Monday, October 18, 2010

Belgium: haute cuisine

There is an earlier post on Belgian cuisine and eating habits. It can be found by clicking here.
Flanders has a lot to offer to those who appreciate gourmet food. According to a recent review, Belgium is third overall (behind Switzerland and Luxembourg) in the number of restaurants with coveted Michelin stars per inhabitant. In the 2010 guide, Belgium had 114 starred restaurants, two of which had three stars.

Both three star restaurants are in Flanders. The first, Hof van Cleve is in Kruishoutem, close to Oudenaarde. If you ride your bike in the Flemish Ardennes, sooner or later you will ride by it. The setting is spectacular. Hof Van Cleve is one of the best restaurants in the world and I can personally attest that the food is truly extraordinary and has been so for years. This is the one restaurant I am always prepared to go to when visiting Belgium. People come from all over Europe to dine here.

The other three star restaurant is the De Karmeliet in Brugge. Although I was born in Brugge, I am less fond of going there as the whole place has a Disney fake feel to it now. Every year more luxury hotels open up, more tourists crowd the streets and prices go through the roof while quality suffers. I much prefer to stay away from Bruges. If you want a decent place to eat lunch in Bruges, go to the Middenstand on 't Zand. It is not a fancy restaurant but the food is great and the price is right. By all means stay away from the market place, at least when it comes to dining.

If you stay in or near Oudenaarde there are two other exceptional restaurants to consider. Both have two Michelin stars. One is Le Chateau du Mylord in Ellezelles close to Ronse/Renaix, and the other is 't Oud Konijntje in Waregem. Both of these are excellent too. I personally prefer 't Oud Konijntje but either one of these will satisfy the most demanding palate. A wonderful place for more casual dining in a unique setting near Oudenaarde is Tanderus in Nokere.

If you want to eat well but are on a budget, look for a Bib Gourmand restaurant. There are 125 bib gourmand restaurants in the country. To qualify for this honor, restaurants must serve an excellent three course meal for under EUR35. One excellent choice is the hotel Auberge du Pecheur in Sint Martens-Latem on the river Lys, another spectacular setting. The hotel has a great restaurant Orangerie with a Michelin star and the brasserie has a bib gourmand.

Eating out in Belgium is an expensive and time consuming proposition. A dinner will easily set you back over EUR100 per person. Plan to spend 3+ hours and make your reservations early. Even lunch can easily run 2-3 hours at a fancy place. Also, remember to dress smartly. Although dress codes have relaxed considerably in the last decade, you probably want to stay a bit above business casual for most places.

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