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Pure C in Zeeland, the Netherlands - 1 Michelin star

Rating: 93.
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When Pure C opened in 2010, it was the second restaurant of Dutch chef Sergio Herman, internationally acclaimed for his three Michelin starred restaurant Oud Sluis in Sluis. A lot has changed since then. In the summer of 2013 it was announced that Oud Sluis was to close its doors for good at the end of the year, Herman stating at the time "I've literally and figuratively reached my peak at Oud Sluis", but he also added that he would carry on with other projects. In March 2014, the first project was launched in Antwerp, where he opened a brand new restaurant called The Jane, which was greeted with rave reviews both nationally and internationally. A more recent project is the launch of "Frites Atelier", a small chain of high-end chip shops in the Netherlands and Belgium, and in March 2017, Herman opened a new casual seafood restaurant called Air Republic in Cadzand, a stone throw's away from Pure C. 

(courtesy of Pure C)

Pure C is housed in the Strandhotel Cadzand-Bad in Cadzand, well-known for it's seaside location close the the Belgian border (15 miles from Bruges, 12 miles from Zeebrugge). Head chef since the opening in 2010 is Syrco Bakker (b.1984), who at the time of his appointment had been working at Oud Sluis since 2006. In the year after the opening, in November 2011, Pure C was awarded a Michelin star (2012 guide). 

Pure C is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday and the restaurant offers two tasting menus. There's the 6-course Menu Nature for €89, and there's the 8-course Pure C Menu for €109. On Saturdays the restaurant only serves the Pure C menu. I had lunch with my husband at Pure C in December 2016 and we both had the 8-course menu.

Lunch started with a mezze board with two types of bread (Moroccan with ras-el-hanout and Libanese with sumac and cumin), a chickpea puree seasoned with paprika, harissa and a zingy citrus vinaigrette, baba ganoush garnished with curry mayonnaise and citrus gel, and a fresh and vibrant bulgur salad wonderfully flavoured with mint, spring onions, pomegranate, and garnished with dots of red pepper puree and yoghurt. Arriving around the same time was a delicious bite of cod rillettes, broccoli and bottarga, but even better was an amuse bouche of blood sausage mousse with buckwheat salad, rosehip dressing, garnished with crunchy buckwheat and a crisp blood sausage tuile. A great and relaxed beginning of the meal with a variety of attractive flavours that matched our aperitifs perfectly.

Bread with seaweed butter

First course of the tasting menu was a salad of lentils, diced carrot, pickled carrot ribbons, crunchy baby carrots, pickled shallot, carrot puree elegantly seasoned with ginger, peanut crème, a nice and pungent ginger and kaffir lime oil dressing that had a nice hint of heat in the finish, and finally some seroendeng for extra crunch and spiciness. Seroendeng is a traditional Indonesian spiced condiment of grated coconut and chopped peanuts. A delightfully ebullient dish with a terrific interplay of sweet, sour and salty flavours and a great textural contrast. Loved the addition of the seroendeng, which gave the dish a lovely long finish. 

Even better was the next, beautifully presented dish of sliced raw scallop, thin slices of squid, and thinly sliced crisp "ramanas" (black radish), accompanied by a seaweed and trout roe salad, some smooth Jerusalem artichoke puree, a Parmesan biscuit topped with truffle crème and freshly grated truffle, yuzu gel, and there was a light and creamy sauce seasoned with a few drops of algae pesto/oil. Wonderfully clean and subtle seafood flavours, enhanced by the seaweed salad. Lovely delicate sweet and nutty flavours coming from the Jerusalem artichoke and the truffle added a lovely and distinct aroma to the dish. Fantastic textures too: the squid was silky and tender, the scallop delicate and creamy, and when they were combined with the radish you got a little crunch with each bite.

Next was a terrific double act of grey shrimps and mackerel. On the main plate was a delicious rillette-like mixture of smoked mackerel, cream, leek and seaweed, wrapped in thinly sliced kohlrabi, and handsomely decorated with crisp seaweed, peeled grey shrimps and deep-fried shrimps. The grey shrimps were from Zeebrugge, one of Belgium's prime locations for grey shrimp fishing. Underneath the mackerel and kohlrabi roll was a complex-tasting jelly made with the shrimp's heads, followed by a creamy grey shrimp flan, and the dish was finished with a nice and sharp dashi and codium dressing. A very pleasing combination of rich flavours and textures counterbalanced by excellent use of acidity. Served on the side was a shot glass with grey shrimp bouillon, chopped grey shrimps and mackerel foam. Creative and well-judged use of grey shrimps in both dishes and their characteristic sweetness came through wonderfully, especially in the bouillon.

Fourth course was a fresh and luscious Zeeland oyster tartare, salty, fresh, creamy, and brilliantly paired with pickled celeriac, sea buckthorn (ice cream, gel and meringue sticks), foie gras, sliced celery, and parsley puree. This already great combination was completed by a creamy sauce, gently inflused with smoked hay, making it a knockout dish. The sweet tartness of the sea buckthorn worked incredibly well with the oyster, and the foie gras added just the right touch of comfort. But equally important, perhaps, were the delightfully contrasting temperatures and textures. 

The meal continued with a very sophisticated take on Soto Ayam, a traditional Indonesian chicken soup, a dish referring to chef Syrco Bakker's Indonesian roots. Carefully presented in and around a delicious, well-seasoned chicken soup was some moist and tender chicken breast, some chopped raw razor clam with coriander stems, soft spring onions, a soft boiled quail's egg and broccolini. Soto Ayam often includes noodles, here the noodles were replaced by a gorgeous little "nasi kuning" (rice flavoured with coconut and turmeric) cake topped with homemade sambal, the latter adding depth and heat. A deceptively simple and exceptionally fragrant and delectable soup, each element perfectly executed, offering layer upon layer of flavour. 

Sixth course was a superb piece of plump and meaty skate (cooked between nori sheets), topped with nori, tarragon mayo, and a gorgeous piece of soft and caramelised salsify (cooked in chalk). Also on the plate were some chopped capers, salsify puree, a foamy beurre noisette sauce, and hidden underneath the skate were soft diced potatoes. Served on the side was a delicious little snack of skate "rillettes" on cabbage tempura. A visually very attractive dish, flavourwise reminding me of the familiar fish, chips and tartare sauce combination, but served here in the most elegant and refined fashion. The distinctively sweet and nutty salsify matched the skate wonderfully and the tangy capers balanced the dish.

The meat course today was duck, accompanied by intensely flavoured duck jus (enriched with duck blood), duck fat crumbs, parsley root puree, grilled chicory, kumquat puree, and last, but by no means least, a little duck (leg meat) bonbon. Some crunchy spelt bread with salt-cured duck and parsley and kumquat crème/mayo was served on the side. An outstanding dish with expertly cooked, succulent duck and the clever addition of the kumquat, instead of the traditional orange, delivered an attractive flavour combination, its sweet and tart characteristics providing a good contrast to the rich duck. 

Pre-dessert was a simple but pleasing combination of freshly made vanilla ice cream topped with a caramelised pastry disc, but dessert proper was a more detailed affair of apple, hazelnut, fennel and olive oil. There was delicious sharp and sweet apple sorbet, a little frangipane and fennel seed cake, a creamy hazelnut mousse, a concentrated and rich hazelnut puree, a "salad" of finely diced apple, bronze-coloured hazelnut crunch, chocolate discs, tuile discs, and all this was finished with an apple, fennel and olive oil vinaigrette. An elegant and delicately balanced dessert, with a satisfying richness from the hazelnut, and the apple and dressing brought a lovely freshness to the plate.

Pure C may be the brainchild of Sergio Herman, and especially in the early years Herman was ery much involved in the day-to-day business of the restaurant, but these days it's just as much Syrco Bakker's restaurant. The years of training at Oud Sluis and the close collaboration with Sergio Herman, shine through in Bakker's dishes, but this is just at first glance. If you take a closer look you see that Syrco Bakker is very much his own chef. His cooking is eclectic in style with an innovative edge, resulting in intricate dishes with perfectly judged, energetic and sometimes bewitching flavours.

The largely local and seasonal produce is ultra-fresh and of excellent quality, and the attention to detail in the dishes shows that no corners are being cut in his kitchen. They put real emphasis on the rich larder of Zeeland, even producing their own Hierbas de las Dunes, a liqueur made with eighteen varieties of fresh flowers, herbs and plants from the North Sea dunes in Cadzand, including sea fennel, sea buckthorn, sea rocket, rosehip and elderflower. My only niggle about Pure C was the weather. On the day I visited, it was very cloudy and foggy, so there was no view to speak of from its beautiful seaside location. A return visit on a beautiful summer's day is definitely in order.

Posted 01-04-2017


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