Monika reviews Altermezzo restaurant, where a young Belgian chef is creating Michelin-quality food in the unassuming location of Tongeren, Belgium.
Belgium can be a revelation in terms of food. One can find not just good food but Michelin-quality food in the most unassuming places. We went to see the Castle Garden of Alden Biesen, near Tongeren after reading about it right here on CheeseWeb. After the visit to the castle, serendipity led us to this wonderful gastronomic gem, the Altermezzo restaurant.
Not far from the centre of Tongeren, this restaurant presents French-Belgian cuisine with Mediterranean and Asian influences. The menu changes depending upon the seasonal availability of local produce. The very young, enthusiastic chef, Jo Grootaers, specialises in bringing these ingredients to the table, with his own creative imagination and combinations that are sure to delight you. The setting is modern and trendy, with adequate space and ambience for a good conversation that follows the ensuing gastronomic experience.
We decided to try the menu of the day, which turned out to be splendid. I was especially impressed with the first appetiser, a mousse of mackerel served with black quinoa and radish. The thought of combining these foods so amicably, with each retaining their basic flavour and yet, combined in such a unique way is definitely worthy of applause. The mackerel mousse was just right without any extra ‘fishiness’ and paired wonderfully with the quinoa, I didn’t miss any citrusy element that usually accompanies a mackerel mousse. The shrimp broth had a soupy consistency and the delicate taste of shrimps was perfectly offset by the addition of red bell peppers.
The starter was a salmon filet served with Japanese vegetables, sea lettuce and radish, in a Japanese dashi broth. Often salmon is cooked a little bit more than required; to make it chalky and dry, or sometimes it is just not cooked enough. Here, the salmon was cooked brilliantly, with the insides still tender and moist, whereas the surface was treated with a flaming torch to give it a delicious smokiness. Notice the texture of the salmon, brilliant isn’t it? The Japanese dashi broth was made from dried seaweeds and fish flakes and went perfectly with the salmon.
The main course was chicken with smoked celeriac, parsnips, and potato confit, with a juice of sherry and thyme. The chicken was both flavourful and tender while still retaining a firm bite. The chef informed us the chicken is free-range and is specially sourced from France. I particularly liked the distinctive idea of pairing the chicken with root vegetables, whereas the potato confit provided buttery ‘melt in the mouth’ softness.
Our stomachs were full, taste buds tickled, and we were satisfied over an entire afternoon of this first-rate dining experience. But this didn’t stop us from ordering dessert. The dessert was a celebration of pineapple, with a pineapple slice spiced with Espelette pepper and served with sour cream ice cream, pineapple ice cream and dried pineapple. The combination of sour and sweet, interspersed with the icy delight of the ice cream, was a perfect way to end the meal.
Now, this is one restaurant where the focus is on the client having an awesome dining experience. The chef himself explains the dish before each serving and you get the feeling the chef is cooking just for you. The service is good and we were upgraded on the wine as they had run out of the wine we had initially ordered. We ultimately ended up having a 2007 Rivera ‘Il Falcone’ Castel del Monte Riserva, a medium bodied Italian wine with a long finish.
The adeptness in the preparation and the presentation of the food with the use of superior quality of products (free range chicken, red label salmon) makes Altermezzo definitely deserving of the Michelin recommendation. The chef has previously trained at the Michelin restaurant JER, in Hasselt, but more importantly, has the ability to challenge your taste buds while piecing ingredients together so none of the flavours are overwhelming and each stands out distinctly.
I would definitely visit Altermezzo again…it’s one of those restaurants worth leaving Brussels for!