For Whom The Bell Tolls

Encased in a metal cage and winched slowly down into the bowels of Belgo Centraal, you could be entering a scene from Bladerunner.

The lift plants you opposite the open, steaming kitchen off which are two large rooms. On the right is a beerhall that serves snacks with the main dining room to the left. Here, stone floors and exposed brick ceilings enclose diners otherwise divided by glass, wood and steel much like an open-plan office dedicated to the good life.

The ambience is noisy and boisterous and the staff laid-back, friendly, and occasionally dressed in monk’s habits. We began with asparagus, served warm with a hollandaise sauce (£6.95) along with toasted goat’s cheese on croutons with a Roquette salad (£5.95). The asparagus was suitably delicate and the salad and its dressing more compulsively edible than green things should be. The goat’s cheese had such a rich full flavour I almost lied to Maria, my dining partner, that it was finished.

Otherwise, most starters had a seafood slant from fishcakes to Gravadlax and Lobster bisque. This being the season for lobster, we followed with a whole grilled one served with garlic butter (£15.95) for our main course along with Saucisses de sanglier et chimay (£8.95). While the lobster was good, it did little to dispel the notion that it contributes as much to good taste as a Rolls Royce ie very little, unless you ask the people that buy them. No such cynicism applies to the bangers and mash. The sausages were deliciously rich and earthy – the accompanying berry jus offered an ideal complementary tang along with the firm, whipped mash.

Mussels are prominent on the menu in platter or pots along with spit-roasted chicken variations and dishes from tuna and snapper to steak and beef. A theme runs for strong, bright flavours and the smallest excuse to cook the ingredients in beer. Talking of which, our feeble attempt to make inroads into an 80-strong beer menu began with a Delirium Tremens golden beer before touring about varieties from pale and double dark to Belgian and Trappist. While these might not render you speechless, combining them with more than a score of wines split evenly across a £10-22 band might, particularly if you helped them down with a fruity schnapps stick. This didn’t stop us delving into a Kriek sorbet – a cherry beer sorbet that answered the dubious question it asked.

We could have dabbled into Tarte au Chocolat, Brussel’s-style waffles or homemade ice-creams for between £3-4. The toilets were more Ally Macbeal than Bladerunner. While I resent paying to make nature’s call I was, at least, entertained by my treatment. This involved a man shutting me in a metallic enclosure, activating a circular fountain-style container and wafting over several airborne paper towels to me with the flourish of an artiste. All in all, Belgos makes for a memorable Belgian creation – now that is something.

E2 magazine 2001