Lunch at Humus & Hortense.
Some years ago, I found myself in Brussels on a little get away week-end with my sister. What we had not taken into account was that the whole week-end was a national holiday and the rain would not stop pouring down. With everything closed and in the impossibility of simply wandering around we resorted to the two activities we could think of : eating, and going to the movies.
Following that disappointing trip, my mental image of Brussels was always a grey mush of boredom and met with the prospect of returning I would answer with a look of disbelief and unexcited pout.
Except maybe...if it were to have lunch at Humus&Hortense. I had been following their work for some time, a tasting menu, fully vegetarian, using organic local produce and with an interesting drink pairing. So last week-end, as I planned my first return to Brussels in years to visit an old friend, it was my only requirement, and one that was met with enthusiasm.
From the pictures I had seen pop up all around the internet I expected a massive art deco room that would scream its name, but truth is we walked past without noticing it and had to look a bit harder. The room was much smaller than I expected it, but the mix of old school ceiling paintings and modern shelves filled with books and liquor bottles was there.
More surprising however, was the fact that the kitchen seemed almost empty, the rhythm very slow. However, the dishes started arriving quite fast. The fixed menu is always a great option for people who hate having to choose, that's us, and we opted for the four course lunch for 34€ per person. Add to that a glass of natural wine for 8€ (which seemed slightly overpriced compared to the food, but was very good) and the bill reaches around 45€ per person.
The amuse-bouche was good, although not incredibly exciting : a carrot hummus with crackers. Though the crackers, a specialty of the house I understood, were really good : light and crisp.
After that, the first dish quickly followed : mozzarella di buffala, a rhubarb tartare that tasted slightly sweet and sour and a pumpkin seed praliné. Freshness, acidity, crunch and sweetness always work on me : we licked the plates clean and looked at each other with content.
From then on, I knew I had not been mistaken in my obsession. The bread and butter : simple but always delicious when both are good well sourced. The cute ceramics they came on did a lot in turning those secondary roles into show stealing ones.
The second starter a "Pho" revisited tasted nothing like Pho but delicious nonetheless : simple blanched vegetables on which a light broth was poured. The flavors were clean, fresh and pure, more citrusy than meaty which was absolutely fine by me, and the soba noodles soft and thin, almost slippery.
The main course was almost deceivingly simple, something I could make on a weeknight for dinner : a cooked grain (here a spelt couscous), some roasted cauliflower, steamed pak choy and pomegranate. But the trick lay in the sauce, a sort of hollandaise I believe, buttery and lemony, perfectly seasoned that came to bind all of the dish together : the combination of richness, char and slight acidity turned something simple into a very satisfying dish.
The real surprise, and what will probably stick in my mind the longest, was the dessert. For someone who doesn't like sweets that much this was perfect : the hay ice cream tasted exactly of that (which cannot be said of the others I have had in the past), it was creamy and woody, and perfectly balanced off by the herbs and crackers. The various textures and flavors came to life in a perfect ensemble : herbaceous, crispy, onctuous, earthy... The sugar content was very low and in line with the fresh flavor profile of the rest of the meal.
All in all, a very good meal where vegetables shine and produce is king. The food here walks a fine line between simple rustic dishes and an airy elegance. The flavors are fresh, pure, in line with what the greatest restaurants offer these days.
You can also read more about their philosophy on their website as they have a strict sourcing policy, work closely to the producers and aim to be as sustainable as possible.
I would add though that for the full Humus Hortense experience I really believe it is better to attend dinner and book the full tasting menu, along with their signature cocktails (the Hortense to Humus & Hortense).