L’Air du Temps – Haute Cuisine with Touches of Korea


One of the most exciting places I have dined lately is the L’Air du Temps in Belgium. I was invited here in connection with my visit to The Flemish Primitives event.

The restaurant is owned and run by Sang-Hoon Degeimbre and his wife Carine and it holds 2 stars in the Michelin guide. It’s located south-east from Brussels. L’Air du Temps is an incredible story of Korea-born and Belgium-raised Sang-Hoon who first started to cook professionally the day he opened the L’Air du Temps restaurant. This was on the 1st of July 1997.

Sang-Hoon

Sang-Hoon has his own style and signature and he mixes French traditions with modern techniques and spices the dishes with influences from the Korean cuisine. Experiencing San’s cooking, it’s incredible to think that he is in fact self-taught. Even though he is not trained as a chef, his technical skills are superior and he masters the latest, molecular-influenced techniques – this sets him free to explore his own paths. I had the feeling that each dish had sprung directly from San’s subconscious or fantasy, and even though I know it’s hard work to transform ideas into food, it just seemed so easy for San to project his thoughts onto the plate. That in it self is a huge accomplishment.

Okay, first the appetizers…

Jus de mandarine

Bulle de soju

Riz soufflé et mayonnaise de crevettes grises

Petit anchois soufflé

Couteau en voile d’eau de coquillage coriandre et gingembre, Norinaise

Praline de fois gras praliné, Concentré d’expresso passion, Parfum de sapin

The foie gras was especially delicious. The foie gras and the coffee flavours just suit each other so well and I love the combination.

Bread, butter and olive oil

Langoustine mouchoir de crevettes et daikon á manger avec les doigts

Serviette au Vétiver

And now on the the actual courses…


Bo Ssam
Lard bellota, Choux saumurés, Huitre, Mousseline

I loved San’s re-design of the classic Korean meat-wrapped-in-vegetables. Here, the meat was oysters, and they worked perfectly in conjunction with the Spanish lard topped with powerful Kimchi. The cabbage added bitterness and it all just came together in a most yummy way.

Cendré
Lieu jaune á la cendre d’Aubergines

The pollock rolled in ash was pure and delicate and perfectly cooked. Simply of superb quality. On the piece of aubergine rested two crispy shrimp with an intense, almost nutty flavour, enhanced by the shrimp juice. Simply delicious – one of the highlights and really my kind of dish: Simple, balanced and with produce of perfect quality.

Korean inspired
Maquerau au doen jang, Broccoli et romanesco au colza, Dashi d’anchois séchés

More fish, this time a mackerel with broccoli and anchovies. The mackerel was very fresh and not fatty in the typical mackerel way.


Parfums de sous bois
Pomme de terre á la sphaigne, Curcuma et herbes sauvages

Baked potatoes with moss and herbs. To my taste, the potato was a bit on the raw side.

Illusion
Oeuf d’asperges aux truffes

Green asparagus with eggs and truffles. Smooth, simple, tasty and balanced dish combining three ingredients that always goes together well.


Brume
Saint jacques et jets de houblon, Mousseline á la trappiste

Trappiste de Westvleteren (beer)

As scallops are everywhere, they are only fun when done perfectly. These were, and the combination with the hobs and the mousseline made from Belgian trappiste beer worked great. A clean, nutty taste – although the beer mousseline tended to overwhelm the delicate scallops. Could be balanced by eating less of the mousseline with each bite, though.

Ton rouge
Hommage par l’absence avec la couleur de l’urgence, Umami taste

Well, how to interpret this enigmatic title. A hommage to the absence of what – and with the colour of emergency? Maybe ‘Ton rouge’ is meant as a word play on ‘Thon Rouge’ and the absence is that of tuna? I even don’t know what to think of the taste. Definitely a refreshing dish, but mysterious and hard to define. Maybe the colour of the jus (changing from blue to red) made it hard for me to combine what my eyes and my palate sensed.

Chimère : l’oeuf de poulpe
Textures de noir

A constructed, poached-like egg and octopus with a rice crisp coloured black with squid’s ink. A visual black and white masterpiece that exploded in yellow as the egg was cut and the yolk poured out to add colour to the blackness. Excellent.

Déclinaison
Agneau alterné de panoufles au citron et poivron rouge, Mousse d’ail des ours

Maybe the most delicious lamb’s meat I’ve ever had. I’m a bit difficult with lamb – I don’t like it too… woolly. This was perfect for me – like veal but with a tad of lamb and a wonderful and tender texture.

Purple duck
Textures de choux et d’oignons, Acidulé

The richness of the duck and the very intense sauce were harnessed by the acidity of the onion. To me, not a revolutionary dish, but very, very delicious – not to mention picturesquely beautiful.


Sugar paper
Sucette de fromage avec papier de sucre, Goutte d’uile de noix vierge

Lingot fumé
Ganache crousti pétillante manjari, Fève de tonka, Crème de Laphroaig, Glace á la crème double

I like smoky flavours and I like smoky whiskeys, so this dessert really pleased me. While so rich a combination of whiskey, smoke and chocolate could end up too overwhelming, but here the balance was perfect. The popcorn under the ice were probably meant to add crunch, but as they were more chewy than crunchy I wouldn’t have missed them if they hadn’t been there.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-zxrNSr0WA[/youtube]

Acidulé
Chocolat pliable, Textures de citron et lime, Bulles de saké et citron caviar

The final dessert was prepared directly on a slab of plastic in front of us and was very amusing. It was fresh and with a lot of acidity. Loved it. I tried to catch some of the show on video – I’m sorry for the bad image quality.

All in all this was an unforgettable experience, full of completely new and surprising dishes for me. The wines were excellent and nicely matched with each course. San is a magician, he creates exciting and delicious courses. What I particularly liked about L’Air du Temps was the touch of the Korean cuisine in an authentic way. Many top chefs of today utilize Asian touches but it somehow makes more sense with a native background. Most of all I was struck by the fact that San seems to be able to create any dish that springs from his imagination by using modern techniques and I was touched by San’s dedication and devotion towards providing the best possible dining experience for the guest.

Thank you all so much for a fabulous evening!

L’Air du Temps
Chaussée de Louvain, 181
5310 Noville-sur-Mehaigne
Tel : +32 (0)81 81 30 48
http://www.airdutemps.be/

5 Responses to “L’Air du Temps – Haute Cuisine with Touches of Korea”


  • Thanks very much, I really appreciate it! :-)

  • I love your style of review. Your blog was recommended by a chef in Food and Wine, and I’m so glad that he did.

    Best wishes!

  • @M. Engelbrecht Thanks very much! :-)

    @filip Many thanks for your comment and yes, you’re right, it was beetroot replacing the tuna.

  • Hello
    Great review and great blog.
    I think Sang Hoon tried to give an artistic expression of the problems that exist in the fisheries today as Tuna is near to getting extinct. His love for Tuna and deep understanding of macro-economics, culture and arts probably made him replace the fish with Red beetroot.
    As for me, I supports arts in the kitchen and hope this movement will expand.
    Please consider that many fish are about to get extinct and that it’s artist like Sang Hoon who are able to inform people in succesfull ways.

    Kind regards
    Filip

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