Mr Smiles has spent a long weekend in Belgium to sample the Christmas beers for over 10 years. He used to make the trip with three male drinking pals, but now he’s got me! (Which isn’t such a bad thing!)
We drive over to Belgium and stay at the Holiday Inn Ghent -Expo, on the outskirts of Ghent. I must admit when my future husband first took me to Ghent I was expecting to stay in a beautiful building right in the heart of the city overlooking the canals. The Holiday Inn is convenient as it is just off the motorway, but it overlooks the motorway and Ikea and is what can only be described as an `ugly concrete monstrosity, lacking in charm’. However it is very convenient if you are driving and is right on the tram route into town. I must admit the `Holiday Inn’ has now become a good friend. The breakfast is extensive, the rooms are comfortable and it is easy to get to.
Why do we choose Ghent?
Ghent is Belgium’s unsung city. Much of Ghents’ medieval architecture remains intact. I am sure this is equally true of Bruges and other Belgian cities. However Ghent is much less touristy and `tacky’.The vast majority of the centre is car free so it is a pleasure to stroll along the canal sides enjoying the amazing Flemish architecture.
Medieval Architecture – Ghent
Ghent has an almost Mediterranean feel with its cafes and bars spilling out onto the squares and paths. I would add though that the Christmas Market is disappointing. We did enjoy a hot glass of Mulled Wine and waffles listening to a band playing festive music. There were stalls selling mistletoe and Christmas trees. However I couldn’t see anything I would want to buy in the Christmas Markets as a souvenir.
Ghent has lots of restaurants, bars and cafes to relax in. The narrow cobbled streets of the 12th century Patershol neighbourhood are home to countless fine restaurants. The Patershol district was at one time the haunt of prostitutes and lay abouts. Now it is an exclusive part of town and is the culinary heart of the city. One of our favourite restaurants is t’ Klokhuys Brasserie on Corduwanierstraat. It has a typical Flemish menu with specials on a blackboard and there is a good choice of beers. One thing we noticed in Ghent is that every restaurant serves the classic dish of Gentse Stooverij, Flemish Beef Stew, slow cooked with generous amounts of Belgian beer accompanied with french fries. The other classic Ghent dish is Waterzooi. The original form is made of fish, either freshwater or sea, (viszooitje), though today chicken waterzooi (kippenwaterzooi) is more common. Both the chicken and fish versions are based on an egg yolk and cream thickened vegetable broth and the dish is usually served as a soup with a baguette to sop up the liquid. To be honest I am not keen on Waterzooi as it tastes like tinned chicken soup to me and I am not keen on chicken soup. This means that much as I love Flemish Beef Stew I don’t want to eat it in every restaurant for every meal with the obligatory french fries.
What we like about t’Klokhuys Brasserie is that it is a cosy little restaurant which serves a variety of dishes and cooks them to a high standard. I chose to have a pork casserole which came with a good selection of vegetables. For dessert I had a Belgian Chocolate mousse which was divine. The beer was good aswell!
The other restaurant we like is Chez Leontine Bistro. This is the sort of place we love -cosy, rustic and full of atmosphere. This Bistro is next to the Waterhuis, overlooking the river and Groetenmarkt, and therefore shares its excellent beer list .We had a lovely meal of the usual Belgian classics and found the waiter very helpful giving us advice on new beers to try.
Christmas Beers at Chez Leontine Bistro – Stille Nacht and Val-Dieu Biere du Noel
Beer is to the Belgians what wine is to the French. Several hundred beers are produced all of which have their own character and are served in their own type of glass. Most restaurants serve a few different beers however there is a greater selection in the many bars. We particularly like Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, Groetenmarkt. This is a popular canal-side bar with over 100 beers to choose from.
We spent a very pleasant afternoon enjoying the beer and sharing a cheese platter which was very tasty.
The other bar we like is De Dulle Griet, Vrijdagmarkt. It is quite a cosy place, with classic beer memorabilia and seems to attract locals, students and tourists in equal number which is good to see. Mr Smiles particularly enjoys a Kerst Pater Christmas beer in here. If you order a Large Kwak beer the bartender takes one of your shoes, deposits it in a basket, and hoists it to the ceiling – you get it back when, and if, you finish your beer. I declined one of these!
The only down side is the place gets very smoky and the narrow winding staircase to the toilets is quite a challenge if you’ve had a few Trappist Beers!
One fantastic find this year was the Beer and Ginhouse housed in a beautiful Medieval Building on the waterside, Kraanlei. The Beer and Ginhouse in Ghent, Belgium stocks a large range of Belgium beers and jeneva (gin). I was able to stock up on 22 different ales and the glasses that go with them. The proprietor was ever so helpful and sourced all the beers I asked for from the Bierhouse under the same ownership. So watch out for more Belgian Beer Art over the next few months! I am planning to produce a calender next year. I have already had a suggestion that I should offer a free Belgian Beer with every calender purchased!