Willem Hiele is the name of a great chef and his unique restaurant located at the Belgian coast. A place that quickly gained recognition and fame in the culinary world. Deservedly so.
Let us start at the beginning: Chef Willem Hiele’s youth. As a young boy, he always played in the dunes with the sound of the splashing waves and screaming seagulls in the background. Because of his great-nephew, an Icelander, he came into contact with the salty flavours of the sea and its surroundings. Willem Hiele spent a good part of his childhood in his father’s garden, chewing unripe gooseberries, myrtles and elderberries. Those experiences with the beauty of nature shaped Willem Hiele and this raw beauty still is the most important aspect of his cuisine today. Willem got his initial training in bakery, pastry & chocolate. It was during his travels, however, that he realised that cooking was a magical thing through which he could truly demonstrate his creativity. Willem started with a small guest table at first but, to much delight of his guests, quickly expanded to a bigger restaurant.
His restaurant is located in Koksijde, a town at the Belgian coast. It is hidden in a small street where you would not expect this type of restaurant – but that is exactly part of the charm. The restaurant itself is located in a cosy fisherman’s cottage but the dining experience takes place in several different areas. Guests enjoy there aperitif and snacks in a big tent with traditional stoves, a big bar and a jazzy, laid-back atmosphere. Before heading to their table inside the fisherman’s cottage, hey pass the outdoor kitchen with a big wood oven. Here, an additional appetiser is served by Willem himself. The interior of the cottage is eclectic and cosy. It combines lots of wood, an open fire, graffiti, many books and a collection of interior accessories from all over the world. Later during the meal, guests are invited to join the chef again in his preferred environment: the outdoors. There, he grills his fishes and meats on the open fire, roasts his bread in the wood oven and cooks with all his heart and soul.
As a chef, Willem Hiele attaches great importance to the origin of his products. His menu is based on fresh, local products, often grown in his own vegetable garden. The basics of his cuisine hail from a French-Belgian cooking style with a strong focus on seasonal ingredients and the best from the nearby North Sea. Dishes prepared on the open fire play an important role, too. A signature dish is his turbot serving. The beautiful fishes are grilled over a fire with three types of wood and are covered with burlap sacks soaked in seawater. This way the fish is grilled, smoked and steamed at the same time. When it is perfectly cooked, the fish is served pure and simple, with a sauce made with the bones and heads of the turbot and vin jaune. Another great dish where the chef also shows his keen eye for a beautiful presentation is the starter with mackerel that was first pickled, then hot-smoked and finally shortly roasted. It comes with cucumber and pesto and a cream of eggplant and cucumber. The restaurant’s logo is formed with a powder around the fish. Whatever you do, do not leave Willem Hiele restaurant without tasting his famous bisque. It is made from live shrimp that the anglers deliver on their horses directly at the restaurant. It takes two days to prepare and is served with fresh shrimps, a delicious, slightly burnt, very crispy bread baked in the wood oven, and two types of creamy butter. A feast for all senses!
Willem Hiele’s wife Shannah leads the service at restaurant Willem Hiele. Just like Willem, she is passionate and driven. She comforts the guests just as a good friend would do and is always smiling. She is also responsible for the drinks and offers great wine (and beer) pairings by the bottle or the glass.
Restaurant Willem Hiele has become a “destination” restaurant in no time. It is easy to understand why. This restaurant brilliantly integrates experience into your meal on a manner that is naturally but spectacular at the same time. Without ever compromising on flavours. Get ready for a dining experience just like Willem Hiele is himself: raw, pure and passionate.
The Chef : Willem Hiele
Written by Sven & Frank