DOS HERMANOS DO BRUSSELS
DAY ONE: IT”S JUST LIKE A REAL CITY, ONLY SMALLER.
A few months ago, I was having one of my regular bouts of profound miserablism and decided to do what normal people do and use all of my holiday entitlement and book a weekend away to cheer myself up.
Spain was the obvious choice, but me and HP already have a week in Extremadura planned for later in the year. France was an option, but, I found it hard to get excited over the thought of that. In the end, I settled on Brussels. There were some sweet deals to be found on the old t’internet and, with the “joys” of Eurostar, it is only a couple of hours from London.
HP liked the idea too and agreed to join me for the weekend. So, Friday evening saw us arrive at the comfortable but slightly clinical Sofitel on the Toison D’or a little before 10pm after a swift journey of the Eurostar which saw us drink up most of their airline sized bottles of wine.
As ever, I had done no research but trusted in HP who has had his nose in any number of guide books since we made the booking. Actually, that’s not strictly true. We often choose places to visit by the lack of guidebooks available as that means they are not yet fully on the tourist trail or, if they are, they often get overlooked in favour of prettier places. There are surprisingly few books dedicated just to Brussels. Lot’s of people go there, for certain, but Brussels is to Bruges as Madrid is to Barcelona. The latter two are prettier and afford less challenging access to their relative cultures. The former, being capital cities are, of course, larger and offer more opportunities to avoid the hordes. I know which I would choose every time.
We wasted little time in dumping our bags and heading out to sample our first beers.
As I mentioned, HP had done plentiful research and we headed up to the old town to the first of many bars we were planning to cram into two days.
LA BECASSE is a short walk from the main square, the ever so impressive Grand Place with its stunningly attractive architecture. The bar is legendary but easy to miss hidden away as it is down a small alley. Once we did find it, it proved worth the effort and we were soon sipping on their Lambic Doux, a sweet beer served in traditional jugs. A good start.
The first beer gave us a good buzz, so we toddled around the corner to LE CIRIO another famous bar and a former haunt of Jacques Brel. The range of beers was impressive though it paled alongside some of the bars we were to try the next day. Still, a Chimay Bleu and a Gueze continued to improve our mood no end.
By now, it was a little after 11pm and I was hungry enough to eat a horse, er, so I did.
T’KELDERKE is another well known restaurant, slightly hidden away in a basement location just on the Grand Place. Unlike many of the restaurants we passed that night, particularly those on the entirely nasty Rue Boucher, T’Kelderke seems to be populated primarily by locals and is open until well after midnight.
Portions were enormous and to begin we had Pied de Porc Grille and Croquettes of Langoustine, both of which seem to be on every menu in town. The trotter is boiled and then breaded and grilled and served with a sharp tartare sauce to cut through the gelatinous piggy goodness. The croquettes are creamy and entirely delicious also benefiting from the sharp sauce.
For a main course, horse. Well, you have to don’t you? Actually, I quite like horsemeat and regret that we can’t get it in the UK. More dense than beef and with a tougher texture it gives up a slightly more minerally flavour than the cow. Here, it was served just grilled with, of course, frites. For HP, the other obvious choice, Moules also with the ubiquitous frites. To drink, the house brown beer which comes in a, quite frankly, scary 1.5 litre bottle enough to almost push us over the edge, but we toughed it out and polished off both food and brew before staggering back to the hotel a little after 1am.
Brussels, it would appear had been a good choice.