These are my thoughts on my meal here last April.
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Some might be surprised to read that over four hundred years ago, the southern provinces of the Netherlands, along with all Belgium and Luxembourg, were under Spanish rule for nigh onto a century and a half. Indeed, although not a historic amount of time, it was long enough to leave a mark on the tiny town of Sluis, which rests on the south-western rim of Holland, snuggling the Belgian border.
The subtle Spanish stamp that remains can be seen in some of the ongoing onomatolgy of the area; Josés, Marcos and Marias still litter the telephone book. One named in the same vein is native Sergio Herman and he is chef-patron of the three Michelin starred Oud Sluis.
This restaurant, or at least the building, has been in Herman’s family for three generations. It first belonged to his mother’s father, who ran it as a café and barbershop. In the sixties, Herman’s parents, Ronnie and An, took the business over and transformed it into a simple seafood restaurant, Roem Van Holland. Sat beside the Oosterschelde estuary, where those Spaniards once harboured their galleys, Ronnie had direct access to some of Europe’s finest shellfish. Soon enough, he – and his mussel dishes – had gained local fame.
Although young Sergio may have been raised in his father’s restaurant, as a youth, it was not cooking, but football, late nights and ladies that he concerned himself with. That was until Ronnie decided what his son needed was discipline. Thus he sent him to nearby Bruges, where he attended the international culinary school Ter Groene Poorte.
After completing his studies, he had a brief stint at Kaatje Bij de Sluis in Blokzijl before joining celebrated Dutch chef Cas Spijkers as an unpaid intern at De Swaen near Eindhoven. In 1990, a year spent here and having done a stage at El Bulli, his father, falling ill, asked that he return to the family restaurant. Initially the two worked side by side, but slowly his parents allowed him more and more responsibility until three years later, when he was given full control albeit with his parents in the background – his father managing the herb garden and mother doing the dishes.
Herman decided that to go forward a new direction was needed, thus he abandoned the mussel-pan in favour of a more ‘gastronomic’ approach. The chef cites an early visit to Pierre Gagnaire as the moment true creativity was revealed to him, however, it is the molecular cooking of Heston Blumenthal and more so, the Adria brothers (with whom he has stayed in contact) that inspired him most. He also possesses a genuine interest in exotic cuisines, although it is the food of Spain that he is fondest of. ‘Oud Sluis is one large culinary experiment,’ he states, ‘we love the magic of special herbs and spices. Our chefs apply the ‘culinary entertainment’ concept and skilfully play with various textures, different temperatures and surprising presentations. A lot of time and energy is spent in the quest for originality.’ Herman’s approach worked; in 1995, shortly after he started managing the restaurant, Michelin awarded him his first star. The second came in 1999 and the third finally in 2005.
Oud Sluis, almost ironically given that it specialises in seafood, sits in the Beestenmarkt or meat-market, a small square in the centre of this town. The restaurant’s building, once a farmhouse then later a merchant’s home, remains simple and unassuming today. The façade is brilliant alabaster and the terracotta tiled roof, a patchwork of copper and moss. An antique, dark green water pump stands before a great tree that grows only a couple of yards from the front entrance. The perimeter is lined with neatly trimmed square-shaped bushes in addition to the iconic, heavy-set stone post, chiselled with Oud Sluis Restaurant and carrying a red plaque that offers more information.
Within, forty covers are split betwixt two rooms with a smaller one to the left as one enters and larger one to the right. The interior and kitchen have both recently been refurbished; ‘het wordt sexy chic’ according to Herman, ‘the dining area is a big area. The atmosphere I describe as sexy chic with a lot of black colour, a bit of a living room style with special seats of Spanish designers.’ The main space is modern yet comfortable with white woods along the outside wall and light ones panelling those inside. The roof is exposed beam and a wooden column, set in the centre, holds up the middle bar that bears the inscription, ‘Aiensiendoet gedenchen diet dendoit de maegarencken’. French blinds and long cream curtains limit the light let in; ceiling spotlights add brightness. Furnishings are sleek and jet black. Tables are decently spaced and twice-clothed with heavy white linen over drooping beige. They are well-sized, but quite cluttered with a couple of candles, yellow rose in oval vase, stemware, oversized bread plates, promotional literature, olive oil, salt and pepper grinders and their separate raw granules. Crockery is from several makers including Bernaudaud, JL Coquet and Piet Stockmans whilst sundry eating utensils are George Jensen’s. A single blue and white painting that portrays what could well be a swordfish eating its own tail is all that is hung upon the walls. Besides it, there is also a wide yet narrow viewing window into the kitchen – or, Herman proving all habits die hard, maybe into the dining room: ‘the kitchen staff always want to know if any young women are coming in. If there are, the front of house staff seat them at tables three, five and six. That way we in the kitchen get to enjoy the view as well.’
Amuse Bouche 1: Chips de legumes, crème de laitue et sauce BBQ. Three chips came sailing in on a wavy porcelain platter and partnered with herby lettuce-barbecue dip. Lacy, light copper Jerusalem artichoke crisp, splashed with varak – (tasteless) edible silver foil decoration from India popular on special occasions – and vodka diagonals, was almost sticky with increasingly strong savour; peppered beetroot tuile was crackly-thin; and dried sweet potato seasoned with herbs and salt, spicy and pleasantly textured. The sauce, of earthier lettuce and smoky-sweet BBQ, was creamy and well-judged with each ingredient distinct.
Le Pain: Pain au levain. The bread is baked by baker Alex Croquet from Wattignies, just outside of Lille. And it is excellent – toothsome, crunchy, warm and with generous, soft crumb. It is no surprise that Monsieur Croquet, who abhors additives, chemical fertilisers, even tap water, grinds his cereals the old-fashioned way on a millstone and is rumoured to be so protective over his yeast culture that he carries it with him on his travels, is acclaimed by many as France’s best boulanger (Gagnaire and Ducasse are fans). If there remains uncertainty surrounding his superiority, there certainly does not regarding the butter; it is Bordier’s beurre de barrate demi-sel.
Amuse Bouche 2: Sandwich de saumon en gelée de moutarde et d’aneth. The next amuse was distinctly Nordic in nature: a small, upright cube was composed of wafer-thin, seeded rye crackers encasing equally-sized squares of house-cured Scottish salmon and dill-mustard jelly, garnished with sour cream drops implanted with tiny dill sprigs. Brittle upon bite, then creamy and smooth, this was quite delectable. The ingredients were a classic combination, but balanced nicely with good, clean salmon set against spicy-sweet mustard and off-set by tangy cream.
Amuse Bouche 3: Couteau mariné au codium. Almost akin to two boats buoyant upon calm, cornflower blue ocean, a brace of razor clam shells bore codium mousse, salicorne and zostera and the clam itself diced, all sitting in Spanish olive oil. The majestic blue, bright mossy and myrtle greens, mocha beige and golden emerald Arbequina oil made this dish a rather pretty sight. Briny sweet clam was slightly rubbery whilst the samphire salty and herby. Seaweed purée tasted earthy and Catalonian oil added nutty fruitiness. Each element had individual and contrasting flavour that together, though not clashing, failed to synchronise easily.
Amuse Bouche 4: Boulgour a la crème de carottes, salicorne et coques; Maquereau, legerement mariné et artichaut surgelée. A tilted bowl was brought with baked and toasted bulgur, chubby cockles, purslane and salicorne with creams of both as well as of carrot; at the same time, marinated mackerel atop artichoke crème and dotted with lime jelly arrived alongside a cracker topped with beetroot-dusted scoopful of ‘deep-frozen’ artichoke. The curvature of the reflective bowl distorted and inflated the colourful contents interestingly if slightly at the price of practicality, but beyond this, the briny escabeche cockles complemented the saltier samphire and snappy pourpier. Carrot tendered its sweetness and the variations of cracked wheat varied the consistency agreeably. Intense lime jelly cut through the oily yet subtle mackerel as the artichoke cream lifted both. The additional artichoke mousse was rather cold and earthy.
Amuse Bouche 5: Tomate, basilic, anchois et olives; Huitre, vinaigrette au kaffir et yaourt Thailandais. A second double-dish presentation comprised peeled tomato with anchovy cream and various structures of basil and olive on a shiny metallic plate, its edges curled towards the ceiling; and a transparent (fish-) bowl, its base filled with Thai yoghurt embedded with Zeeland oyster over which lay assorted toasted grains with green and purple shiso, mizzled with kaffir lime vinaigrette. The first melange was very Mediterranean and another very traditional teaming, although there was a twist in the multiple forms that the basil (snow, leaf, mousse) and olive (cake, tuile, tapenade, gel, raw) came in. This complexity, initially intriguing, became meaningless after discovering it tasted rather dulled. The second portion was better. Kaffir lime added exotic acidity to the local oyster that had a hint of sea sweetness to it. The bivalve and yoghurt was an unusual pairing, but worked nicely. Grains were again used to add some crunch.
Entrée 1: Saint Jacques marinées, ficoïde glaciale, bergamote, fenouil et vinaigre de chardonnay. Olive oil and soy sauce marinated scallop was sliced thrice, each piece carrying a pale green disc of fennel crème crowned with a darker spot of ficoïde glaciale cream, a little of its leaf and tiny tuile circle. At one end of the wide bowl, scallop tartare topped shredded spring onion and fennel whilst, on the other, two smears of fennel (lighter) and ficoïde glaciale (darker) mousse scaled the side of the plate; olive oil, chardonnay vinegar jelly stabbed with baby bergamot leaf, the bergamot’s maroon blossom and its powder were all sprinkled throughout. The pureed ficoïde had salty tang that was countered by the anise-sweetness of the fennel. Slices of this same vegetable, along with the mild onion and brittle tuiles, supplied crackly texture. The minty-citrus of the bergamot shone through very strongly here, followed by the bright, fruity-tart chardonnay. Unfortunately, the sweetness of the scallop was lost.
Entrée 2: Langoustine légèrement fumée et marinée, betterave rouge et radis. Radish – shoots, slices, carved tops, leaves – beetroot – raw, gelée, meringue, microgreens, powder – and cress – seeds, sprigs – salad was served strewn across the spacious circumference on one half of the plate; as these greens encircled a small lake of beet and truffle oils, on their cusp was set a smoked langoustine on its back whilst a cannelloni of langoustine tartare wrapped in beet jelly was nestled amidst them. Fat and sweet, the shellfish was a superb specimen; cooked just right, one could feel its stringy encircling tendons snap upon bite. Its tartare was decent, although did not have as much or as pleasing savour as the cooked. Much worse, the raw beetroot and radish were actually disagreeable; they had become so dry that they were astringent. Additionally, the truffle was not at all sapid and the dish, as a whole, somewhat under-seasoned.
Entrée 3: Crumble de foie d’oie. A nugget of goose liver terrine coated with crispy rice, more of these grains, hazelnut sawdust and crushed Pedro Ximinez meringue covered a concealed sub-layer of this same sherry’s granité and green apple ice cream; atop the crumble, nitrogen-frozen pearls of foie d’oie were scattered whilst larger meringue flakes and tuiles studded it. As if having shot up from some soil, the upstanding pea tendrils added life and a natural context to the aspect. The larger foie fragment was silky and intense, its granular crust a contrast; the smaller beads disappeared on the tongue, leaving behind the same, clear flavour. Pedro Ximinez, a dark, sweet dessert sherry, was indeed potent. The buried apple was cool, sweetly-tart and rather useful in tempering the overlaying components, some of which were, when tried individually, just too strong to enjoy. Taken altogether though, these proved surprisingly pleasant.
Entrée 4: Huître de Zélande au concombre, artichaut et pourpier, vinaigrette de fleur de sureau; croquante. A threesome of skinny cucumber slices and two miniature mounds of artichoke mousse were arranged around a poached Zeeland oyster smeared in sabayon; pourpier blades, cucumber cream dots and elderflower vinaigrette dressed the dish. Gigas by name, gigas by nature, the warm pacific oyster from the Oosterschelde was juicy and plump. Its subtle elemental-fruitiness was a good match with citrus elderflower whilst the lemony sabayon had real zing. Like the succulent purslane, cucumber was very refreshing and a very fine addition.
A second side-plate was presented with a ‘crunchy’ oyster. Its shell, sculpted from the oyster’s juice, encased diced bivalve, apple and fennel drizzled with elderflower and was finished off with nitro-boules of oyster crème. Crackly, moist, acidic and mineral, this was a tasty morsel.
Plat principal 1: Asperges blanches de Zélande, jaune d’oeuf légèrement fumée, crème de morilles et macaron à la bière, homard et jus de Bernardus et citron vert. Smoked sous-vide egg yolk with caviar crest of Italian Oscietra, morels, Bernardus whitbier macaron with lobster tartare middle and slow-cooked Zeeland lobster propping up Zeeland white asparagus all came clustered in the centre of an oval dish sitting in a sauce of mushroom, whitbier and lime. Black truffle dotted one side of the plate, but was utterly vapid. The huge yolk was thick and toothsome, however, the caviar, farmed in northern Italy, was absolutely horrid – salty and fishy. In contrast, the white asparagus was nutty sweet and the morels, flavoursome, if not particularly large. The hollandaise sauce, a nod to the country within which we were, was spicy and tasty; sadly though, the macaron, which was sitting in this, had become soggy because of it. Disregarding that fact, it was light yet concentrated. Bernardus whitbier is a Belgian abbey wheat-beer from Watou, allegedly made with water that fell at the time of Joan of Arc; like with other Belgian whitbier (as opposed to German Weißbiere) various exotic spices had been added including orange, lemon and coriander. This citrus element was in concord with the lime of the sauce. The local lobster, also from the Oosterschelde, is a distinct variety of the European family which has developed in this isolated estuary; it was difficult to distinguish it here though.
Plat principal 2: Couscous épicé au crabe, crambe maritime et zostère, vinaigrette de ‘fingerlime’ et jus de crabe et épices. Stems of seagrass, sea kale swirled around them, sprouted out from a clutch of cracked wheat scattered with Cromer crab and fingerlime; adjacent stood a column of more crabmeat bound within green sea kale leaf. Tableside, a spiced crab broth was poured overtop, which was thick, rich and rather lovely. Salty-sweet seagrass was crisp, whilst the kale’s blades resembled cabbage though the stems were milder – both had faint nuttiness that married well with the crunchy wheat. The fingerlime, essentially bushfood, is an Australian fruit filled with small, sour, effervescent caviar-like capsules. This was acidic and delicious. Regrettably, the flavour of the crabmeat was unable to be found.
Plat principal 3: Agneau de Lozère, barbecue aux tomates et assortiment de courgettes, burrata, basilic frais et roquette, jus d’agneau épicé. Spread with pesto and seated upon polenta, double-cut, French cutlet and braised shoulder of Lozère lamb, with various varieties of tomato, basil, rocket and courgette, formed a circular ring around a puddle of olive oil into which the meat’s jus roti was ladled at the table. Initially, the appearance of the not-inconsiderable lamb chop pleased. Lamentably, looks are not always what they seem: the outside was cooked too much, the inside cooked too little and the uncrisped fat left limp and oily. It was decidedly sorrowful. The out-of-season tomatoes (red zebra, Coeur de boeuf, Roman jaune), courgettes and patty pan did not fare much better bar one of the structures of courgette spaghetti that was texturally appealing at least.
As this dish was nearly done, before the crockery cleared, the serveur delivered a small demitasse containing burrata doused in a little olive oil and covered with a thin, cloudy disc of clarified tomato jelly. The cheese was decent, but again the tomato was unnoticeable. What was more worrying was the timing of its arrival. At first, I accepted that it may have been intentionally served late, possibly as a sort of palate cleanser – after all, dairy does often accompany meat in some cultures to aid its digestion. Since this meal however, I have learned that it ought to have came together with the lamb. They had simply forgotten to plate it.
Dessert 1: ‘Chocolate Rocks’, galangal, menthe et citron vert. Two rolling mountains of mint and vanilla custard, overlaid with chocolate mousse then completely carpeted with choc dusting, were separated by lime ice cream atop sablé biscuit, besprinkled with cocoa powder; galangal gel, mint leaves, broken meringue and more cocoa littered the plate. The chocolate mousse (Valrhona guanaja 70%) had deep, dark savour with velvety, almost ethereal lightness; the concealed custard mellowed the choc above whilst providing substance. Spicy galangal was a very good touch, sizzling on the tongue. Meringue crumbs were sugary and the ice cream faintly tart.
Dessert 2: ‘Blanc pur’, riz, coco et cheese-cake, mangue épicée. Four ring-shaped meringues formed an ascending staircase, sprayed with lactic acid dust and set atop a smear of cheesecake cream; the first rung was rice pudding crème, the following, coconut macaron and lime emulsion, mango jus locked in a white chocolate sphere and finally, coconut sorbet with crumble and sugar tuile. The rice pudding had agreeable graininess; the second step, creamy sweetness; and eating the third, spicy mango exploded from its choc bubble. The cool sorbet was only average. Lactic acid added an interesting sour note to the dessert, although the cheesecake itself was insipid.
Dessert 3: ’Trois herbes’, basilic, citron-mélisse, verveine, fleur d’oranger transparente et poudre d’amande. A trinity of cold quenelles – dark lemon balm granité, lighter basil cream, pastel verbena sorbet – each delineated by their original leaves, were decorated with a shiny sugar blade and copper strands, almond biscuit branches, soil-like golden granola and drops of orange blossom water. The lemony, herby scoops each had slightly different, distinctive taste and texture, whilst the additional elements contributed crunch and snap. The fragrant and citrus-sweet fleur d’oranger stood out especially. The arrangement here was clearly meant to be light-hearted and whimsical, but it left a markedly gimmicky impact – the elements appeared plastic and simplistic, even though much work had obviously been required to produce this little course.
Petit Fours 1: Chocolat blanc et fruit de la passion. A rocky sphere of white chocolate, powdered with icing sugar, held crystallised passion fruit within. After a firm bite, the thick and creamy choc gave way to icy fruit, which had a solid tart kick to it.
Petit Fours 2: Abricot et lait de soja; et tuile de rhubarbe. Upon a sweet cracker, apricot crème sat with soy milk ice cream, one studded with gold leaf (whose semblance to some sort of archaic medicine-man on bended knee I could not ignore), the other with sugar tuiles. The soy had rich, milky creaminess which provided an adequate foil to the apricot’s sugary confit-like savour.
The long rhubarb sugar stick had an awkward sourness that was quickly replaced by sugary sweetness.
Migniardises: Gelée de cassis; crème de pistache; duo; boule de café; sandwich de chocolate avec tonka; chocolat de cabernet sauvignon; et meringue de citron vert. A wooden box brought several elaborate sweet samples on black and white slabs. Jammy, tart blackcurrant cylinder was topped with baby meringues of raspberry and tart yoghurt; pistachio tyre was appetising yet its elderflower jelly drops were not; and white and dark chocolate sandwich had strange jellied consistency. Dry spuma of coffee came with weak vanilla cream; crunchy chocolate cake had aromatic tonka and nutty base; and floral verbena meringue, lime zing. Dominique Personne of the Chocolate Line in Bruges (an old friend of Herman’s since hospitality school) supplies both Oud Sluis and other local three-star Hof Van Cleve with a signature piece. Here it is the ‘Oud Sluis caramel’; a chocolate truffle with cabernet sauvignon vinegar – its domed shell was nicely crisp, its base filled with pine nuts, but the liquid centre far too harsh.
It was an fascinating experience with the staff today. There may have been indigenous cultural issues at play I was unaware of, but the serveurs – all gentlemen, all fairly young – were distinctly glum. The service was indeed professional, efficient and thorough, but it was confusing too. Words were friendly, engaging and inquisitive, but faces were grim, smiles conspicuously absent. To the contrary, the mood in the restaurant was much livelier and sociable; an adjacent table of older Dutch ladies who lunch were even keen to start a conversation, asking our opinion of the food.
Sadly, my opinion was not a high one. Lunch started well. A series of five amuses bouche, more if you count each component plate separately, was generous, curious and, especially in the cases of the sandwich de saumon, boulgour a la crème de carottes, and huitre, vinaigrette au kaffir, tasty. Saint Jacques, crumble de foie d’oie and huître de Zélande were decent as well, but not faultless. The langoustine dish amidst these was disappointing given the shellfish’s quality whilst the asperges blanches de Zélande was really just wrong. The agneau de Lozère was just as bad, but the difference between them was that the lamb could have been a good dish with better cooking and served in season whilst the asparagus and lobster was poorly thought through – the dreadful caviar, the poor lobster-egg combo. It is difficult to judge which of these two was worse. It was actually the course in between them that I enjoyed most, the couscous épicé au crabe. This was spicy, warm and bursting with flavour. Desserts were again not of great standard; for all their complexity, they were just not particularly memorable. Petit fours and mignardises finished the meal in the manner that it commenced – pleasantly and liberally bestowed.
The amount of time, energy and effort that was incontestably and commendably expended on every dish, from appetisers to mains to petit fours, was satisfying to see. From the first plate presented – chips de legumes – it was clear that this was a serious kitchen keen to impress: three crisps, each made of a different vegetable and by a different method; furthermore, something unexpected was also included with the eye-catching varak. Everything followed in this same spirit, each course meticulously, painstakingly prepared. During only the amuses, bulgur was toasted and cooked; then five forms of olive were paired with three of basil; and almost all the entrées and plats principal showed off their principal ingredient two ways – scallop (carpaccio/tartare); langoustine (smoked/tartare); foie d’oie (terrine/frozen); and the list repeats like this until the lamb (braised/roasted).
Another interesting element of Herman’s cooking is the juxtaposition of something local with something exotic. This is a typical Belgian tendency (Sluis is considered the most Flemish of Dutch towns…) and has its roots in the historic influx of foreign goods that arrived in these countries from their former colonies. ‘In Belgium and France, there is such a heavy food culture. In Holland, it's different. Since we have no culture for food, we are free,’ feels the chef. Therefore, he draws on what was once Holland’s own empire – much of modern-day Indonesia. From that region, there were native ingredients like kaffir lime, galangal and mango. Such products were married with Zeeland’s own produce in recipes that included oyster with yaourt Thailandais, Cromer crab with fingerlime and so on. The chef’s affection for Spain was also felt through the Arbequina olive oil, escabeche cockles, Pedro Ximinez and fleur d’oranger; although Italy’s incidence was just as strong. All the same, one of the real highlights was being able to taste the area’s own bounty, so their firm presence was appreciated and the chef’s determination to use them, encouraging.
Lunch was also light. Herman, by and large, eschews traditional sauces, stocks and the application of butter in favour of olive oils and acidity. This lifts the meal and makes it easier to relish the many morsels presented.
Of course, not all was well. Unfortunately, there is also an inevitable downside to such intensively laboured-over dishes – the odds of an error occurring, of sloppiness creeping in, are increased while maintaining the bar becomes only harder. The kitchen employs around thirty-five chefs, which is one cook per customer, but such are the recipes here, that this may not be sufficient. The cooking was, on the whole, faultless, except for two errors in execution that ruined those two particular dishes. With the langoustine légèrement fumée, the raw radish and beetroot slices were so acetic that they overwhelmed the fine prawn. They seemed to have dried out waiting, maybe, to be plated, but I am certain something additional must have been added to taint them thus. The agneau de Lozère, on the other hand, was blighted by blunder: the cuisson, frightfully careless and plating, slapdash. Admittedly, the absence of the burrata was but a minor oversight, which could have been overlooked had it not compounded an already dire dish. It may be argued though that there was some minor merit in their attempted reconciliation of this slip. A smaller flaw in the asperges blanches de Zélande was that the macaron, because it sat amidst the sauces, became sodden. This was in fact only fixed after my visit with the macaroon then delivered in a separate side-dish instead.
The issue with the langoustine – the auxiliary elements savours’ subsuming those of the chief ingredient – seemed a prominent one. The same trouble was also seen with the saint Jacques, homard and crabe. Regarding the first and last, at least these were sill satisfying as they were, but surely one would expect them to have been even better had they been delivered with better balance; otherwise why include those components if they were not to be allowed or able to express themselves. One other feature common to many courses was the almost compulsory inclusion of something crunchy, which sometimes came over more desperate than well-intentioned. This complaint was exacerbated by the fact that this ‘something crunchy’ was often some sort of grain variant or, even more consistently, circular toasted tuiles – it was far too repetitive, agitating actually. There is a more trivial remark to be made regarding the amuses too – although rather decent, these had not largely changed since January, five months prior. For somewhere that prides itself on being exciting and dynamic, this did not fit that formula. On a final note, I was disappointed by the desserts; shiny, plastic and sugary, they simply seemed almost toy-like and not in a charming, whimsical way. All these were not problems of execution, but of design.
I have tried to justify the mediocre quality of the meal – and only because friends have written unanimously well of their own experiences here – but I have been unable to. There were some signs of hope in the good ingredients, hard working kitchen and enticing combinations, however there was also imprecision in construction and implementation, all coupled with the rather sombre mood within which the food was served. In an attempt at their defence, I mention that Oud Sluis had only recently reopened after their Easter holiday. Could there have been some rustiness leftover from their rest or perhaps post-break blues? It is immaterial: the restaurant was open and I was charged full price. There has been mention in Dutch press of Herman wishing to expand his business, with Antwerp and Amsterdam thrown about as possible destinations for a second venture – ‘it is important for me to grow a little bit – to have new challenges, so I remain sharp.’ There has even been talk of him relocating altogether to Ibiza, although it is ‘nothing more’ than talk, he attests.
Whatever the cause behind this seeming lack of focus, what was worthy noting was that literally a couple of days later, Herman and his maître d'hôtel were leaving for London. They would be dining at Hakkasan and Fat Duck, but the real reason for their excursion was the announcement presentation of San Pellegrino’s ‘Worlds 50 Best Restaurants’. Unbeknownst to anyone there (I presume…), we were dining at the twenty-ninth best restaurant in the world.