusty outside of the sweetbread makes a wonderful contrast with the delicate flavour and softer texture of the scallops and the mushrooms do justice to the truffle. The suggested accompaniment was a glass of Rosi Schuster (Burgenland, Austria, 2012, 100% Blaufränkisch).
The next course was North Sea sole à la meuniere with mashed potatoes, tomato-prawns and variously concocted tomatoes. How such a classic, which so depends on the quality of the ingredients, can be so exciting! The appropriate white wine was a 2014 Sigalas Santorini from Greece (75% Asirtiko, 25% Athiri).
Then came the high point of our luncheon – the dessert! A quarter of an hour’s work went into each plate but the result was truly more than worth the wait, because it met our excited expectations completely.
A definite “must” in Het Gebaar is the Komedieplaats of Antwerp. It’s the chef’s signature dish, inspired by the restaurant’s location. You can’t describe it better than it appears on the menu: “The dessert for fashionistas and sweet-tooths is a handbag made of caramel and hazelnut milk chocolate, tiramisu packed into a suitcase and a shiny court shoe of chocolate and lemon mousse. Continuing the theme of the Comedy Playhouse with lemon and Bailey’s ice cream with biscuits that make you feel at home in the city. The wine was a 2010 Aryanas, David Naturalmente dulce, which is a 100% Merlot.
Then came another dessert that was so beautifully presented that you’d scarcely dare to eat it. Celebration 20 is a unique dessert that Roger Van Damme has developed to mark the 20th anniversary of Het Gebaar. It’s made up of Roger’s favourite flavours prepared in his favourite ways; raspberry, yoghurt, strawberry, basil, violets and milk chocolate. We drank a Zonnegloed infusion tea with it, specially selected by Ann Van Steenkiste of Curiosithee.
We finished up with an Espresso and a Verbena tisane. And of course there were irresistible delicacies…