Ghent is one of my favourite European cities; its serene canals are lined with 15th century architecture of absolutely breathtaking beauty. Unspoilt by the tourist hordes of Brugge, and with less of the ugly modern development of Brussels, it’s city centre is largely frequented by the people of Ghent itself.
My last visit to Ghent was a heroic odyssey of barhopping across the city that ended at 4am at a Belgian Fritteur in the Main Square where I stuffed myself with bitte ballen, frickendel and chips.
No trip to Belgium would be complete without a massive dish of moules frites, but sadly, a forlorn walk through the hauntingly beautiful winter streets revealed that these were way out of season and off the all the menus until early summer.
The other thing I like about Ghent is its unique cuisine, in particular a hearty seafood soup come casserole called Waterzooi and, close to the old central square, along glistening cobbled streets, we found this place serving this very dish.
They have a great wine list but, as its Belgium, it had to be beer. Like everywhere in Belgium ‘t Vosken serves excellent beers of frequently deceptive, knee buckling strength; these are beers to be sipped with respect, not gulped. So many excellent choices it was so hard to choose eventually we opted for two draught beers Brugge Tripel, 8.7% €4.30, followed Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin, a mere 6.5% €4.00.
Both are brewed by Brouwerij Palm; Brugge Tripel, has a well-rounded malt character, aromatic hops, giving rise to a great complexity of flavour with a long dry finish. The double Bruin was darkly rich, malty and again with a lovely dry finish.
The menu is in a highly original magazine format with each dish and drink receiving long descriptive write ups. All three of us ordered the North Sea Fish Waterzooi €20.50, so there was no dish envy here. Chunks of cod, bass, along with prawns, carrot, celery and a big hit of fennel, a hint of paprika, a dollop of cream and a sprinkle of fresh parsley gives this dish a unique and and moorish flavour. A generous portion arrived served in a large wide bowl accompanied by French bread; subtle, delicate, light but at the same time incredibly filling and satisfying. An absolutely stunning dish which I plan to deconstruct and cook at home.
There was so much more to discover at this excellent restaurant; Gentse stoverij met frieten, (Belgian beef stew), chicken Waterzooi, fish gratin, rabbit, turkey Normandy, for vegetarians Belgian endive au gratin and of course, moules frites will be back on the menu later in the year.
I’ll be stopping again on my next trip through Ghent, and if you are tempted by Brugge, try Ghent instead. It’s a wonderful discovery.