Thien Long, Brussels 03-2018

I was surprised to find so many Vietnamese (some doubling with Thai and Chinese) restaurants near where I stayed. It might be a bit disheartening to see that the menus do crossover cuisine quite a bit, but the staff at Thien Long are Vietnamese, including the lady in the kitchen who seems to only speak Vietnamese (ie. not French).

Pho bo is at a reasonable price €11 for a large. I'm quite sure the broth has MSG (as does the Flying Goose sriracha - the cock brand is better FYI). But the broth tastes good and nicely spiced. It is so authentic that they even give you both sawtooth herb (ngo gai) and Thai basil - true pho people will understand the significance of that. I've only ever been given ngo gai in Vietnam, maybe partially because it's expensive elsewhere, but still this was very impressive.

Additionally the noodles were good with a little bit of spring and no mush. The meatballs and brisket were very soft, although the sirloin wasn't the most tender but still acceptable.

Minimal English spoken so it helps to know French (or the Vietnamese names of foods as in my case).

I would return.

La Tortue Du Sablon, Brussels 02-2012

One of the most highly rated places in Brussels is Le Wine Bar Du Sablon. I went past here a few times are considered if I should enter. I think my own inability to actually enjoy wine prevented me from doing so and I moved on to somewhere I'd feel less judged. After all going to a wine bar without drinking wine is akin to a steakhouse for a vegetarian?

Anyway along Rollebeek Street I came across La Tortue Du Sablon. I know there's no relationship but the Sablon part caught my eye first due simply to familiarity with the word. Secondly came the little turtle of which there was also a baby turtle faux-leather door stopper that I also have in Melbourne. I was sold upon eating here.

The menu was quite pricey. The truffle menu enticed me so much but I had to resist due to the sheer amount I had spent of food this Belgium trip. So during a lunchtime break in my conference, I wandered in as the only soul there at the time. The express menu (€32.50) had all the ingredients of dreams.

- Goose liver & black truffle, coulis of duck sauce and bread - very intense foie. I wasn't able to finish it given the size and how rich it was;
- Half Lobster cooked with lemon thyme & vegetables;
- Cherries with chia seeds & caramelised creme anglaise.

The food and interior seem more suited to a cosy fine dinner place. However considering the lunch set is half the price, it makes sense as a business lunch or a self-rewarding upmarket lunch for 1.

La Clef Des Champs, Brussels 02-2012

My conference was held at the Square Brussels meeting centre. Each day would adjourn for lunch and in walking from my cheap hostel in the north I came across the lovely uphill road of Rollebeek Street. Toward the top were a series of restaurants, all of which looked very nice and hospitable. Additionally a few of them seemed to cater toward special lunch menus that were remarkable value.

I scored a 3-course meal for €19.50 (whereas dinner of the same would be around €40 - accepted the serves are probably larger). Nonetheless can't complain.

- Burgundy snails & garlic butter;
- Grilled white sausage with tarragon sauce;
- Profiteroles, vanilla ice cream & hot chocolate sauce.

Resto Henri, Brussels 02-2012

Traditional Belgian/Flemmish fare is necessary to understand the flavours behind the country. However all good adventures need a modern take of these classics. It invariably sends the price point up a bit (or a lot) and in Brussels this was Henri for me. As you walk north-west of the city centre towards the river, Henri stands quietly amongst a few other louder and more social options.

After the complimentary olives, bread and scallop amuse bouche came my selection of a la carte:

- Marbré de boeuf & foie gras au tartufata - a visually spectacular dish (albeit perhaps unappealing to the masses) of soft raw beef rolled with foie gras mixed with black truffles. The truffle flavour was quite mild, but the foie and beef stood out. An unsual dish of texture, flavour and only for the true foodies;
- Roasted seafood casserole with escargots;
- Fruit crumble with vanilla ice-cream.

The food is a large step in sophistication from the brasseries but I'm not sure the flavours in themselves are worth the extra money. But the experience of modern cuisine makes it worth at least one try.

La Moule Sacree, Brussels 02-2012

During the conference I came to Brussels for, I met an old work colleague I hadn't seen since 2010. After the daily activities finished, we went for a quick wander and drink in Grand Place and then in search of food. Clearly not the restaurant researcher I am, he chose a random on the street place (after I steered him away from Rue des Bouchers) which had a reasonable looking dinner daily set.

The locally-inspired Menu Bruxellois
- Fondus au Fromage "Maison" (housemade cheese croquettes)
- Carbonnades Flamandes à la Leffe Brune (Flemish beef casserole with dark beer) - heavily cooked and chewy meat;
- Glace au Speculoos (icecream with Belgian biscuit) - quite a nice nutty sweet dessert with firm texture.

This €25 set isn't bad, but I'm sure there is better around for the price.

Brasserie Roue D'Or, Brussels 02-2012

It is surprisingly difficult to find a highly commendable place in Brussels to eat mussels. I remember the research from my first trip in 2009 that took me past all the restaurant touts in Rue de Bouchers, where the atmosphere is lively but the food is apparently substandard tourist traps. The two places in the area that are decent are Aux Armes de Bruxelles (which is expensive) and Chez Leon (which I tried in 2009 and felt the atmosphere was of a high turnover tourist venue also).

Hence I ventured further outwards and read about La Roue D'Or, which had moderate-to-good reviews rather than superlative (but again, I couldn't find any online).

The interior is quite impressive with ornate watercolour decoration. The moules marinieres (€24) was pretty good too, topped with lots of onion and celery. The fries were reasonable but could have been a bit crispier. Grain bread was supplied to help soak up the liquid. I probably didn't become a true mussels convert until Dubrovnik later in the year, so I'd have to come back here again to give a new opinion. Unfortunately the cost of food in Belgium isn't as low as Croatia, so it'll have to be a good Euro exchange time.

De Noordzee - La Mer Du Nord, Brussels 02-2012

Every self-respecting food city has a fried seafood place to be proud of. In Brussels this is Noordzee, located on a street corner of a nice open plaza. During lunchtime people (I assume both workers and people milling about) crowd around the outside table setup to order freshly fried or grilled items.

The interior is a fishmonger which has all sorts of fresh, smoked and some packaged seafood for all occasions and recipes. I'm not sure exactly what is local, but the quality looks good.

- Friture Calamares - deep fried calamari rings;
- Friture Kibbeling - deep fried slivers of fish;
- Scampi a la plancha - grilled prawns in a tomato-based sauce.

There's a lot of options fried and grilled, cheap oysters and even some burgers I didn't get to try. I'll remember to bring a solid appetite next time.

Les Brassins, Brussels 03-2012

My first night in Brussels this trip left me a little flat. I had been there previously in 2009 also, but this trip reaffirmed to me that even though the Grand Place is remarkable to wander through at night and enjoy the atmosphere and people-watching, there isn't much else to do as a solo visitor who has to get up in the morning.

The result of this was an extensive walk where I ended up at the furthest away food location on my list. This far south restaurant brought me into streets far away from crowds and anyone else that looked touristy. The main reason to come here was for classic Belgian food, particularly to eat their renowned dish rabbit in cherry beer, drank down with a bottle of cherry beer (kriek).

- Lapin a la kriek (2 rabbit legs in cherry beer sauce) - I wasn't as enamoured with this as I hoped. The meat was cooked through but not as tender and moist as rabbit can be. The sauce was fine without being particularly special;
- Stoemp (mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables of the day).

There are all the Belgian staples to try here - mussels, waterzooi, beef stew, fries, tartare. Something to try for everyone. I'd be willing to try this place again if I had the enthusiasm and effort and walk down this far.

Eetkaffee De Lieve, Ghent 02-2012

There was time for an early lunch before boarding the train to Brussels.

The most conveniently located place left was De Lieve, which was right around the corner from my cheap hostel (Jeugdherberg De Draecke). It was a Monday-Friday place also known for good Flemish food in a more casual daytime setting.

I'm unsure whether I ordered the Boeuf Bourguignon or Varkenswangtjes (pork cheeks). I do recall it was quite nice, though not as tender or satisfying as stoverij at De Graslei.

De Graslei, Ghent 02-2012

After the previous evening eating along the northern city river, I walked the other direction this night towards the bustling river region. Given it was March, bustling was still extremely quiet. There was pleasantry in the solitude and peace.

De Graslei was on my list for upmarket local food. The night before I had eaten the waterzooi - Flemish fish based stew. Tonight was the chance to try stoverij - Flemish beef based stew.

- Oven baked mussels in garlic butter;
- ‘Westmalle Double’ dark beer beef stew, salad and fries.

As the night before, this hearty food was washed down with Kriek cherry beer.