Earlier this year I was invited along to an event in Glasgow by Heverlee, the Belgian brewery. On the night, thanks to Visit Flanders, I won a trip to the Belgian city of Leuven which we decided to take between Christmas and New Year. Having never been to Belgium before, we decided to add a couple of days onto the start of our trip with the hope of seeing the Christmas delights of the Belgian capital, Brussels.
When's it comes to fine dining, Brussels has no shortage of Michelin starred restaurants however due to a combination of the Christmas holidays and the fact that a lot of Michelin restaurants close for business on a Monday, we were running out of options but one restaurant that kept popping up on a Google search was Belga Queen. Housed within a glorious building that dates back to the 18th century, (Hôtel de la Poste and Crédit du Nord Bank have been previous tenants), and thanks to the creative mind of Antoine Pinto, contemporary architecture and gastronomy meet to create a stunning addition to the Brussels restaurant scene.
Our hotel was just a few minutes walk to the restaurant and upon announcing our arrival, we were seated at a cosy table in a row that ran down the centre of the restaurant and next to the giant Christmas tree that reached all the way up to the impressive domed glass roof.
Belga Queen might sit inside an building that is over 200 years old but they bring a modern touch to proceedings with an open kitchen, very funky (and possibly see-through) unisex toilets, and multilingual digital menus. The menu was a really cool idea and I'm sure that we will see this more and more in restaurants as the year goes on.
I had been communicating with the restaurant before our trip and no sooner were we seated, we were presented with a class of champagne as we read over the menu. In all fairness, we already knew that we would be dining from the Menu Degustation, a four course tasting menu with matched Belgian beers, but the champagne was enjoyed none the less.
The Menu Degustation is changed every month with the chef using his skill to create a menu that makes the most of seasonal produce whilst pairing each course with some of the wonderful beers that are brewed across the country.
As we worked our way down our champagne flutes, we were each served a small plate of appetisers that included cured salmon with its own little blini, baked Grana Padano wrapped in Serrano ham, and delicious slab of rich liver pâté, layered with dark chocolate. (This was like a word adult version of a Wall's Vienneta). Each of the appetisers were delicious with Nicola loving the pâté whilst my favourite was the succulent cured salmon. Based on this first plate of food, we had a really good feeling that the meal would be one to remember.
Our matched beers for the evening were Steen Brugge Wit Blanche, a citrusy white beer that was served with our scallop starter, Rodenbach Rosso which was a lovely beer infused with raspberries wptaht was served with the baked duck liver course, and Cornet which was an easy drinking oaked lager style beer that was served with the fish dish. All three beers were good and worked well with their corresponding food course although they could easily be drank alone too.
At this stage I would like to apologise about the poor quality of the food photos. The lighting inside Belga Queen was not great and I really struggled to get the best from my camera.
The first course from the December Menu Degustation was a 'glass of scallops and mango marinated with coco cream & young onions'. We were both a little apprehensive about this as the scallops were not cooked however the marinade had done enough to start breaking the proteins down and help firm up the sweet scallop. This dish was delicious, the sweet scallop and mango were countered perfectly with the lime infused creamy sauce. This was a great way to start the meal and looking back, we both agree that this was the best course on the night.
Next up was 'escalope of baked duck liver, reduction of Rodenbach Rosso and sweet spices, candied apples and crumble of walnut'. This was a dish that we both enjoyed although we would have preferred that the duck liver be cooked just a little more. The liver was rich and creamy with a soft (almost gelatinous texture) and when combined with the candied apples and the sauce made from the reduction of the raspberry beer, it was a taste sensation. The dish was well balanced with the apples holding just enough acidity to cut through the richness of the liver however other than adding some much needed crunch, I don't think that the flavour of the walnut stood a chance against the bold duck liver.
The main dish was pike-perch fillet with mustard from Gand, mashed purple carrots, candied early yellow carrots and bread powder with lemon. This was a dish that didn't work for either of us unfortunately. Don't get me wrong, the piece of fish that I had was very nice although could have done with a little more seasoning but the rest of the dish was far too sweet for my taste. I imagine that the mustard sauce was supposed to cut through the sweetness of the carrots but it just didn't work. Ideally, I would have liked to have seen some green vegetables on the plate, perhaps spinach or kale would have done a better job at balancing the dish. It might just be that the Belgian palate is used to sweeter things.
Also, if there's a bone to be found in fish, chances are that Nicola will be the one to find it. In fact, she had quite a few bones in her fillet, each one of them an inch or so long. There's no excuse for a kitchen to miss fish bones and after this it didn't take too long for Nicola to lose her appetite.
The dessert was a tartlet of almond cream, tartar of pineapple, chiboust of almond which we hoped would lift our spirits after the disappointment of the main dish. There was a good amount of technique involved in this pudding starting with the crisp shortbread base which had no sign of a soggy bottom. The sweet almond filling was layered with small chunks of juicy pineapple and topped with the light almond chiboust. (A chiboust is made by folding lots of beaten egg whites into crème pâtissèrie. If enough egg white is present, it can give an almost soufflé like effect) Again, this was a dish for those with a sweet tooth, thank goodness for the sharp redcurrents to help cut through the sweetness although my berries were covered in a thick dusting of icing sugar so it lost the effect a little. The dessert was ok but maybe after such rich dishes beforehand, a lighter pudding would have given the meal a more rounded finish. I would have more been more than happy with just the pineapple and chiboust combination.
The service was evenly spread out across the evening which meant that we still had plenty of room for a cheeky digestif so we made our way through to the bar to enjoy a final drink before heading back to the hotel.
Nicola has developed a new found love for gin and made short work of her Filliers 28 (a Belgian gin) and Fever Tree tonic whilst I found out that the blend of aromatics in Fentimans Curiosity Cola work incredibly well with the aged notes of my Ron Zacapa 23. These drinks tipped us over the edge and soon it was time to settle up the bill.
Overall, the Menu Degustation for December was a bit hit and miss but that could mostly be down to personal taste. In fact, the November menu probably had more on it that would have suited ourselves. Would this stop us going back to Belga Queen? Absolutely not, in fact it is more of a reason for us to go back again to try another month's menu and at just €52 (£38) including the matched beers, I think that Belga Queen offers fantastic value for money.
Myself and Nicola would like to extend our thanks to Alexandra in the Banqueting & Communications team for arranging our booking and making sure that we were looked after, plus a big thanks to all of the staff on shift that evening who helped make sure that our first visit to Brussels started on a high. If we happen to be back in the Belgian capital, we will definitely be popping by, even if it's just to say hello.