A Weekend In Brussels

Posted By Kerri

This post is hideously overdue and one of the reasons we got so far behind. Since we were away from home, it’s mostly a post about restaurants and I hate writing about restaurants. I like eating in them but I find it hard to know what to say about food if I haven’t cooked it myself.

It was a spur-of-the-moment trip, booked just a few days before we left for the bank holiday weekend trip so we hadn’t had much time to read up on the city’s culinary opportunities. We spent most of the Eurostar journey from St Pancras reading the guide book and panicking that we’d be forced to survive on beer and chocolate all weekend since we’d been so lax in booking restaurants.

We slept late on the first morning and missed breakfast so when we finally left our hotel, it was that weird time of day where we were too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. We got round this by eating croissants and drinking coffee in a small bar until lunch service opened. I opted for the club sandwich which isn’t typically Belgian at all but was what I fancied and Stephen went for the more traditional carbonnade of beef. Except my club sandwich came with egg which I don’t like so we had to swap. This definitely worked in my favour since the beef was was beautifully tender and fell apart at the slightest nudge of the fork. The flavour of the beer was obvious but not over-powering and while I probably wouldn’t have served this with chips, they were very good chips and worked well at sucking up any leftover sauce. Luckily for Stephen, the portion was huge so he got to eat the dish he had ordered as well as my unwanted sandwich.

We had booked to go on a beer tasting tour in the afternoon and, despite my huge lunch, by the time we arrived at the third bar, I was very glad to see that food was included. The food in question was pottekeis, a traditional Belgian cheese served with a heavy sourdough bread. Pottekeis is a soft cheese made from fromage de Bruxelles (a cow’s milk cheese) and fromage blanc which is a little like cream cheese. It’s said to smell very strongly although I didn’t notice it and is mixed with spring onions. I liked it, it’s not something I could eat a lot of since it has a mouth-drying texture to it and is very tangy but it was interesting to try and worked well with the sweeter Belgian beers.

That night, we ate at Belga Queen which was just down the road from our hotel and on the site of an old bank; the room itself retains many of the original features and is vast with high ceilings and ornate flooring. The food is modern-Belgian in style and uses beer in many of the dishes. I can’t remember what I ordered originally but it wasn’t available so I opted for lobster ravioli instead which was very good. The pasta was well made and there was plenty of lobster meat in a delicate, creamy sauce. Stephen wasn’t so enamoured by his rabbit rilletes, they were largely tasteless and there wasn’t enough bread.

I didn’t particularly enjoy my main course of rack of lamb. The portion was so big and the plate so over-crowded that it was difficult to eat, not helped by the fact that it hadn’t been trimmed very well. The sauce that was well-made and tasty to begin with quickly turned into a congealed mess and, while it worked well with the lamb, it didn’t work with oily beans at all. There were some roasted vegetables on the plate too in another, different sauce which just added to the confusion. The lamb itself was good and I enjoyed the mustard crust but again, another flavour too many.

Stephen’s sole meuniere was much better with a decent sauce and just the right amount of fish. The fries seemed a little out of place to me but they were well cooked nonetheless.

The service was mostly okay but we did feel hurried towards the end so left without ordering dessert, not that I would have had room for any given the huge portion of lamb.

So the next day we weren’t all that hungry and just grabbed some more croissants which we ate while making our way to the markets. We were hoping to find interesting things to take home from the food market but they were largely populated with fruit and vegetable stalls. Lunch was salad from an organic cafe in the centre of town.

Dinner on the Sunday night was much better since we were lucky enough to get a table at Le Pre Sale. This was the place that stood out the most to me in the guide book but there was a note to say we would need to book three weeks in advance. The concierge at the hotel said he didn’t think bookings were necessary at all, particularly not on a Sunday and that we should just turn up for a table. We arrived a few minutes after they opened at 7 and they were almost full. They managed to squeeze us in but told us we had to be out in an hour. Not a long, leisurely dinner then but we were happy to have been seated and knew what we wanted to order anyway: mussels.

There were other things on the menu, mostly fish but also some meat dishes. Most people were there for the same reason as us though and pot after pot of mussels cooked with various different orders streamed out of the kitchen. We got a bit worried when people who had arrive after us were served first but finally ours arrived: a kilo of mussels cooked in white wine for Stephen and the same for me with the addition of cream and garlic.

To say these were the best mussels we’ve ever eaten wouldn’t be an understatement but then it’s not something either of us are experts in. What we did notice, from our table right by the kitchen, was that the mussels were cooked for a lot longer than any recipe we’ve ever seen. Probably about 20 minutes instead of just until the shells are opened. This had the benefit of allowing plenty of flavour to penetrate the shell and didn’t affect the texture of the fish at all. A kilo of mussels is a generous serving but we managed it, along with the ubiquitous but very good fries. We didn’t need the allotted hour in the end but were glad to have it since the restaurant itself was a lovely place to be and full of locals that made for interesting people-watching conversation. It was all quite functional and the service was swift but, in contrast to the previous evening, was much more pleasant and enjoyable.

We had a full day on Monday but, as per the previous day, we weren’t very hungry and lunch was a quick sandwich eaten in a random cafe while we escaped the rain in St Giles and Ixelles. When we arrived at the station to catch our train back to London, I realised that despite being surrounded by waffles all weekend, I hadn’t eaten one. We had some time to spare so found a cafe and I ordered one with chocolate sauce. I liked the waffle itself but the chocolate was far too sweet. Perhaps I should have had cream too, to dilute it a bit.

And that was it, apart from some reasonable Eurostar food and plenty of complementary Champagne on the journey back to London (due to the lateness of our booking meaning that we could only get a “Leisure Select” seat on the way back).

Belga Queen
Rue Fossé aux Loups 32

Le Pre Sale
Vlaamsesteenweg 20
1000 Brussel, Belgium

More pictures can be seen here.

Aug 30th, 2010

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