my pop up restaurant Brussels – a fierce competition

background: most likely your own country has (or will soon) adopt the “my pop up restaurant” TV show, so has
Belgium actually i MUST be precise Vlaanderen has, the flemish channel VTM. The
concept is simple: several candidates with or without restaurant experience
pitch their restaurant concept, and cuisine to a jury. Some make it, and get money
for decoration and staff and some don’t make it. Pop goes the pop-up in
several flemish cities and every 2 weeks undercover judges test and taste, the
public votes and jury judge who stays and who goes. The flemish Jury has
expertise in cooking (Chef Sergio Herman), in concept & marketing (Max
Borka) and wine selection (Sepideh Sedaghatnia – sommelier of the year). The
Brussels duo, Jaro & Hanne are both 24 years old and only recent converts to
the restaurant business. Sticks and Stones is the name and their pitch was to bring light and full flavored fushion food.

why i
for once
they actually include Brussels i ve to support it. Although i only have seen parts of 2
episodes (it airs every Tuesday and Thursday) i wanted to try it out by making
my own opinion.
so: a set menu of 3 or 4 courses only is offered. You sign a disclaimer as film crews mingle amongst staff and guests and you get a flemish food experience in exchange.

starter of white asparagus and salmon

fish course with apple and quinoa 

main course porc belly with paksoi

dessert of chocolate and orange
I took the 4 course menu and red wine by the glass as the wine
package was mostly white wine (of course). But the friendly and knowledgeable
sommelier was happy to oblige my red wine need and promptly served me a Pinot
Noir to begin with and a lovely full body yet elegant Syrah and Carinian from
near Marseille. 
I am not a fan of eating at a bar but space is limited in the pop
up so, i accept. Bonus is that the neighbor guests made for fun conversation
and it did provide a view into the kitchen too. Open kitchens are tricky but
both the back of bar and kitchen were relatively tidy and kept in order. Could
it be a tad cleaner? probably. Never saw anyone ever wipe a counter or stove.
And could we stock the bar before guests arrive?
50 covers it can seat, sold out it is daily, arrival of guests are
staggered to make it easy on kitchen and staff but some guests are no shows it
seems. Friendly is the staff and warm was the food. It took its time to get
through the 4 courses (arrived at 18h30 left at 21h30) but never was it too
long a wait, but i have to be honest i don’t mind time in between dishes, i
brought my magazine to have some me time. The atmosphere was very
relaxed i wondered how come the kitchen never had a hot moment, and when dishes
were announced by servers there was little response from the kitchen. A few times dishes that needed to be altered
(allergies) were not and came back. Let’s say not your typical
professional kitchen. Myself a waitress with over 20 years of experience, i can
see that staff management and organization needs to be worked on. 
I liked the asparagus with quail egg and salmon and also the pork belly as main course. The fish
cooked on a salt stone was new to me. I had to ask as it took me back to saltlicks for horses. Obviously not quite the same, this was a pink salt stone from the
Himalayas that provided some extra flavor to the grilled fish. I did get tired of the several bowls each course come in. Can I recommend having the main course be served on a plate to also visually fuse Belgian and Asian presentation? And my eye for detail cringed when twice i was served a chipped bowl.
bottom line: I
applaud the effort of these young novices that give it their best and all. Not
only putting themselves out there in a new adventure but also have every Tom,
Dick and Harry over to criticize you constantly, how nerve wrecking, my hat off
to them. Choosing this demanding profession is commendable to say the least
and to grasp this opportunity is clever. The experience made me curious what
their full time restaurant with a complete menu would look like, but is what i
ate today enough? For the price of a 1 star restaurant ( i paid 95 euro) i
don’t  think it is worth it yet. The chef needs to take a year or 2 and go
work in the finest places in the world and learn mostly how to pack in flavor.
He has the presentation down and the concept, he needs to perfect flavor and
desserts. The dessert was weak. Judging ( let’s be a judge) the concept of fusion food between
Belgian and Asian cuisine, the service, the decoration, but still accept the
fact it is a competition and not having tried the others … I need more. So do
they ve a chance to win? I wish them the best of luck.

the professionals said: so now that I ve been, I wanted to read up about them. The
restaurant was forced to close by the hygiene inspection after only a few weeks
open. (dear me)  They ve been criticized for the lack of organization
and management (indeed) and a too relaxed atmosphere amongst staff and service
being painfully slow ( was okay). But chefs see the potential in the cook ( indeed). They
were up for elimination today, let’s see if the public will save them.

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