REVIEW: Het Binnenhof, La Butte aux Bois, Lanaken, Belgium

I wish I was back staying in the beautiful hotel La Butte Aux Bois in Lanaken right now. Not only is the food good here, but the setting is draw dropping, the spa tranquil and the service second to none. The reason we decided to come back and stay here at the hotel was solely based on our original meal at Michelin starred La Source being so incredible. After checking in and taking a quick relax in the spa we’d realised we had in fact mixed our booking up (as La Source was closed on Mondays) – that meant we instead ended up dining at the hotels glamorous brasserie restaurant instead, Het Binnenhof.

What I didn’t find out until the day after we dined here was that the head chef over at La source, Ralf Berendsen also instructs the kitchen here. Two very different restaurants, and two very different styles of cooking. Walking in to Het Binnenhof still has all the glamour its Michelin counter part has, but with a little less formality. This is essentially an upmarket brasserie. Bread was delicious, and equally so was our starter. A mixture of steak tartare with local Limburg veal, local Limburg crayfish, lobster mayonnaise, black olive and Mediterranean vegetables. It was very well seasoned which left a nice touch of heat on the tongue from the pepper and the tartare mixture was so soft and incredibly well put together you couldn’t wait to take another mouthful. Did the crayfish and lobster mayonnaise work with it, I’m not sure. But it was by no means awful, simply unusual to my palate

The haddock with salicornia, tomatoes and lobster juice was, despite its sloppy presentation our favourite dish of the evening. The haddock was stunning. The flesh was pristine white, flaky and juicy. The tomato salsa type mixture was ripe and full of flavour but the real star of it all was that lobster juice. It had such a depth of flavour and how they got such extraction from it is beyond me me. Its deep brown juice was effortlessly sweet, a little salty and quickly frankly, mouth-wateringly good.

But after devouring our gorgeous haddock dish your faced other main courses which really didn’t do the restaurant any justice at all. Two pieces of pressed sliced chicken fillet had a texture that was not dissimilar to the supermarket purchased kind. Very dense and almost too moist. The grilled impression on top of the chicken looked more like something from one of George Foreman’s grills. Egg yolk, peas and mushrooms were all nicely cooked but weren’t particularly exciting or intriguing. This dish was around 25 euro which was much too expensive for what the dish offered, or didn’t in this case.

Our cheesecake with Limburg cherries, pistachio ice cream and white chocolate sauce was a pleasant enough dish and helped satisfy our sweet tooth craving at least, but unfortunately nothing more. The cheesecake itself was most lacking in any rich vanilla flavour and was too cold, meaning any flavour struggled to come through. Pistachio ice cream on the other hand was absolutely delicious and I only wish there was more of that white chocolate sauce. A little more care and precision in the kitchen was all that was needed to liven up this dish.

A selection of cheeses from Tom Miessen were a lovely end to our meal here at Het Binnenhof. But perhaps the strangest part of it all was how different the food fared compared to La Source. Of course there isn’t room for two Michelin star restaurants in one hotel but with head chef, Ralf Berendsen instructing the kitchen here I would expect a lot more from this restaurant. Prices are nearly just as commanding here, but the quality doesn’t match. The food is by no means bad, but neither is it amazing or particularly memorable – which is exactly what diners want these days. While Het Binnenhof does serve a purpose here at La Butte Aux Bois, spending that extra little bit for a meal next door at La Source would be a much safer, and more enjoyable option.