Belgium Advice - Brussels, Gent, Bruges, and Antwerp
I'm heading to Belgium for a week in early October and have done a fair amount of research, but am a bit conflicted on making my final decisions and could use some advice.
I already have reservations at In De Wulf and Oud Sluis so my fancy restaurants are pretty well covered but I might consider adding another one.
Here are some of the places I was considering in each of the cities. Any thoughts on them? Preferences? Any I'm missing? In particular I'd like to find a place with great moules frites.
Bistro Den Huzaar
De Heeren van Liedekercke
Brasserie le Macon
La Bonne Humeur
Le Pre Sale
Le Bier Circus
Antwerp - I got nothing
My research on breweries/beer bars is pretty well complete and prioritized.
Found a few cheese shops in Gent mentioned (Schollaert, Mekka, Het Hinkelspel, Ledeberg) but are there any better ones in the other cities?
Outside of Liege, where can I find good Liege Waffles?
Any preferences among these Chocolatiers I was considering?
Brussels - Pierre Marcolini, Le Saint Aulaye, Wittamer, Mary's, Alex & Alex, AM Sweet
Bruges - The Chocolate Line, Van Tillborgh
Had a great trip and thoroughly enjoyed your country. Especially the beer and cheese.
Starting with In de Wulf - Amazing meal and great visit out to the countryside. Very cute hotel along with it too. I would highly recommend going there and would be happy to go back. Started the meal in the front sitting room with an aperitif and amuse bouches of crisps and various pickled vegetables. Nice wood burning stove there too. First highlight dish for me was the burnt bread with maroilles cheese. It seems like all places have a "burnt" dish these days but In De Wulf's might have been my favorite. Cracker dusted with mushroom powder and the maroilles was funky and melted in my mouth. Very good. Mussels were awesome too; plump, juicy and a great sauce that tasted a bit Thai influenced. Good pickled radishes with it too. The scallops were lightly grilled and perfectly cooked with a nice sauce. Salt crusted celeriac was awesome and very cool to see them struggle to crack it open. Quite good itself and the house made cream cheese was great, but the real highlight for me was this other housemade cheese they served with it. Amazing cheese that was funky and melted in my mouth. Wild duck was great after that. Blue cheese cauliflower was good. Pickled pear and goat cheese were great. For the desserts I loved the wild french strawberry with chamomile ice cream. Great meal all around. Creative, local, fresh, homemade, lots of cheese and great execution.
Breakfast the next morning at In De Wulf was fantastic too. Nicely cooked eggs with bacon, great homemade jams and various breads. And one of the best cheese plates I've ever had. So glad I chose to stay there that night.
My experience at Oud Sluis was not quite as good. Super swanky and they are definitely trying hard with their service for that 3rd Michelin Star but something about it seemed fake. Everyone was nice for sure but I preferred the more relaxed environment of In De Wulf (which was clearly influenced by Noma). I don't think I really had any bad dishes but there weren't really many that are jumping out at me right now either. Maybe the cockles soup? Sergio Herman definitely has a certain style and most of the dishes seemed to follow the same structure: seafood paired with a salad of wild herbs, some sort of foam and some sort of crisp. Which made it all a bit monotonous in the end. Wine pairings were okay but not that special. And so many desserts; too many in my opinion. I thought it was a bit douchey for him to put his website on one of them too. Eh, whatever. I'm not sure if I regret going but I probably wouldn't go back. Especially for the price.
La Villette - Brussels - Maybe a little touristy but not overly so and a very good meal. Great fresh mussels in season. And they had Westvleteren 12 for much cheaper than anywhere else I saw.
Moeder Lambic - Brussels - Cool beer bar and wish I'd spent more time. Friendly and helpful staff. Great selection of beers on tap that I really didn't see anywhere else or that you can get anywhere else (Cantillon on tap/cask? yes please). Good bottle list too.
Kulminator - Antwerp - Excellent beer bar. Tap list wasn't really anything special but the bottle list is incredible. Such an amazing selection of rare and vintage beers. It was a bit daunting of a list but you could spend years going through it and never repeat a beer. Kitsch cool spot too and very friendly owners.
De Vitrine - Gent - Great casual lunch here. After my excellent meal at In De Wulf I knew I wanted to stop here too. Had a great pate, chicharrones, and veal cheeks. Good execution, small menu, well made food.
Tete Pressee - Bruges - Similar to De Vitrine but maybe even better. Casual and loved to see them making the food right in front of me. Awesome eggplant toast with a sort of smoked burrata cheese. Milk fed pig was pretty good but the butternut squash and brown butter sauce with it were great. Excellent cheese plate with it too.
Bistro Den Huzaar - Bruges - Slightly touristy but a pretty good meal. Had a great pumpkin soup and a very nice roasted pigeon with kriek sauce there.
Brugs 't Beertje - Bruges - Solid beer bar here too. Not quite up to the same standard as Kulminator or Moeder Lambic but still good.
De Garre - Great trippel. Hard to find.
In De Vrede - Went to the cafe when visiting Saint Sixtus Abbey at Westvleteren. Decent enough sandwich but the ice cream made with Westy 12 was great. And definitely worth going just to get Westy 12 fresh.
Chocolate: The Chocolate Line makes some delicious stuff. Very glad I went there. Pierre Marcolini makes some really good ones too and is a pretty stunning store but I think I preferred The Chocolate Line.
Cheese: Het Hinkelspel should be sought out for local Belgian cheese they make themselves plus raw milk, butter and yogurt they make too. Mekka (ghent) had a good international selection of cheeses but slightly less Belgian centric. And the deli shop attached to Tete Pressee had a small but high quality selection of local Belgian cheeses, meats and some of their foods.
I think that about covers it.
Looking at your list I see a few top places missing, but basically your choice is sound.
For Antwerp I agree with the suggestion you add Nuance in Duffel (a 20 minute drive from the city center)
Try Invincible as well. Less ornate, more basic cooking with counter seating and a very clever wine list.
For Ghent you ought to consider Dewitte Benoit en Bernard in Zingem. (Fifteen minute drive from Ghent center.) Right now imho the best in Belgium.
In Brussels I strongly recommend you do not go to Museumsbrasserie.
Kelderke, Pre Sale and Bonsoir Clara offer little interest. Why not consider Henri - www.restohenri.be - if you are after typical Belgian dishes done in a simple and straightforward manner based on quality products. Interesting wine selection.
Hard to beat Marcolini for chocolate, in terms of the basic product and the aromas, but I find Darcis in Verviers - darcis.com - better, a lot better in fact. Then again Verviers is a long ride.
Enjoy and report back please.
re: Nancy S.
Nancy, I was planning to take my wife for her birthday to Hertog Jan largely on the strength on the previous feedback from others and yourself.
Should I cancelmy reservation and instead dine at De Jonkman instead? I would be grateful if you could share on why Hertog Jan was disappointing this year. Thank you
De Jonkman was exponentially better than Hertog Jan, not only the food but the wines and service. It was simply a spectacular dinner. The food at Hertog Jan is much more simplified than it was and the preparations were simply harsh and not that delicious. Also, the service was supercilious and the wine pours were stingy. I will return to De Jonkman next summer but not to Hertog Jan. I like Hertog Jan better when it was two stars.