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Oud Sluis - High Art in Zeeland Flanders

Rating: 100.
Rating index:
Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
Very good to Excellent (89-92)
Above average to Good (86-88)
Below Average to Average (80-85)
Avoid (below 80)
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Note: In June 2013 it was announced that Sergio Herman will close Oud Sluis permanently in December 2013.

Oud Sluis is a third generation restaurant in the market town of Sluis in Zeeland Flanders, which is located in the Netherlands very close to the border with Belgium. Sergio Herman took over the restaurant from his father Ronnie in 1991. Sergio Herman obviously trained in his father's kitchen but he also spent some time at the legendary Dutch restaurant De Swaen in Oisterwijk. Executive chef of De Swaen at the time was Cas Spijkers, according to many the founding father of fine dining in the Netherlands. Sadly Cas Spijkers passed away last year.

Oud Sluis was awarded its first star in 1995, a second followed in 1999 and in 2005 Oud Sluis was the third retaurant in the Netherlands ever to be awarded three Michelin stars, an acclaim currently held by one other restaurant in the Netherlands, Jonnie & Therèse Boer's De Librije in Zwolle.
Oud Sluis has also been awarded 20 points by the Dutch Gault Millau Guide, which is quite exceptional because the maximum number of points awarded by Gault Millau is normally 19.5. Oud Sluis in ranked number 17 in the World's 50.

Apart from Oud Sluis Sergio Herman also owns a trendy seaside restaurant in Cadzand called Pure C. The restaurant opened in 2010 and his former right-hand man Syrco Bakker is at the helm of the kitchen. The restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star in 2011. In 2013 Sergio Herman will open a restaurant in Antwerp to be called La Chapelle. Head chef at La Chapelle will be Nick Bril, currently Sergio Herman's sous-chef at Oud Sluis. Herman's latest project is a book called Sergiology, a limited edition Objet d'Art in Dutch and English to be released in May 2012.

Anyway: back to Oud Sluis. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Wednesday till Sunday (no lunch on Saturday). You can choose between a 3-course lunch menu (€75, only served from Wednesday to Friday) changing daily, the 4-course 'Feeling & Taste' menu (€135), the 8-course 'Pére et Fils' menu (€195) and the a la carte menu. I had lunch there with my husband on Sunday 11 March 2012 and we had the Pére et Fils menu.

We kicked off our lunch with 7 amuses-bouches to get our taste buds going.

Tofu crème, Enoki mushrooms, yuzu - intended to be licked of the plate - creamy and refreshing.

Cockle, cucumber, boemboe Bali (Indonesian curry paste) and white radish - great textures and fabulous light and precise Indonesian flavours from the boemboe Bali, very elegant.

Pétoncle tartare, seaweed Kamut, tangerine zest, puffed rice and sour cream - again great textures, refreshing, perfect touch of tangerine zest, very fragrant too.

Fideuà pasta, red chilli, smoked eel, avocado, red pepper jelly - a very harmonious and comforting dish, beautiful red pepper jelly and wonderful smoked eel.

Mussel, horseradish crème, cod marinated a la minute (with Bergamot oil), Bergamot sorbet - lovely warmth and floral notes from the Bergamot, great textures, fantastic sorbet, nice and refreshing and subtle use of Bergamot.

Zeeland oyster tartare, spices, ginger and yoghurt 'pearls', lychee, citrus - fresh, pure, clean, beautiful salt-and-sweet balance. This dish was served in a warm bowl filled with salt, lemon, star anise and other spices; this provided the most wonderful spicy aroma, making this a multisensory experience.

Oxtail broth with egg yolk, sage, mushrooms served with focaccia toast and wild mushroom aerated discs - a wonderful rich and creamy oxtail broth with very clean flavours. The egg yolk had the perfect consistency, not too soft, and like this it provided the perfect richness to the soup. If it had been too soft it would have clouded the soup and diluted the flavours. The oxtail and and mushroom flavours were exceptional. Intense mushroom flavours from the aerated discs and the focaccia toast had the perfect crunch.

These were all outstanding amuses-bouches. In fact each amuse-bouche was so complex and creative that it is not an exaggeration to consider it a dish in its own right.

The first course of the menu was "A sea full of shrimps', served in two courses. First Langoustine, Zeebrugge grey shrimps, gamba tartare, crab jelly (to represent the little crabs that are caught in the the same net as the shrimps), cucumber, sour cream, Daikon (white radish), algae crumb, spinach powder and an Asian dressing. Gorgeous, succulent grilled langoustine, wonderful tasty grey shrimps and fantastic light and elegant gamba tartare. Lovely bite from the vegetables. The Asian dressing was made from Japanese lemon confit and Thai vinaigrette, which provided wonderful sweet and sour notes and a touch of piquancy. Lovely crab jelly with very pure crab flavours. The algae crumb and the spinach powder accentuated the shrimp flavours.

Next was a shrimp head served on Sardinian bread and a shrimp mayonnaise/crème and an Indonesian cappuccino with a coconut foam. The idea was to suck out the shrimp head - which was gorgeous. The Sardinian bread was tasty and incredibly crispy. Loved the shrimp mayo/crème, which had a wonderful aftertaste. The Indonesian cappuccino had very well-balanced flavours - sweet, sour a a hint of bitterness, wonderful bit of heat too. The combination of these last two dishes amounted to an 'Around the World in 80 seconds" experience. Fabulous.

Second course, Scallop in the shell roasted on pine branches, pine-infusion, root parsley, mushrooms, season's first hop shoots (from Poperinge) all served on top of some gently smouldering pine branches. The scallop, still attached to the shell, was beautifully tender and the pine-infusion was very elegant (just the perfect hint of pine) and added a bit of spicyness to the dish. Fantastic. The sauce was made from the scallop cooking juices. A dish with amazing, clean and pure flavours but buttery and comforting at the same time. Lovely textures from the mushrooms and hop shoots. The delicate aroma of pine gave the dish an extra dimension.

The third course was served on two plates. First Zeeland oyster, oyster and miso crème, oyster toast covered with oyster and miso butter and oyster leaves. Lovely firm and plump oyster. Absolutely stunning toast, wonderfully crisp and covered with a sublime oyster and miso butter. The combination of all the ingredients was brilliant. Loved the touch of acidity.

On the second plate were Oyster, miso and lime pearls, buttermilk pancake, young spinach. Wonderful fluffy pancake, perfect consistency. Lovely warmth from the miso and fantastic oyster pearls. A dish with a beautiful balance between cold and warm ingredients, it stimulates the senses. 
Really impressed by the synthesis of miso and oyster in these two dishes, two seemingly simple but incredible powerful and creative dishes that left me in awe, in fact I wrote down in my notebook: fucking brilliant!

On to the fourth course, Fresh cod, cod brandade, Bomba rice risotto and a sauce made from the cod cooking juices and fermented fish sauce (made with anchovies). Perfectly cooked cod and a fantastic piece of crispy skin. The sauce was delicious, light, creamy, lovely salty finish. Lovely texture and creaminess from the risotto. A beautiful dish, elegant, great balance of all the basic flavours, sweet, salty, sour and a touch of bitterness and umami.

The fifth and main course was barbecued Pigeon, beetroot, hazelnut, foie gras ganache, pigeon liver paté, lentil yoghurt, pickled radish and a sauce Royal. The terrific 'bleu' pigeon was incredibly soft and tender. Superb beetroot textures, I especially liked the beetroot crème and the beetroot also brought sweetness and sharpness to the dish. Absolutely divine sauce Royal, full-flavoured and perfect. The ganache was lovely and creamy. A masterful dish with many flavours but they were all balanced perfectly, indulgent yet light. Like many other dishes in this menu, the main course was served on the distinctive dinner ware that Pieter Stockmans designed for Oud Sluis.

Sixth course and first of three desserts, Chocolate 'stones' with differing textures - soft, with crispy ganache and with a cake-like bottom, crumbled kaffir lime sorbet, barley malt, hazelnut crisp. Fantastic chocolate textures and pure and intense chocolate flavours. A dessert that focuses on the floral notes of chocolate. Lovely and refreshing barley malt ice cream. Loved the subtlety of the crumbled kaffir lime sorbet. The decision to harness the kaffir lime leaf flavour in this texture is a stroke of genius and it gave the dessert a very subtle extra oomph.

Seventh course, Apple, almond cake, liquorice, rose cotton candy, apple tart, cabernet sauvignon vinegar jelly, Granny Smith sorbet, Jonagold sorbet, coffee-vanilla oil. A marvellous apple dessert with a wonderful balance between the apples' sweetness and sharpness. The Apple logo was made with liquorice. Gorgeous tarte tatin-like apple tart, lovely buttery finish. Underneath the Jonagold sorbet was a delicious biscuit. Lovely refreshing Granny Smith sorbet and lovely warmth and bitters from the coffee-vanilla oil.

Last and eight course, Citrus lego. Lego with different textures of citrus - sorbet, bavarois and jelly and made with different varieties of citrus fruit. Fantastic pure citrus flavours. A wonderfully elegant and light finish of an amazing meal.

With our coffees we were served several sweets. To mention a few: a chocolate skull with a cherry blossom and coffee crumble filling (1) - a 'coin' filled with a green herb, chocolate and ginger mixture (2) - kumquat, seabucktorn, yoghurt, lemongrass and green tea (3) - 'The Final Touch' filled with a hazelnut and citrus crème (4).

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This was my third time at Oud Sluis. My first two visits were in 2010 and this time the food was a revelation again. As a chef Sergio Herman is very different from being just a (very good) cook, he's an artist who happens to express himself through the medium of food. Thrilling and innovative food bursting with the creative energy of the person who conceives and executes these amazing dishes. He has an unparallelled intuitive and technical ability for very precisely bringing together strong and expressive ingredients and flavours and marrying them into an elegant, effortless, even weightless synthesis.

To say that the execution is flawless would be stating the obvious. No doubt the fact that Sergio Herman is in his kitchen every service, has a lot to do with this and don't think that he is just standing at the pass shouting out orders at his kitchen staff. He continually moves from station to station like a shepherd, assisted by his right-hand man Nick Bril, overseeing his flock and not single sheep escapes his attention. I once called Sergio Herman a chef de la Mer (for obvious reasons) but this meal expresses very clearly that he is above all at one with his terroir, his beloved Zeeland, both its land and its shores. Almost all his ingredients are local but he also takes inspiration and ingredients from his travels. Not long before my visit to his restaurant, Sergio Herman had been travelling in Asia and the oriental elements in some of the dishes, which were seamlessly blended in, are impressive witnesses of his ability to work with foreign ingredients and flavours as well. What still defines Sergio Herman as a chef however, is the acidity in his dishes. Serene dishes with pure and clean flavours that often have an almost magical harmony between lightness and intensity. The build-up of the flavours on the palate is quite remarkable: after some tender foreplay, the flavours reach their climax and then they linger for a while ....... Sergio Herman is a great artist and I find the beauty that he creates on the plate truly moving. Many tenors have interpreted Nessun Dorma but only very few can sing it like Luciano Pavarotti could. For those with a preference for more modern music and to paraphrase Jay Rayner: this is the kind of food that makes you want to take off your knickers and throw them at the chef - Tom Jones style.

Posted 18-03-2012


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