Uncommon eating in Belgium
1) La Buvette
This little Brussels restaurant is one of the most exciting spots to eat in town. It occupies a former butcher’s shop with a striking art deco interior. The ground floor still has the original polished wood, tiled walls and menacing steel meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. The two upstairs rooms are less interesting. The menu is limited to two choices – six courses or eight. The young French chef Nicolas Scheidt has two signature dishes he always makes, including a delicious chocolate tart. The rest is up to his imagination.
2) Gaarkeuken 110
There’s nothing fancy about Gaarkeuken 110. It’s an old harbour workers’ restaurant located in a desolate area of the docks next to stacks of shipping containers. It has been serving basic Flemish food and decent beer for more than a century. You sit at a simple wooden table with your bowl of soup and listen to the babble of voices all around. Open from 5 am until 8 pm.
3) Fong Mei
This little restaurant in the heart of Antwerp’s Chinatown doesn’t look too promising. It has old furniture, paper tablecloths, stacks of wine boxes left lying around and a poster of Hong Kong at night. But don’t be put off. This is the real thing, full of noisy Chinese people who work in the neighbourhood. You are handed a menu with a long list of specialities, including 34 dim sum dishes made by a dedicated dim sum chef who learned his craft in Hong Kong. Some wonderful sensations are produced, like steamed shrimp balls with crab, and steamed pork and shrimp dumpling. You won’t be disappointed.
4) Il Cardinale
Two young graphic designers have created a hip hamburger restaurant across the road from Mechelen Cathedral. The bright interior is decorated with raw concrete walls, wood floors and bare lamps. The cheeky pair have added a touch of heresy by decorating one wall with statues of the Virgin and giving their burgers names like Holy Guacamole, Mary Had a Little Lamb and Noah and the Fish. Their final wicked touch is to play loud Gregorian chants in the basement toilets. Heaven help us.
5) La Manufacture Urbaine
It’s worth hunting out this exciting new space hidden down a quiet side street near Charleroi Sud station. Known as La Manufacture Urbaine, or more simply LaM-U, it opened in 2017 in an impressive former printing house on four floors with white concrete beams, exposed brick and industrial fittings. The vast airy space incorporates a micro-brewery producing six different beers, a bakery and a coffee-roasting corner. They serve food from small farms in the Charleroi region, including Colombus pork from Marcel Biron et Fils. Photo exhibitions and indie concerts also take place in this buzzing spot.
6) Le Labo 4
Hidden in a park behind Liège’s old aquarium, Le Labo 4 occupies a 1960s chemistry research lab. The interior on two floors is still furnished like a research lab with long wooden benches, gas burners, rows of glass jars and a big blackboard. You might expect the cooking to be experimental, but the chef prefers to keep it simple and grill plump steaks made with matured meat.
7) Bed van Napoleon
This old Flemish restaurant is located in an isolated spot in the Linden woods near Leuven. It occupies an old farmhouse where Napoleon apparently sheltered from a storm in 1810. The owners have created a warm interior with antiques, candles and a blazing log fire. They offer a menu dedicated to Flemish specialities along with local ales from Lupus Brewery.
8) Le Maison de Hary Cot
This country restaurant occupies an eccentric building near the Wéris standing stones. Like something out of Lord of the Rings, the architecture is a strange mixture of twisted wooden balconies, odd staircases and unexpected details. You might worry that the food will be equally mad, but the friendly young owners stick to serious cooking based on Belgian and French styles. Maybe not for everyone, but this is definitely the most unusual restaurant in the country.
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Hidden Belgium takes you off the beaten track and sets out to prove that Belgium is in fact one of the most interesting states in Europe.
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