5 Belgian restaurants worth travelling to
What kind of meal would it take to get you out of Brussels? A culinary voyage of adventure, daring and delight at one of Belgium’s newest, most cutting-edge restaurants? Perhaps the chance to sit down to a tasting menu at Peter Goossen’s famous three-star Hof van Cleve, which is regularly listed as one of the best restaurants in the world? Or maybe you’re just looking for some cosy, home-cooking done the best way it can be done?
Whether by train, bus or car, here are five Belgian restaurants worth leaving the capital to try.
1. In De Wulf, Dranouter
At the tender age of 23 and with only a few years of experience working at high-end restaurants in the Netherlands and Spain, Kobe Desramaults took over his parents' struggling French bistro in Dranouter, deep in West Flanders, and transformed it into a restaurant that today is making waves across the culinary world. By the time he was 25, In De Wulf had earned Desramaults his first Michelin star. In June this year, the restaurant was named the best restaurant in Europe by food critic blog Opinionated About Dining.
It’s a dining experience you can’t get anywhere else – mainly because the large majority of Desramaults’ ingredients come directly from his environment. When he isn’t growing his own herbs, he is sourcing from adventurous local farmers, buying fresh fish over in nearby Dunkirk or, yes, even foraging in the Flemish Heuvelland.
A meal at In De Wulf is truly a voyage, which can be rounded off with a night’s stay in the few, beautifully stark rooms in the B&B upstairs. If you’re too timid to venture so far into the wilderness, you can also try Desramaults’ De Vitrine in Ghent.
2. Chez Clément, Genval
If In De Wulf is a once-in-a-lifetime experience of experiment and discovery, Chez Clément is the type of place where you want to become a regular. A lively brasserie along the road to Louvain-la-Neuve, not far outside Brussels, this restaurant is about making heart-warming Belgian cuisine the best it can be.
The menu is familiar – tomates aux crevettes, stoemp and meatloaf, filet americain – but with a few surprises, like a red tuna sashimi starter. The prices are a bit higher than average but unlikely to be balked at. While it’s not the gastronomic adventure that some of the others on this list are, Chez Clément's strength lies in offering a superb taste of home.
If you’re looking for something more intimate, try A Coté de Chez Clément, located, as its name suggests, right next door. Its small dining room serves up bistronomie fare, similarly Belgian, like Chez Clément, but with more of a gastronomic flair.
3. The Jane, Antwerp
New on the Antwerp restaurant scene since this year, The Jane (pictured) is being talked about as much on architecture and design blogs as on food blogs. On the food side, renowned Dutch chefs Sergio Herman and Nick Bril offer up exquisitely well-thought-out eight-course meals. While just this week it pleased the overlords of fine dining and received its first Michelin star, the experimental culinary creations also give off a strong aroma of rock'n'roll.
Food aside, many say The Jane is worth a visit for the space alone. Built inside the chapel of a former 19th-century military hospital, designer Piet Boon lent texture to the high, arching ceilings with more modern accents, including a massive spindly chandelier, stained-glass windows and a glowing neon skull.
4. Arabelle Meirlaen, Marchin
As much an artist as she is a chef, Arabelle Meirlaen cooks in a way that looks at the whole system, from taste to sourcing to nutrition, preparing what she calls cuisine intuitive. Meirlaen says that her food “is about common sense, a cuisine close to nature and the personal conviction about what is good for you.” So herbs and plants – many of which she grows herself – are used not only for their textures and flavours, but also for their medicinal or digestive purposes.
Now her self-named restaurant, which is tucked between Namur and Liège near Huy, has earned itself a Michelin star and has a rating of 18 out of 20 in the Gault Millau guide.
5. Vrijmoed, Ghent
Named among the best emerging young chefs in Flanders, Michael Vrijmoed cut his culinary teeth as sous-chef for Peter Goossens at Hof van Cleve, before opening his own place in Ghent proper last year. At Vrijmoed, four- to six- course menus range from €60 to €85 and provide experimental yet honest and simple creations based on regional and seasonal products.
Photo coutesy thejaneantwerp.com