Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grand Cafe de Rooden Hoed & Laurent Perrier Champagne Bar @ Antwerp

We were walking around Antwerp and wondering what we should eat for lunch. Then we came across this restaurant which seemed to be quite popular as many people were sitting at the terrace due to sunny weather. The Grand Cafe de Rooden Hoed can be translated to Red Hat Cafe in English. Located on Oude Koornmarkt, this street is filled with cafe and restaurants.

On such a sunny day, a cooling Duvel Tripel Hop is nice!


I was surprised when I saw these being served as complimentary appetiser. It looks like the "Balitong" that we have in Malaysia. The needles are used to poke the flesh out from the shell. And these are quite addictive because I walloped almost 3 quarter of the it.

Kaaskroketten €12.50

Luc had cheese croquettes served with north sea shrimps and garden cress. The croquettes are piping hot but they are delicious!

Escargots  €14.00

I had the escargots that are baked in herb butter. The funny thing was, I couldn't get one of the flesh out from the shell and I thought I should just tell the waiter about it. He collected my plate and a few seconds later, he came out with one of the escargots and the flesh is half taken out. It was nice for them to do that for me or else I will loose a yummy escargot.

Paling in 't groen  €24.50

Luc ordered an eel dish which is cooked in the "grandmother's" way. It comes with a herb sauce, parsley and potatoes. I liked how the potatoes looked so smooth and nicely peeled. It's not really my dish as I don't fancy eels.

Waterzooi €16.50

I didn't know what to order as the whole menu is in Dutch and they do not have an English menu at the moment. Luc recommended that I should give this dish a try as it is a typical Belgian dish where the meat of guinea fowl is cooked in a poultry broth with fine vegetables and castle potatoes. It's really good and the broth is milky and flavourful.

It was really a nice lunch as we enjoyed the good weather and also the sight of horses with the carriages passing by. These are some of the tourist attraction that you can find in Antwerp. The restaurant is nice with good service but I think the price is rather expensive. This is expected as it is located on a busy tourist street.

Grand Café De Rooden Hoed
Oude Koornmarkt 25
2000 Antwerpen
Tel: +32 (0)3 2890909

After lunch, we walked around and eventually ended at Stadsfeestzaal which used to be a ballroom built in the year 1908 and Luc told me that he remembered dancing here when he's young. It was almost completely destroyed in a fire but was renovated in 2004-2007. This is located on a main street called Meir where it's a shopping street.

A must visit at Stadsfeestzaal is the Laurent-Perrier Champagnebar. It's not an ordinary champagne bar because this bar is shaped like a champagne glass and the structure of this bar is amazing. 

At the bar, you'll be sitting 7.5m above ground and it overlooks the whole ballroom. We ordered a champagne each. I had a Rose (€15) and Luc had a Brut Millesime 2002 (€14) which is served with 2 pieces of cookies.

You would think sitting at the top is scary and unstable but it seems to be ok and you can take the opportunity to admire the structure and interior of this building.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Trip to Westvleteren & In De Verde @ Sint Sixtusabdij

This emblem puts a smile on my face. I knew that I have arrived at the world famous location where you can enjoy a glass of the world's best beer (as rated by Ratebeer). And the only bar where you can enjoy countless amount of Westvleteren beer legally is here at In De Verde because apparently if you managed to secure 2 cases of Westvleteren beer and you resell it, it's considered illegal.

We were surprised that a place like In De Vrede located some 150km away from where we came from is full of people. This place is located at the country side, a place full of farms, horses, cows and donkeys. Roads here are mostly single lane and you'll be lucky if you don't bump into any tractors coming your way. This is also the place where even the Belgians themselves don't understand each other because of the Dutch slang they used. But of course for me, I couldn't tell the difference.

From Left: Westvleteren 12 (10.8%), Westvleteren Blonde (5.8%) & Westvleteren 8 (8%)

The reason why these beers are so highly sought for is due to numerous factors. Firstly the name "Trappist Beer" can only be used if the beer is brewed by Trappist monks in their monastery. There are 6 Trappist Beers from Belgium and these are Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Westvleteren. And among these beers could be bought from supermarkets or drink shops except Westvleteren where you can only call their reservation centre on a certain day (usually Tues & Wed from 9am to 12.15noon) and then drive to Sixtusabdij to collect on the following week according to the collection time agreed.

Sounds easy? It's definitely NOT! The monastery only releases a limited number of cases of Westvleteren beers and sometimes it could be the 8, 12 or blonde according to the schedule given on their website. The first time we called, we were lucky to be able to get through and reserve 2 cases (limited to 2 cases per car). You have to give the car registration number to them and to use the same car for collection. The same telephone number used to call and the same car number used to collect the beers cannot call or buy for the next 60days. And we had to drive 300km in total just for these beers!!! Now that's how precious a Westvleteren beer is!!!

This is the abbey and at the side of this building, there is a place for the cars to pick up the beers which has been reserved the week before. They also have a new building in progress where the bottling facility will be located.

The place where the beers are collected. Cars were queuing up to collect and then to make payment. There are some cars coming all the way from Holland and Sweden too. Look at the crates of Westvleteren 8!! I want all of them....

While Luc went to collect the beer, Thomas and me were sitting in the cafe in front of a little shop where they sell Westvleteren glasses, beers, pate and cheeses. According to the staff, there will be some Westvleteren 12 available in half and hour and we were determined to get some. So we waited, and waited and finally after an hour, we saw a pallet of beers in the shop and we rushed to the scene and soon a long queue started to build up (at these moment, I felt "kiasuism" is needed). We were lucky to be the first few and every person is only allowed to buy 6 bottles (EUR20).

Besides drinking Westvleteren beers, one could also have a snack or a meal here at In De Vrede. I ordered a Croque Monsieur "in de Vrede" with ham, cheese and tomatoes (EUR4.80) while Luc had a Boterham met abdijpate (EUR4.50). They are so delicious and especially the pate!! The price is very cheap and the pate is just heavenly.

This is where you can really enjoy countless of Westvleteren beers (prices range from EUR3.70-4.90) even if you don't get to reserve any through the telephone. However, I would really think twice about driving 150km all the way to this place for a beer and to return home empty handed. My favourite is still the Westvleteren 12 as it is fruity and fresh (due to fresh brew dates) and it doesn't feel like a heavy beer at all even at 10.8% alcohol. This beer can be aged well and to some, it's even better after 10-20 years of cellaring. This is indeed the HOLY GRAIL of beers!

And just 5-10 mins drive from Sixtusabdij is the St Bernadius Watou Brewery which makes absolutely stunning beers as well. There's an interesting story between the Westveleteren and St Bernadius and if you're interested, you can check out this site. One can go on a brewery tour at St Bernadius but a pre-booking has to be made and more details here. We didn't leave the brewery empty handed because we bought a few more of their special edition magnum bottles and then some paraphernalia. It was indeed a  fun-filled beer day!

In De Vrede
Donkerstraat 13
8640 Westvleteren
Tel: +32 (0) 570400377

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Royal North Sea Yacht Club @ Oostende, Belgium

The Royal North Sea Yacht Club is the only yacht club located in the city centre along the Belgian coast. There are many restaurants, a train station, shops and busses within walkin distance. Luc made a reservation here for our dinner as he told me the restaurant at the yacht club is really good.

The restaurant and bar is located on the highest floor and it has a sunny terrace that overlooks the Belgian coast. However, the capacity of the restaurant is only 30 people and it's not easy to get a reservation here.

Artisanale Garnaalkroketten, Gerfrituurde Peterselie €16

Luc ordered a shrimp croquette with parsley as I decided to skip the appetisers. I was still stuffed from the previous beer session at Botteltje. This is a typical dish of the Belgians and also the Dutch because I remember eating croquettes every meal when I was in Netherlands. The Croquettes were piping hot and the outer layer was so crispy. It was very delicious indeed.

Klassiek gebakken kabeljauw met een lauwe aardappelsalade en tuinkruiden €25

I ordered a Classic baked cod with potato salad and garden herbs. It's been a challenge for me to understand the menu here as most of them are written in Dutch and sometimes with French. During my almost 2 months stay, I've learnt some words and I could also figure out some of the dishes especially if it's written in French. Sigh... it's a daunting chore to ask my bf to translate everytime at a restaurant but some staff were nice enough to explain to me in English. The cod was so good as it was fresh, fleshy and smooth.

Gebakken Zeetong met Garnituren en frietjes

Luc ordered a fried sole with fries and one dish that I really like during my stay here is the Zeetong which is also called a "dover sole" or "black sole". It's from a family of flat fish and it usually lives in shallow water with sand or mud at the bottom. It's really delicious when it's grilled and served with a little lemon juice.

Frietjes or also known as Belgian Fries because the people here find it offensive to call it French Fries. It's thicker than the normal French Fries and it has a firmer outlet layer. This is like a national food of the Belgians and I've not come across anyone here who doesn't like them. If you go to any restaurant, you can be sure that they serve Frietjes and people can eat them by tonnes!!

We had a bottle of 2011 Domaine Thibert Pouilly-Fuisse Bourgogne €42 which is affordable and the wine is definitely drinking very well. I think we'll never get these prices for such a good bottle when dining in Malaysia. I will miss the wines very much when I go home....

The happy bf after a good meal!!!

Royal North Sea Yacht Club
Montgomerykaai 1  

8400 Oostende

Tel: +32 (0) 59 70 27 54

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hotel Bero & Lindores Whisky Lounge @ Oostende, Belgium

One of the weekends, we drove 120km to the west which lies the city of Oostende on the Belgian coast. This is a very popular and famous destination for tourists and especially locals during summer. It took us about 1 hour and 20 minutes to arrive at the beautiful city of Oostende which overlooks the coastline and a beautiful Railway station that greeted us along the journey to Hotel Bero. It was a nice drive as the weather was cool and chilly (despite being in summer). Belgian weather is really unpredictable and crazy at times.

Rock Strangers by Arne Quinze

Probably the most hilarious thing I found out about this "port city" is the sight of a series of monumental metal sculptures that were scattered across the seafront looked more like some leftovers of architectural materials than art. Well, to many these electric orange structures are visually stimulating but to me, they are quite an eyesore. I think it could have been more tasteful if it's done in stainless steel instead of orange but that's my opinion and I'm no connoisseur in art appreciation.

We walked on the walkway by the beach on the Friday we arrived but the wind was too chilly and it was cold. It was really impossible to walk too near the beach and what more a swim in the chilly waters?!! I just couldn't imagine the weather could be this cold in summer!

We put up a stay at Hotel Bero for 2 nights. This is a hotel with a great location as it is just 2 minutes walk to the beach and it's near to the shops and restaurants. They have just renovated the hotel and it has been the top 3 hotel in Oostende on TripAdvisor for quite sometime.

There are 55 rooms in this 4 star hotel and we were checked into the 5th floor (the highest floor) which is the executive suite. The room is big and spacious, clean and the amenities provided includes iron, tea & coffee, bathrobes, mini fridge (but no minibar), shampoo and shower gel. The toilet is also spacious and equipped with a rain shower and towels. The room we had comes with a nice terrace that has an almost 180 degrees view of the surrounding but sadly only a part of the beach. Some of the rooms are also designed to be disabled friendly. But of course the best thing is that free wifi is available in the entire hotel.

The view from the terrace in our room.

The cafeteria here only serves breakfast. The breakfast here is great and great I mean by my standards for European hotels. You cannot expect a hotel here would serve a breakfast with 4-5 different nationality cuisine spread unlike the hotels back home but here they have a good selection of cold ham and salami, cheeses, cereals, a variety of bread, bacon and eggs. They have a few types of juices and a few varieties of coffee, which to me is already a very good breakfast. Of course I always miss a good breakfast in a nice hotel back home because I want to eat fried noodles and then a nice bowl of warm porridge!

For more info of the hotel, you can check out their website here. The rooms starts from EUR130++ and  it comes with breakfast. The facilities here include swimming pool, sauna, steam bath, a fitness centre and a children playroom.

One of the biggest attraction of Hotel Bero would of course be the bar. This is the home of the Lindores Whisky Vault and their "On The Rock's Bar" which serves a decent list of Single Malt Whiskies and also a good selection of cask strength whiskies from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) which is quite a famous Whisky Club and independent bottler.

The whisky bar of Hotel Bero was also awarded the Best Whisky Bar 2013 by the Belgian Whisky Awards and I can see why. The whiskies they have here is amazing. I would say that I have not tasted even 10% of what they have here!! Most of the bottles here are so foreign-looking for me. You'll be ogling at the cabinets of whiskies and also empty bottles like me if you are a whisky enthusiast. I felt like a little girl in a Candy store. I'm sure you know how that feels.

The lounge is cosy and warm, just in the right mood for a dram. It feels like drinking at home but of course my home doesn't have such a collection of whisky! And if you are ever drunk here, the room is just upstairs. How convenient!

Of course being here with the Lindores Whisky Society president has its perks. I get to drink from the vault and some of the bottles here are legendary. One of the bottles belonging to my partner is a bottle of Glenfarclas 40yo which they are only 590 bottles out there and it was housed in a very special case. Luc says to me that I can drink it if only I could open the case (many have failed) and of course after a few tries and some intelligence, I managed to figure out how to open it. And I deserved a big dram!!!

One of the unforgettable bottles was this Rosebank 34 years old. Not only the distillery has been closed and a Rosebank bottle is a sought after whisky today but this bottle here is a prewar bottle. This is something I never thought I would have a chance to try. What a privilege!

I wished I could stomach more drams but after a few, I decided to call it a night and head upstairs for a good sleep.

The Lindores Whisky Society (LWS) is a renowned club for their passion about single malt whisky and every year, there will be a Whiskyfest that is held at Hotel Bero by the members of the LWS to expose and educate the whisky enthusiasts about whisky. This is where they showcase a number of bottles, mostly private bottlings that we have not seen before and for a price per dram, the visitor can taste from this bottles. This year, the Whiskyfest 2013 will be held in this hotel from 23rd to 24th of November. And I'll be there!!! More info here.

Hotel Bero
Hofstraat 1AOstend 8400Belgium

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A fine 2 Michelin Star dining at Nuance @ Duffel, Belgium

I just found out that a small country like Belgium would have a total of 106 Michelin Star restaurants listed in the 2012 guide and in the province of Antwerp itself, there's 15 outlets with 1 & 2 Michelin stars. That's quite impressive isn't it? Looking for a Michelin Star dining outlet back in my country is like fishing for sea urchins in the Klang River because there's none. 

Located on Killaanstraat in Duffel, is a french-belgian fine dining outlet that looked so humble from the exterior but if you have a Michelin guide in hand or if you are residing in Antwerp, you will know that Nuance is a 2 Michelin Star restaurant ran by husband and wife team - Thierry Theys and Sofie Willemarck. Born on the same year as me, Chef Theys has already earned his first Michelin Star when he's 26 years old. Guess what I'm doing when I'm 26?!! My achievements is nothing as compared to this talented young man. Today he heads the kitchen with his wife whom is also the restaurant manager. Together they make a good team in keeping the standards at Nuance.

So what brought me there? Luc has made a reservation for lunch and Thomas and him has been telling me that this is a restaurant that I cannot miss and I have to have a fine meal there. We ordered a set menu which consists of 6-7 dishes with dessert. And even before our first course is served, we were already served with 5 different types of amuse bouche which is not inclusive of the super-tasty freshly baked breads. The amuse bouche is not only a teaser to our tastebuds, it is also a fine food art for the eyes.

 Clams with yellow tomato, mi-confit and verveine.

 Focaccia with salmon and basil, citrus cream and smoked yogurt. 

 Feuilletine of foie gras, strawberry jelly and white balsamic and pepper jam.

Spicy jus of watermelon, spanish anchovies and parmesan cheese.

Aged beef roll, cassava chips and tamarind.

We chose a bottle of D.O Ribera Del Duero, Alion Cosecha 2008 for EUR125. Steven Wullaert, the sommelier at Nuance is also awarded the Best sommelier in Belgium in 2012. He will be the best person to be serving the wines and to ask if you have any doubts about the bottles.

After sampling so many amuse bouche, finally the first course of the set menu arrives. I think I'm already half full from the numerous delicious tastebud teasers.

Mackerel, radish, grapefruit and hibiscus dressing. 
I'm not a big fan of radish but this dish brings a refreshing and light start to the menu.

As you can see, the sight is as appealing as the taste itself. Chef Theys has his own presentation style and he tends to always have them beautifully arranged on one side of the plate. It makes you wonder if there will be more food arriving for the other side of the plate.

 Norway crayfish, garden beans, zucchini rolls and cream, chimichurri (a type of sauce from Argentina made of red peppers, onions and garlic). The crayfish was well-prepared and flavourful without over-cooking and the pairing sauces compliments the dish really well.

 John Dory, sepia (squid), juice of sepia, chips with soufled rice and ink, white asparagus and mayo of Verveine. As you can see, the presentation of the food is really simple but yet stylish in its own way. This dish is well executed and the soup is really tasty.

Luc's main is a Texel Lamb shoulder with a slice of "varnished" eggplant, morilles/morchella (a type of mushroom), cream of ricotta and black garlic. Writing this makes me think of my limited food vocabulary. The only thing I knew would be lamb and eggplant. The rest sounds really foreign to me. The lamb was just tender, juicy and it's not even gamey as I am a little paranoid towards gamey meats and thus I asked for something else instead of having this lamb dish.

I opted for shoulder of veal with "varnished" eggplant, buckwheat, carrots, cream of black garlic. It's exactly the same garnish as the lamb but I had the veal instead and there was not even a single tinge of regret as the veal was grilled medium rare which retained its juiciness of the meat and it was so tender. I really like the cream of black garlic which is something that I've never heard of.

 Finally after plates and plates of savoury courses, the dessert arrives. The Rhubarb and Strawberry dessert looks really delish especially with the use of the different shades of red. The strawberry is slighty yellowish and greenish not because it's unripe but because it's a cross breed between strawberry and pineapple. Isn't that exotic? It's slightly sour and sour is not my favourite taste.

Another Strawberry dessert and also an iced strawberry. It's Belgium and they are really crazy about strawberries! However, I must say that Belgian Strawberries is the best!

The citrus cake with mousse of cucumber, white chocolate, jasmin flower and the Buddha head made of Gin & Tonic. I was surprised when they served me this dessert as I saw something resembling the head of a Buddha. The restaurant has the mould custom-made for this dessert and I absolutely adore the presentation and the refreshing taste of cucumbers. 

After the 3 desserts, we were served another few plates of petite fours. It's like a never-ending journey of culinary display by the talented chef. Every dish was a delicious mixture of tastes, textures and sight which touched the hearts of every foodie like me.

Thomas is really doing a good job as an intern at the restaurant. He has been attentive and was even kind enough to explain the dishes in English for me and in Dutch for his father. And as when I thought we have reached the end of our indulgent afternoon, he came to us with a basket of freshly-baked madeleines. How could I resist that?!! I tried so hard to find a space in my digestive system to fit that wonderful madeleine and I did! I swear that it would be the last piece of food I eat for that afternoon.

After that I requested if I could see the kitchen and meet the Chef Theys and they are so kind to accomodate the request. Visiting the kitchen of a Michelin star restaurant for the first time, I'm really impressed as the kitchen was so in order! It's not big but hygiene and cleanliness is definitely a priority here as I can see the staff climbing onto the stove counter and scrubbing the walls. Apparently they clean the whole kitchen after every lunch or dinner. Wow... this is really a good practice!

Another feature of this restaurant is that they sends you a handwritten bill instead of a printed one! Our set menu are priced at EUR100 each and if you would like a wine pairing, that would be another addition of EUR40/50. In the end, we spent 4 hours dining at this restaurant and we returned home feeling extremely full and satisfied. This is truly a gem in Duffel.

Restaurant Nuance
Killaanstraat, 6-8, 2570 Duffel
Tel: +32(0)1563 4265
Closed on Tues, Wed and Sat noon.

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