After a long weekend in the charming city of Ghent, Belgium, I feel it only fair that I report back on my foodie finds. (Grab your passport and get ready to book!)
So, let me start with Saturday morning, which began with a ‘nibbling tour’.
We met our guide, Katelijn De Naeyer, outside the beautifully presented Oude Vismarkt (old fish market).
I placed a small chocolate in my mouth. Green tea and cherry blossom. ‘Just let it melt on your tongue’ she said. It tasted like a rose garden and lingered like perfume. We took a tiny bag of tastes away with us for later – ginger, lavender, bier, salted caramel.
On to the confectioners of Temmermar for the famous Cuberdons, or Gentse Neuzen (noses). These ones were not in the traditional cone shape, but formed as little venetian masks. Sweet firm raspberry sugar gum, with gloopy fruit syrup inside. So sweet.
I ate three noses in one day, and I swear I’ll never do that again.
Another stop on the tour was Groot Vleishuis (big meat house) where they only sell produce from the East Flanders area. We tasted young cheese from Hinkelspel (which means hopscotch) Ganda ham (Ganda is the old name for Ghent – or Gent, as it should be) and Advocat in a jar, that you could eat with a spoon, and I did – a tiny silver spoon.
Over the square to the famous Tierenteyn Verlent mustard shop. A crescent moon sits over the door of the timelessly serene shop . Beautiful stoneware jars line the walls and barrels of mustard sit ready for their contents to be ladled out (you can take your jar back for a refill too).
We wandered the streets with Katelijn, for the two hours of the tour, and then another hour or so as she told us stories of the city. Finally we let her go, up near the three churches (like some kind of middle-age church Manhattan), and carried on our explorations.
In the evening we went across town to Cochon de Luxe for one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Eight courses of pure delight – the whole dynamic of exceptional flavours and textures, topped with good humour, was a real joy to experience. Lekker!
Cochon de Luxe is the triumph of husband and wife team Tom Van Lysebettens and Alison Roels, they work, live, and laugh together here.
Although I feel more than qualified to eat and enjoy the food, I thought it best to leave the full descriptions of the courses, and the brilliant stories behind the development of them, to the experts – so, over to Tom!
The appetizers are ‘disguised’ as coffee mignardises. A small ‘coffee’ made of roasted onion with a fresh garlic foam, a turban cake made of parmesan cheese and grilled red peppers and a pair of coconut and green curry ‘rochers’.
To start the menu, we served a small chilled tomato soup with meatballs (only it was tapioca pearls in a clear tomato broth)
Razor clams and Shaving cream. Stir fried razor clams with a roasted garlic and ginger sour cream underneath, some fresh peas, chopped chives, poppy seed, an espuma of coconut and galangal and topped of with a green pea crisp.
The best dish in the world! A childhood favourite of mine, canned peaches stuffed with tuna salad. I (to this day) still think it’s the greatest dish ever created by mankind. We serve it as a whipped-tuna-cream, marinated red onions, sliced peaches, roasted almond flakes and a tuna crisp.
Cauliflower with béchamel sauce. A typical flemish, heavy winter dish that we serve in August. Its roasted cauliflower with a smoked eel sauce, roasted and smoked hazelnuts, puffed quinoa, oil infused with Vadouvan-spices and a large variety of micro-cress.
PopCornflakes. A tiny corn taco with roasted corn, a jalapeño mayonnaise and a crumble of… you’ve guessed it right, popcorn and cornflakes.
‘BBQ for Wouter’. My little brother is a vegetarian (damn him!) so whenever we’re trying to have a family barbeque my mum would always marinate a tomato or an onion in soy sauce and then grill it, so “it would have some kind of flavour to it…” most of the times dreadful to eat for Wouter but hilarious to me. So I created this dish in his, shall we say, honour. Basically it’s a marinated and charred San Marzano tomato (yes, in soy sauce) with BBQ-roasted onion, breadcrumbs, pickled mustard seeds, marigold flower and a soy sauce and orange vinaigrette.
Beef Tartare. It’s not a pile of raw chopped beef. Its salted beef ribeye, served with beetroot-tartare sauce, powder of mushrooms, and a side dish made of ricotta cheese, skinned cherry tomatoes, chives oil, marinated shallots and basil leaves.
Actimel 2.0. So, the Actimel. A few years ago, I created a dessert called ‘Actimel everywhere’. It was a homage to my (then only) son Daniel, who managed to spill his Actimel yoghurt drink every morning. When I say every morning, sadly I am not exaggerating. Every morning we started our day with cleaning up Actimel. Joy. After a few years, luckily for us, he started to become more agile and handy and didn’t drop his Actimel every morning. Hurray! And then we had our second son, Leo, who is now almost 2 years old, drinks an Actimel almost every morning, and also throws his Actimel around almost every morning. Here we go again, Actimel 2.0.
Sweet Spidey. A cotton candy spiderweb, white chocolate mousse, confit rhubarb, strawberry sherbet and a spider-mask made from raspberries.
We finished the meal with tea (or coffee) and petit fours, pretty pink seabuckthorn roses with vanillagel , and bullet shaped Russian Roulette chocolates. I could hear the excitement and expectation on the table behind us as they wondered if they’d find the 1 in 100 that contained tabasco!
It was my birthday and they gave me a book on culinary Ghent and a sad little bag of candy (their words, not mine!)
On Sunday morning we visited the craft market on Grooten markt before heading over to Groot Vleeshuis for lunch. I had a Ganda Croquette and Adam had a meatball in in creamy tomato sauce with vegetables. Basically, it was a hot scotch egg and it was excellent.
A mix of desserts, including chocolate icecream, jellies, Geraaedbergse matterntaart (a pie with curds and almond paste) and Aalsterse vlaai, which was like a magical cross between a spiced bread pudding and an Indian barfi sweet. It was amazing. The addition of Guylian chocolates seemed an odd choice but apparently Guylian was the product of Guy and Liliane, husband and wife, before it became a famous brand. Last time I received chocolate seashells was after I helped an old man with his bowels. (If you need that story explaining!)
Monday morning we headed to Calais for the ferry. Priority boarding meant we were pretty much first on, so we picked the best spot to enjoy the crossing – front window, squishy sofa.
I know DFDS have put a lot of investment into their food offer (they have a new campaign called Field to Ferry) but I wasn’t expecting lentils, pomegranate seeds and edible flowers! There’s made to order pizza, pasta and salad, and also cake… I can recommend the lemon and poppyseed cake 100%.
Our weekend ended with a tour of the bridge. We enjoyed the views over Dover, the storm clouds rolling, lightening striking down. Then we watched the captain reverse park the boat and went home.
DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais, offering up to 54 daily sailings, with prices from £49 each way. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way. Priority boarding is also available from £10 per car each way.
I’ll be back soon with some more Foodie Finds to share, until then, if you’ve got something you think we should know about, please get in touch… send sausages!