Good food in Belgium

DonQui is off to Brussels for a few days in search of good food and beer. This shouldn’t be too hard as the Belgians take their food and beer very seriously indeed.

The problem is that there are so many options it can be difficult to decide where to go. Most of the top rated restaurants seem to serve up what has come to be known as Modern European — often small dishes topped off with some foam, a squirt or two of sauce, and a scattering of edible flowers or pea shoots. This is not what DonQui wants. He is looking for traditional Belgian fare washed down by a strong abby-brewed beer. 

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Brasserie de la Ville

After a bit of research DonQui stumbles on a little gem offering exactly what he is looking for. Although just off the Grand Place, the small Brasserie de la Ville (Rue de chapeliers 14) remains resolutely traditional in an area swarming with places mostly catering to tourists in a party mood.

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A calm, relaxed, atmosphere 

The atmosphere is relaxed and unpretentious with the quirky decorations adding character.

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A bit of a Tintin theme

There is a strong Tintin theme going on — even the menus are inserted into Tintin comics. 

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Les boulettes à la Liègeoise with pommes frites

After a delightful starter of scampis à l’ail (prawns in garlic sauce), DonQui goes for Les boulettes à la Liègeoise (meatballs in Liège syrup).  Liège syrup is made from highly concentrated apple and pear juice. DonQui has a bit of a penchant for sweet-savoury combinations. He thinks the combination of the slightly sweet, rich, brown sauce with the beutifully lean meatballs is utterly delicious.

Then there are the frites. The Belgians lay claim to having invented chips (French fries) and have perfected the way of making them. Soft on the inside, crispy on the outside and salted immediately on coming out of the fryer, Belgian pommes frites are, in DonQui’s opinion,  the best in the world. The frites at the Brasserie de la Ville are just about perfect.

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DonQui’s Westmalle Dubbel

Don’t look for an extensive wine list — this is a brasserie after all. In Belgium, beer is the drink of choice with several wonderful brews on-tap and many more in the bottle. DonQui enjoys a Dubbel, brewed in the Trappist abbey at Westmalle.  With 7% alcohol this rich brown ale is for sipping and savouring rather than for quenching a thirst. It goes perfectly with his meatballs — far better than any wine would do. 

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Duchess’ moules-frites

As DonQui is tucking into his wonderful meatballs, Duchess throughly enjoys a classic moules-frites (mussels and fries). She was less impressed with her onion soup starter which she thought was a bit lacklustre. 

Everything else is fabulous, including the helpful, enthusiastic and multi-lingual staff.

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More touristy restaurants in the area

DonQui is rather sad to see the obvious tourist traps full to overflowing while this more or less traditional brasserie is only half full. He hopes that the Brasserie de la Ville will be able to hold its own against the swarm of identikit restaurants serving up variations of more or less the same thing.

Burgers and Beer

There was a time, not that long ago, when finding good beer in the USA was just about impossible. Now, thanks to the craft beer revolution, DonQui is able to find a decent brew in the US almost as easily as he can in Europe.

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At the marvellously ramshackle Le Tub, in Hollywood, Florida, DonQui makes the acquaintance of a rather pleasant Yuengling Lager. Claiming to be from the oldest brewery in America it has a slight amber colour and more taste than your average lager. Apparently Mr Yuengling is a Trump supporter so although he enjoys the brew, DonQui will not make a habit of drinking it very often.

 

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With its eclectic furnishings…

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…and great view over the Intra-Coastal Waterway,  Le Tub seems the perfect place for a burger and beer.

Apparently Le Tub’s burgers were at some point voted by readers of GQ Magazine as the best in America, so DonQui decides to sample one. With 13 ounces of meat, the burger is not for the faint of heart but it is truly delicious.

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Although a bit out of the way to the south of Fort Lauderdale, DonQui is very glad to have been guided to Le Tub.

It is a perfect place to while away an afternoon in the Florida sun.

Cheese, Wine and Beer

No matter how good a meal has been, for DonQui, a good cheese course is often his favourite part of a long leisurely dinner.

Cheese and wine simply go together. It is for this reason he always takes cheese before desert, prolonging the savoury tastes and finishing off the wine at the same time.

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DonQui’s previously mentioned the superb cheese board at Domain de Barive’s Restaurant des Epicuriens. Before leaving he wants to try it again and he asks the sommelier to choose a glass of wine for him to accompany his cheese.

The sommelier peers over the cheeses DonQui has selected, thinks for one moment, pauses for a second, then makes a most interesting suggestion.

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Given the wide variety of cheese flavours DonQui has selected, the sommelier says that no one wine would go perfectly with all. What DonQui needs is three different accompanying drinks. DonQui silently tots up his alcohol tolerance, bearing in mind he had a glass with a previous course and a beer before the meal.

The sommelier reassures DonQui, telling him that for the price of one glass he could have three small ones. This seems like something worth trying.

DonQui had anticipated the sommelier would appear with red wines with his cheeses, or perhaps two reds and one white. He could not have been more wrong.

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To go with his local cheeses (on the left of the photo), he is brought a honey-coloured ‘biere du garde’ — a special ‘keeping’ brew from northern France which is reminiscent of some Belgian Trappist beers. There is champagne for the soft goats’ cheese (centre of photo) and a white wine from the Pyrenees to go with the Italian provolone and creamy Pyrenean white cheese (right of photo).

It all feels very indulgent but then DonQui likes to indulge himself. Left to his own devices he probably would have gone for a familiar hearty red wine for his cheese. He is glad that he did not. Not only were the sommelier’s choices absolutely perfect but they opened DonQui’s eyes to other new possibilities.

Food and Drink in Addis Ababa

Ethiopia has a distinctive cuisine which DonQui would like to know better. The staple is injera – a very large soft flatbread made from fermented teff flour. It tends to be served rolled up and the diner unrolls it to place a spicy thick stew (wat) on top.

dishes

Injera has a slightly sour taste and it takes DonQui some time to get accustomed to it. Dishes without meat are usually identified as ‘fasting’ since the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a number of fasting days when meat is not supposed to be eaten.

With only a few days in Addis Ababa, DonQui is only able to try out a few places and sample a limited number of dishes. He would have liked to try kifto which is a sort of Ethiopian tartare of high quality spiced meat served barely cooked or raw. Unfortunately he does not get around to it on this trip.

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A ‘Traditional Ethiopian feast with Cultural Show’ sounds frighteningly touristy to DonQui but dinner at Yod Abyssinia comes highly recommended so he decides to give it a go. The show is actually rather good and he does not feel like he has entered a tourist trap.

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The vast majority of customers are well-heeled looking locals and before long many of them are up on their feet and dancing along with the music.

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The food is excellent with an extensive buffet giving DonQui the chance to sample a wide variety of Ethiopian dishes he might not otherwise have come across. This is a good place to come with a group to share the vast array of food on offer.

DonQui is surprised at the large portions which seem to be offered up in the restaurants he goes to. At the Jupiter Hotel restaurant he tries out tibs fir-fir with injera. Tibs are roasted meats — in this case lamb. The fir-fir is a spicy tomato sauce with also has slices of rolled injera mixed in. The dish is is served with two additional injera, not than DonQui needs more.

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It is excellent but the amount is overwhelming and DonQui can barely manage half of it. He reckons that his portion could easily feed a small family. A Kenyan expat tells him that such large portions are increasingly common in Addis Ababa.

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Ethiopian beer is good. DonQui previously mentioned Habesha Cool Gold which is one of his favourite local bottled beers. Better still are the German style blonde and dark beers brewed on the premises of the Beer Garden.

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Catering to a mix of locals and expats this brew pub quickly becomes DonQui’s favourite watering hole. He particularly likes their dark beer but does not go as far as to try out one of the five litre towers. The Germanic influenced food is excellent — especially the chips and the Beer Garden’s signature grilled chicken.

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DonQui does not get around to sampling tej — Ethiopia’s honey wine. He does, however, drink plenty of the country’s most famous beverage which is coffee. The Ethiopians claim to have discovered coffee and they take great pride in it. Served in a similar way to Turkish coffee it has a smooth, slightly chocolaty taste which DonQui likes very much. At the end of a meal it is often somewhat bizarrely served with popcorn.

Cold Gold

IMG_1536 2After a long journey DonQui enjoys a much anticipated Habesha ‘Cold Gold’ brew at his hotel in Addis Ababa. It is a very good beer and he finds himself wondering if the labling would get past the UK’s Equalities Commission  or Advertising Standards if the Ethiopian brewery ever decided to try to export it.

Eating and Drinking in Lisbon

The food and drink DonQui samples while in Lisbon are all of the highest quality and, when compared to London, they are very reasonably priced.

Portugal is well known for excellent seafood and DonQui can only concur. From shell fish to sea bass and cod, all the fish dishes DonQui has the pleasure to taste are superb. Cod is perhaps not DonQui’s favourite fish but it is a Portuguese staple. It comes in all forms from fresh to dried and salted the latter harking back to the time of the late medieval Portuguese fishermen who discovered the great cod stocks at the Grand Banks off Newfoundland long before refrigeration.

Several restaurants had their menus broken down onto sections: meat, vegetarian, fish and cod. The ‘cod’ section, interestingly separate from ‘fish’ and containing at least as many options as the other sections on the menu.

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At Café Luso DonQui enjoys a wonderful grilled dried cod while being entertained by traditional Fado musicians and singers.

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DonQui was not sure he would like Fado. He had heard that they were soulful laments and not understanding Portuguese he wondered if he could properly appreciate it. He need not have worried. The base, guitar and mandolin backers play a joyful accompaniment to the excellent singers. The combination of soulful vocals and upbeat music reminds him of American country and western and he wonders if there may be an historical connection.

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DonQui is not in Lisbon long enough to become an expert on the best places to eat but one place stands out — this is As Salgadeiras Restaurante, a short trot from his Lisboa Carmo hotel in the heat of the Barrio Alto. From the outside there is not much to see but stepping inside leads to a warm, friendly place with superb food and drink. He does not have a reservation but arriving early (at around 19:30) he is able to secure a place and he is lucky to do so as it quickly fills up to capacity.

starterAfter delicious starters of prawns in butter sauce and melon with cured ham DonQui and Duchess share a roasted kid goat with chestnuts and roast potatoes. Having no knowledge of Portuguese wines DonQui asks the kindly waiter for advice.

This is a good call. The waiter not only knows which wines will go best with his meal but he takes great pride in the quality and range of what is on offer. When DonQui tells him of the paucity of Portuguese wines to be found in the UK, the waiter says: “We keep the best ones for ourselves,” as he offers a glass which is both superb and reasonably priced.

Better still is a snifter of Palacio da Brejoeira, Aguardente Velha which is offered to DonQui when he asks if there is a good Portuguese equivalent to cognac.

palacio-da-brejoeira-aguardente-velha.jpg copy“We have everything in Portugal,” is the reply and the glass is presented with great ceremony. A splash of the  Aguardente Velha is poured, set on fire, swisshed around the glass to warm it up, then discarded before the drink is offered. It is not cheap and the waiter warns DonQui of the price.

“Is it worth it?” DonQui asked

“Absolutely,” the waiter replies.

And it is.

The dinner at As Salgadeiras is certainly the best DonQui has in Lisbon but other places stand out too.

officinaOfficina do Duque is a slightly up-market modern eatery with a relaxed atmosphere and innovative dishes. Confit lamb with mint sorbet and shredded oxtail were both excellent choices and the chocolate mouse afterwards was one of the best.

choc mouse.jpgThe latter is so good that DonQui cannot wait to take a photograph before tucking in but the empty dish and his slightly guilty look bears evidence of its decedent glory.

Beer in southern Europe often does not have the variety and flavour to be found in northern countries. Light, relatively flavourless lagers tend to be the norm and they are better suited to the hot weather than the richer, darker beers of Belgium or Britain.

IMG_0633.jpgWith relatively low expectations DonQui is delighted to stumble across  Duque, a tint craft beer brewpub, which offers shot glass tastes of the various brews which shatter DonQui’s prejudices.

street.jpgLisbon is full of little bars and cafés which offer a wide variety of food, drink and entertainment. Walking along Rua do Norte, DonQui is drawn by the sound of live music coming from a small place with maybe half a dozen tables. There is a crowd outside and when DonQui makes his way through it a table is suddenly vacated and DonQui takes the opportunity to sit down as the band plays a rendition of Sting’s “Englishman in New York.”

bar.jpgFronted by a charismatic 20-something cross between Janis Joplin and Susie Quatro the band is excellent. Although they play mostly covers they give them their own twist, their repertoire ranging from Bob Marley to Rage Against the Machine. By the time the night is over Duchess is on her feet bopping to the rhythms along with many of the other patrons.

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After shaking off the fuzziness of a fun evening, DonQui heads over to the Time Out food market. Here stalls from 24 restaurants and 8 bars are brought together under one roof including some of the very best restaurants in Lisbon. This seems like a great idea to DonQui but when he visits he feels it seems all too much like a food court in a shopping mall.

 

Some fine old stuff

There cannot be many places in Western Europe which had their glory days at the end of the 5th century AD. Ravenna Italy is probably the only city which did. This is where DonQui finds himself — as ever on the trail of ‘old stuff’.   And what a wonderful collection of ‘old stuff’ it is!

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The 6th century Basilica of San Vitale

If you are thinking of a few piles of rubble which mark where this or that ancient Roman building used to stand, think again. Not only are many buildings still in tact, thanks to the fact that they were Christian churches, but their interiors are covered with incredibly vibrant mosaics.

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The 5th century mausoleum of Galla Placidia

Ravenna was the capital of the West Roman empire in her last years as it was more easily defensible than Rome thanks to the surrounding marshes. The Ostrogoths made it their capital in the 6th century and later the East Roman empire took it back.

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To get here, DonQui flew to Bologna and then took the train. Compared to the sleek modern intercity which took him from Madrid to Toledo a couple of weeks back, the small regional train was far less swish but it did the job, getting him to Ravenna after a journey of 1 hour 30 minutes through fairly uninteresting countryside.

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It is not just old stuff in Ravenna. The beautifully kept, elegant streets are filled with fine restaurants, stylish shops and fashionably dressed people.

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It is just as DonQui expected — this being northern Italy after all!

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Martins Caffe

At 7pm it is far too early to eat by Italian standards so DonQui goes in search of a watering hole where he can sit down to write. Spotting a young man with a computer in front of Martins Caffe he decides this will do the trick. Half the place is devoted to selling stupidly expensive handbags to fashionistas who inexplicably like such things. The other half houses a tempting bar. DonQui cannot help but admire the business acumen of the owners in providing a shop for ladies and a bar for their men-in-waiting.

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DonQui sits himself down and orders a Moratti Bianca — a ‘white’ wheat beer which is perfect for the 27 degree evening temperature.  It comes complete with an astonishing array of tasty comestibles (at no extra charge) which does away with the need for supper given that DonQui had a very good lunch earlier.

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Mosaic of the 6th century Emperor Justinian at San Vitale

Tomorrow he will explore some more.