Holiday eating/drinking lists are important. Research is key. Going off-list can sometimes work (stumbling upon somewhere fabulous looking). But this is risky. Going off-list is more likely to end in disappointment, at worst crappy food in a sneaky tourist trap.
But it does mean that much of the trip is spent traipsing around, in search of that perfect version of the local speciality, or that perfect little hidden restaurant. Luckily my friends humour me on these hunts. And they do usually end up with pretty good dinners.
The list did fall down for the perfect frites in Brussels (I had read Frit Flagey was the place to maybe take this accolade, but I didn’t quite realise it would be shut on Monday lunchtime). I left, empty-handed of chips, no piping cone, the crispy frites smothered in some kind of mayonnaisey sauce.
|Moules at La Marée|
There were some frites on the trip though, alongside a very perfect pot of moules, in a Provençal vegetable broth at La Marée restaurant, just up from Place Sainte-Catherine. It's the area for seafood, complete with the famous Noordzee Mer du Nord, fish glistening on the ice, with plates to takeaway, perching nearby in the square.
|Waffle at Mokafé|
Waffle at Mokafé
Other Belgian favourites were ticked off too. Including a delicious waffle at Mokafé (in the glossy covered arcade Galerie du Roi, seemingly just full of chocolate shops). Golden and crisp, the squares filling up with dark chocolate sauce poured on top, complete with a scoop of ice-cream too. Chocolate and beer was also necessary. For beer, our favourite places were Moeder Lambic (for a large selection), A La Mort Subite (for old-school charm and cubes of cheese on sticks), Le Fin de Siècle (for great people watching on Rue des Chartreux).
Away from rather stereotyping, we also visited Les Filles, escaping torrential rain for a cosy buffet. All you can eat, with bubbling pots of soup, a stew of beans, tomato and mince, orzo salad, broccoli with feta. Plus fantastic bread, cheese and a banana cake to finish, complete with a tart blob of speckled vanilla fromage frais. It’s also a cookery school and shop, just look out for the big door on Rue du Vieux Marché aux Grains.
|Jour de Fete|
|Jour de Fete|
Another favourite was Jour de Fete, with bowls of interesting salads to choose from, along with dishes chalked on the blackboard to order. I had the perfectly crisp and super-fresh fried fish, on top a vegetable quinoa salad (which was very tasty, hard for quinoa, harder still as a kind of chip replacement on a plate that also included tartare sauce with the fish).
|Simon Says in Ghent|
|Eclair at Joost Arijs|
We spent one day in Ghent. All pretty cobbles and water; like Bruges, but much less touristy. Winding up by the canal to Simon Says for brunch, a B&B and smart café, run by a UK couple. The plate of cheese (one smoked, with seaweed inside) and ham, along with soft, doorstep chunks of seedy bread was simple but perfect. The two rooms above look beautiful (after a little post-visit research), with charming service. Simon also gave us a tip on where to go for the best patisserie, 15 minutes walk away at Joost Arijs. We followed advice with an éclair, full of chocolate crème patissiere, and a sticky chocolate glaze on top, artfully piped.
Before you leave, definitely pick up a box of biscuits at Dandoy, tucked in their white and gold spotty boxes. I returned to London, with a sugar-ban vow. But also the idea of buying a waffle iron.