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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tortue du Sablon

The day: 11th October 2008, Lunch.

The place: Rue de Rollebeek 31 (Sablon) – 10000 Bruxelles

The venue: La Tortue du Sablon

The food: ‘Our cook proposes you refined cooking using lobsters, fishes, grilled meats and game (during the season) but also the most famous Belgian dishes.’

Airport: From London use the Eurostar.

The drinks: Simple, well-priced wine list, and some beers.

2.30 p.m. in Bruxelles, hunger biting and veering toward desperation, we spot in this most touristy, boutique and restaurant littered, Rue de Rollebeek a restaurant that has one reassuring quality: it does not display on its window any endorsement by any guide, none whatsoever, and yet it has an enticing menu. One worrying sign is that it is open all day – but Rules is too, and we’d be very content to find food of Rules quality here. We go in to find the room completely empty, and the only waiter/manager obviously make us seat near the window in the hope of triggering a chain reaction when the passers-by note these two celebrities in the dining room…(it won’t happen, but there’ll be a couple of more tables occupied – oh my, do these Belgians eat late!).

The room is prettily set up,

with a bar area, shells and nautical mementoes all over, and some promisingly alive shellfish in a vat keeping us company while we wait. A large mirror allows the waiter to spy these two strange fellows who keep taking notes.

On the menu, lots of seafood, e.g. among the suggestions Coquilles St. Jacques fraiches a l’huil d’ Argan (€24.50), Langoustines grille a la paprika doix et tagliatelles noire (€29), and many types of moules (in the mid-twenties). On the regular menu, the entrees features a sumptuous sounding Carpaccio de homard (lobster), St. Jacques et crabes aux essences balsamiques truffee (€29) and ‘les plats’ propose a Maigret de canard aux 6 epices, sauce gingembre, citron vert confit at €25.50. To us this is all very enticing. There are also some reasonably price menus, from long tasting ones to quicker lunch ones).

While mulling, the bread appears:

Well, no variety but it’s a bread basket at least, as we like, and it’s not bad. A nice looking butter accompanies it, but we confess we do not eat butter and therefore we could not tell its quality.

Oooh, an amuse bouche:

A scallop with oregano olive oil: it’s marinated, with (half of) the scallop still attached to the shell. It’s very fresh, and in very good olive oil: we begin to be happy.

For starters we have:

- Tartare de thon a la coriander et aux aromates (€15.50)

- Ravioli de Homard Cressoniere (€17.00)

The tuna is excellent. Cut coarsely, with coarse salt grains and honey, it is a delicious interplay of flavours, and most light, too. And as usual, Man falls for the nice presentation.

The ravioli themselves are very fine, and generously filled, expressing the lobster intensely. The accompanying sauce, with finely chopped tomatoes and herbs, is accomplished, very balanced and it truly elevates the dish. Once again, we (well, Man you know) find the presentation a gentle treat for the eye. We are not easy to please with ravioli, and certainly these are not Italian style ravioli, but how good!

And the mains:

- Trilogie de poissons du marche’ aux pistils du saffron (€22.50)

- Thon Grille’, taglaitelles de celeri, essence balsamique (€24.50).

The tuna is a very, very thick chunk. The waiter cannot tell where it comes from, it only says ‘it’s of sushi quality’ (for godsake, how can a waiter, possibly the manager, in restaurant of this level not know such basic information, nor offer to find out?). It’s just slightly less succulent and moist than we’d like. There is a discussion (to which the waiter/manager does not participate) whether this is due to the quality of the tuna (Woman) or the ability of the cook (Man). The vegetable ‘tagliatelle’ are delightful, and the sauce is pleasant, too (there is tomato but also much acidity, vinegar perhaps?).

The three fishes are advertised by the nice hapless waiter as salmon, mullet and cod, but there is in fact no salmon. It looks like hake. We are ravished by the pungent celeriac mash with mustard seeds, which complements the many vegetables (green beans, broccoli, carrots, mangetout) very well. And a different layer of flavour is provided by the remarkably intense saffron sauce (certainly they did not skimp on saffron here). Ah, we were forgetting the fish: fresh, good, with the mullet in the outstanding category. A very good dish, which would be even better with a different selection of fish.

We have no dessert (we were coming from an excellent dinner in Rotterdam – of all places-, and were beginning to get anxious about our waistlines). So, with a bottle of half a litre white wine on offer at €20.50 (an excellent Montravel Chateau Fyol-Luzac 2007), and Vittel water, the total is a reasonable €106,. to which we add a generous tip which we hope will be spent on a course on tuna provenance.

We have been teasing the waiter (he really could not possibly have been the front room manager), but in the end he was a quite sweet, polite and charming fellow. He just wasn’t briefed. We also had to take him out of the restaurant to persuade him that the menu displayed outside was not the same as the menu he had given us. Although La Tortue does not boast about any named chef, we thought there was some extremely accomplished cooking going on here, far superior to that of many a named chef we have been sampling of late (right, Mr. Pomata?). They may have not been the greatest culinary inventions in the world, but whoever conceived them certainly knows a thing or two about assembling flavours and presenting them in an appealing way. This was very sound French cuisine using fresh, good raw materials: a combination that made for a very satisfying lunch.


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