Flavours of Flanders:
Flanders is the northern Dutch-speaking area of Belgium encompassing such beautiful cities as Brussels, Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp. Only a couple of hours away on the Eurostar Flanders has become a popular city break destination with UK-based tourists enjoying the waffles, fries, beer and chocolate that are the specialities of the region.
But Belgium has a much richer gastronomic tradition than just ‘chips and chocs’ so I was really pleased to be invited to be invited to a lunch showcasing the “Flemish Kitchen Rebels” project; 25 hot young chefs, all under the age of 35, with a passion for Flemish gastronomy and regional products.Our luncheon was held at Trinity House, the splendid headquarters of the charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers overlooking the Tower of London.Our merry band of food and travel writers kicked things off with a couple of beers from a town called Leuven that has the oldest university in Belgium and is a centre for brewing innovation. Ferme Framboos from the De Vlier brewery (Leuven) had a serious 8% alcohol content and with a sweet and sour base, bitterness coming from Saaz hops and sweetness from malt artisan raspberry juice – it made for a complex but well-balanced taste profile and would match well with spicy oriental food or as here as an aperitif. From the same brewery (Leuven) and at the same potency Gulden Delle was flavoured with home-made elderflower syrup giving a floral note to the beer. I can see these fruit beers catching on here as they offer a complex alternative to the new wave of craft offerings.Well-lubricated by our brewed beverages we moved into the elegant dining room for a Flemish feast.First up was British chef Michael Yates from the Sail and Anchor in Antwerp. He had prepared ‘Blue’ asparagus from Mechelen served with brown butter and cured egg yolk. The asparagus (which is really a whitish-green) is grown underneath the ground. The dish featured crisp raw shards of the delicacy sitting over sweet soft spears cooked in butter. The cured egg yolk was grated over the top adding sparks of saltiness to the dish ameliorated by the nuttiness of the beurre noisette sauce. This dish was matched by Troebel in Paradise (5.5%), a delicious classic modern IPA by Hof den Dormaal.Mains course came courtesy of Chef Sam D’Huyvetter of Brasserie Boulevard, Sint-Martens-Latern near Ghent. Eel with a Green Sauce is a Flanders speciality – the rich oily flesh was counterpointed by the high intensity of the chlorophyllic and vegetal sauce. I loved it.New style Flemish Stoofvlees (Beef stew) with pickles and mustard cream, roasted onions and large fries was really a wonderful dish of slow-cooked reformed oxtail with a sweetly gelatinous texture that picked out the peach notes in The Politician (5.5%), another IPA from the Hof ten Dormaal brewery.Dessert had to feature chocolate, in this case an Ecuadorean dark chocolate dessert served with beer foam, edible sand and glass, served with salty crisps. This was a deliciously unexpected take on the salted chocolate theme and was served with a wonderful oak-aged Armagnac beer (12%) from Hof ten Dormaal.This was a special lunch combining the splendour of Trinity House, a truly great British institution, with wonderful cuisine and produce from Flanders. It’s a region famous for its arts and crafts, wartime history, summer festivals, fashion and design as well as the wonderful food and beers. If you want to find out more the Visit Flanders website is well worth a visit.