de Bomma (Grandma's) Restaurant, Antwerp 07-2019

Wandering around Antwerp at 3pm looking for lunch proved to be a mistake. Croquettenbar was closed on a Monday and Nelly coffee was also having a hiatus, so then went for De Zeven Schaken for some Belgian food. Unfortunately as was the case with many bar/cafes around, they were serving drinks/beer but not food. Between 3-6pm most of the kitchens close all over Belgium the waitress told us. Hmm. That's no good.

After wandering around for 30mins more, we eventually found de Bomma which happened to have tourists and a few Belgian's sitting outside enjoying food. Wonderful.

I haven't previously been much of a fan of Belgian food. Generally it seemed like not as tasty French but with high price tags. Certainly at Grandma's the prices aren't cheap either - mussels vary from €22-24 for example. The stews are a little more reasonable although not cheap. However I am pleased to say they are remarkably good. I haven't had Belgian food this good.

- Grandma's rabbit stew with Steenbrugge beer €17.9 - a thick stew with two rabbit legs cooked beautifully such that the usually prone rabbit wasn't dry. The added mushrooms and onions brought some contrast. The flavours were hearty and deep;
- Beef stew with LeFort beer €17.9 - even deeper was the hops caramelised beef (shin I think) which was remarkably tender also and had a rich slightly burnt (in a good way) flavour. There was lot of meat in there;
- Potato croquettes €3.5 - fried to a perfect crisp thin coating. Really excellent.

I was sad none of the stews came with any vegetables in there, just loads of meat. It was delicious and one could easily feed 2 people with some vegetables or salad on the side. Luckily they do takeaway and the meats served as tomorrow's lunch.

This is the best Belgian food I've had. I doubt I'll ever be back in Antwerp but would happily eat here again armed with knowledge.

Zomsa Cafe, Antwerp 07-2019

Eating at Antwerp after 10pm even on a Saturday is not recommended. So many things are closed. In fact I also learnt a few days later that between 3-6pm is also generally a closed time.

On this rainy evening after arriving, the area surrounding the Antwerp Central station seems to be largely Asian with a huge number of Chinese and Thai places. The ones that weren't closed are called cafes or restaurants, but really they look like bars and probably don't serve much food.

After strolling through what I assume is Chinatown, we came across Zomsa who had a menu and were serving. We discovered the cuisine is Tibetan, and certainly everyone in there was probably of that ethnicity to the point they looked bemused/amused that anyone else happened to be in there. Football was playing in the background and what was probably the family running the place eating their own dinner too.

The menu helpfully had pictures and ordered the Special zomsa thali €6.5 and mokthuk €5.5. You can probably tell from the menu photos and the dish photos that they really look NOTHING alike. The thali didn't have any bread (the waitress said they didn't have any) and instead a huge amount of rice. Also the various little trays of curries (like a thali should) was replaced by one generic meat dish, some vegetables and some pickles with a mildly hot chilli. The lentil soup was good though. The mokthuk was supposed to be momos with soup. The picture had the soup red and spiced but this one was decent broth but without any spice. There was a spicy hot sauce (not sure what chilli but it was really decently hot) although I'm sure it wasn't what made the menu soup colour red.

Overall the food was fine. It did seem a little deceiving from the pictures. But the staff were nice at least. And they were open...

Friture Tabora, Brussels 03-2018

I do remember trying out several friteries and carts in Brussels, Ghent and Bruges. And I do remember that none of them particularly wowed me and I couldn't see what the fuss was about. 6 and 11 years later I thought it was reasonable to try again and see - perhaps my tastes or standards had changed?

There's quite a few carts that are reputed but none of them are that close to central Brussels and I didn't want it anywhere near enough to walk a long distance or take transport. Within the central region Tabora and Fritland are convenient and supposedly good options. In the end I went for Tabora because I read a review from someone who lived in Brussels that their product was a lot more consistent.

At 9pm on a Wednesday I wandered into the tiny space and ordered a medium cone without sauce €3. It was plenty for 1, and the large mound of cut fresh potatoes sat above the fryer with the thousands/millions of fries that would have been cooked in there (not sure how often they change the oil/fat). What is well known in Belgium is frying in beef fat which adds a new flavour element. And indeed these fries were piping hot, crisp outside and soft slightly disintegrate-y insides with a distinct but mild beefy flavour.

It's definitely better than I remember last time and I think it's worth a once-in-a-trip visit, particularly late on a cold night after some alcohol. The small will be suffice for me too.

Charli, Brussels 03-2018

Charli is an excellent bakery (with a salon across the road) within central Brussels. It's location directly opposite Nordzee makes it so very convenient for before or after getting a seafood fix.

I tried several items at Charli which were overall good, but their bread loaves are clearly the winners. They don't sell sandwiches unfortunately, but maybe the salon does.

A croissant at 745am was somewhat cold. It surprised me a little expecting these might still be warm from the oven. It wasn't even room temperature so I'm not sure what happened there. The middle was quite dense and chewy with some butter flavour but not much of the expected texture, with some crispness of the shell. It was quite forgettable.

The cakes look decadent and are reasonably priced at €3.90 each. The passionfruit with black sesame intrigued me the most - the passionfruit layer was very strongly flavoured and the base tasted a lot like egg. Unfortunately there was no discernible black sesame flavour in my mind. The tatin had sweet soft stewed apples with a Breton biscuit base. Both of these items were fine but again nothing special.

However I did also invest in some bread and this was the one thing I would go back for. The rye bread aka seigle (600g for €3.80) is a very tangy sourdough made from 50% organic wheat and 50% French rye. It has a strong tangy flavour, soft texture and is excellent. I was also interested in the brioche, however I noticed they had a special item not on the website - buckwheat aka sarrazin (600g for €3.80) reminded me of the savoury galettes from Brittany and I couldn't help ordering this. It is a denser loaf with a mild buckwheat flavour that is different to other things. Having tried it, it doesn't have the same impact as galettes, so I would prefer to stick with my tangy sourdough next time.

De Noordzee - La Mer Du Nord, Brussels 03-2018

Although I not that fond of Brussels (and Belgium generally), the one place I do remember is Noordzee. I do fondly recall standing around the plaza during a very busy lunchtime as the rush of soup, fried and grilled seafood was being thrown around all over the place. It was a wonderful experience and one I wanted to try again ( The prices have gone up a bit, but what can you do?

They close at 6pm which means it's difficult to go for dinner. My first visit this trip was at 5pm when there was much less variety available. Nonetheless the fish soup €6 (chunks of fish in a tomato based broth with melted cheese and toasted baguette with garlic rouille similar to bouillabaisse - excellent) and the scampi a la plancha (cooked simply to a nice juicy firmness with olive oil, salt, garlic, parlsey and lemon) €8 reminded me of why I enjoyed it so much.

I went again the next morning at 10.30am where there was nobody around and a full menu to pick from. Fried kitterling €5 (soon they changed the price to €6, fried small pieces of white fish in batter), razorclams €9 (served undercooked but I didn't mind, with the same excellent seasonings as the prawns the day before) and the de-shelled escargots €6 (served in a chilli-infused broth) was all great.

There is lots of fresh and toasted bread to pad out the meal and fill you up. The flavours remain fantastic.

EXKi, Brussels 03-2018

EXKi reminds me of Pret. They offer natural and organic ready to eat food for eat in or takeaway (cheaper). They do have a larger hot section than Pret.

I was initially tempted by a baguette but then chose a piadina instead. It was fine, with crisp flat bread and a lot of metled cheese in the middle. 

Nothing that special but fine for a quick lunch on the go. I wouldn't go there for anything more than that.

Pierre Marcolini, Brussels 03-2018

The haute chocolatier specialising in dark chocolate brought back memories to my visit here back in 2009. At that point I bought a thick molten hot chocolate and a few little bites.

On this occasion I bought the recommended "smokey and spicy" 72% from Kendeng Lembu in Java as something different. Apparently the beans grow on/near a volcano which gives them that distinct flavour. And indeed the chocolate has a smokey (though I couldn't say spicy - or maybe he just meant spices) element that curbs the minimal bitterness of the dark.

It's definitely not cheap but it's truly different.

Brasserie Mondo (Le Cercle Des Voyageurs), Brussels 03-2018

This place had been starred on my Google maps (although I can't really remember why). I convinced a group of 6 to go for dinner and drinks (well I just booked it rather than convinced them) and I managed to get a last minute booking on a Tuesday night. One of the great things about visiting anywhere in Europe in the off-peak season.

They also advertised live music from 830pm (which actually started around 9pm). The group played a variety of instruments including bagpipes, an accordion, and a tiny violin and they intermittently sang in a language I couldn't figure out. It was entertainment and added extra to the environment. There's also decoration of suitcases all over the walls which was an interesting touch.

In terms of food, I was hoping for moules frites €22.8 but they didn't have any (out of season I guess). Instead I went for the full French option of Tartare de boeuf (viande hachée, persillade, échalotes, câpres, sauce anglaise, tabasco, frites) €20. The beef was diced and tasted very fresh. There were sliced pickles in between and a little mustard to bind it together. The fries were ok but nothing special.

It was decent and the environment friendly. The variety of menu items cater to all tastes and that combined with the atmosphere make it a good choice for an evening with friends.

Fin De Siecl, Brussels 03-2018

I wasn't overly enamoured by local Flemish cuisine during my last stint in Belgium (back in 2012). But I thought it was worth another go. Fin De Siecl is a ridiculously popular (both local and tourist by the looks of things) place to sample local food and I was lucky that on this particular Monday evening the queue wasn't too long. Maybe it was because of the combination of being Monday and 0C temperature but I probably only waited for about 15-20mins for my table for 1.

The menu is written on boards on the wall which was perfect for my table's vantage point but less so for others seated around the room.

The main attractions seem to be jambonneau (a massive pork hock), lapin a la kriek (rabbit in cherry beer), and carbonnades. There's also stoemp (sausages on mash) which I fail to see how can be that exciting. I had kriek cherry beer which was nice, sweet and light and thus the only beer in the world (other than ginger "beer") I can actually stomach.

I asked the lovely waitress between jambonneau and carbonnades. She said are you really really craving a lot of meat? No - therefore go for the more traditional carbonnades. And I'm glad I did. It didn't look overly impressive but the carbonnades a la chimay €14.32 was near meltingly tender beef shin in a sauce that was minimally salted, but beautifully flavoured by the natural beef. It was really excellent. The sauce was mopped by smooth mash or the slices of baguette that was complimentary.

I wandered past on Friday night and the queue went out the door. Highly recommended if you're prepared to wait a little.

Bia Mara, Brussels 03-2018

I didn't expect to eat fish and chips in Brussels, but I couldn't decide what to get. I'd tried EXKi already and didn't feel I had enough time to get something from Peck 47. Bia Mara looked tempting and the menu different to normal. They specialise in Japanese-style fish and chips with the fish coated in panko or tempura.

Panko is probably their mainstay given it is on 5/6 of options. However the tempura sounded different and so that was my choice.

Lemon Basil Tempura Sea Bream with seaweed-salted chips & homemade garlic truffle sauce €12 used a tempura advertised as infused with citrus zest and creative spice mixes. Indeed the crisp batter had excellent seasoning including a distinct citrus to it that wasn't just the lemon juice I later squeezed on. The fish was perfectly cooked and piping hot. For a nation that prides itself on fries, these chips were sensational. Firm and crisp coatings with burning hot soft insides and the seaweed-salt added an extra layer of flavour complexity to the norm. I was very impressed. They were smooth rather than ruffled for additional texture and they didn't have Belgium's distinct beef fat flavour as the frites karts, but neither of those are really criticisms. The garlic mayo did have an element of truffle (oil) to it but I didn't think the fish or chips particularly needed it, more an homage to the quality of the food.

The panko servings were even larger for fish than the tempura.

I'd gladly eat here again.