Review: Chez Patrick, Brussels

One of the things I get most paranoid about when travelling is eating ‘inauthentically’, also known as eating in tourist traps. This generally isn’t a problem when I travel through Asia – I’m familiar enough with the language/culture/people/location to know how to locate a restaurant frequented by locals. Europe is a completely different ball game though – short of looking at the footwear of all the diners in a restaurant (are they wearing hiking/travel shoes?), I can’t distinguish between tourists and locals.

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We really rely on the advice of locals we meet along the way to point us to the right destinations. In Brussels, our chocolate tour guide Avo suggested that we visit his favourite restaurant – Chez Patrick just off the main square. “It’s central,” he said. “But it’s only for locals. It’s family run – father is in the kitchen, son behind the bar, and daughter is the waitress. Really good, traditional, Belgian food.”

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That was a good enough recommendation for us, and we went there for lunch directly after the chocolate tour. It was already 2pm by the time we arrived as the tour had taken all morning and the lunchtime rush was mainly over. As our meal progressed though, the next wave of people started arriving – those who sit around with a few Belgian beers for most of the afternoon, chatting and laughing over a bowl of frites to share.

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K and I started off with a drink each. I was happy to stick with a soft drink as I’m still not drinking alcohol – which I have to admit, is becoming challenging in Europe when a soft drink costs 4 Euro and a glass of wine is only 2 Euro! K ordered the Delirium Temens, a local Belgian beer. It was quite a strong beer, which matched well with the heavy stew he ordered as his main.

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A little bowl of bread and butter – something that every restaurant in Europe offers. You have to be wary in some tourist-geared establishments though, where they’ll charge you extra on your bill for the bread even though you didn’t technically order it! Quality differs from restaurant to restaurant though, and it really depends on whether they bake the bread themselves or buy it in from the local boulangerie.

Cheese croquettes ($13.50 EU)
Cheese croquettes ($13.50 EU)

We started off our meal by sharing a small entree of Cheese Croquettes. We’d missed out on having croquettes in Amsterdam, so decided to make up for it in Brussels instead. I’m glad we did – the croquette was absolutely superb with a firm centre that somehow still managed to be oozy and gooey with delicious soft cheese. If only there were more than two croquettes included in the entree…

Mussels with garlic ($23 EU)
Mussels with garlic ($23 EU)

I was determined to have Moules Frites while in Belgium, so decided that ordering the Mussels with Garlic when at a ‘local’ restaurant would provide a better experience than going to a restaurant specialising in moules…especially since moules season was only just starting when we were in Belgium. These mussels were amazingly delicious – supremely plump and juicy, full of strong garlicky flavour. Nothing like the anaemic shrivelled mussels you can often get even in seafood restaurants.

Supplement of chips ($1.80 EU)
Supplement of chips ($1.80 EU)

Interestingly, the Frites of the so-called Moules Frites were not automatically included with the moules. They’re an additional supplement – admittedly only $1.80 Euro, but I would have thought that they should have been included as a matter of fact. Still, I’m glad that we ordered them because not only did they go well with the mussels’ garlic sauce, but also with the other main dish that we ordered.

Flemish Carbonnade ($18.50 EU)
Flemish Carbonnade ($18.50 EU)

K ordered the Flemish Carbonnade, a traditional rich Belgian beef and beer stew. I was very impressed with this stew – even though it was clearly originally a tougher and cheaper cut of meat, it had been cooked so well for such a long time that it was remarkably tender and flavourful. I particularly liked the sauce, which was amazing when sopped up with the complimentary bread.

I highly recommend Chez Patrick to anyone who visits Belgium. It’s centrally located to most of Brussels’ main sites and serves up a fantastic range of traditional Belgian food. You can walk in with the comfort of knowing that you won’t be sitting next to groups of other tourists eating substandard food – you’ll be eating hearty home-style food next to locals.

Chez Patrick is located at Rue des Chapeliers 6, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium.

Roadtrip: Sydney to Melbourne via Princes Highway

I’ve done the road trip between Sydney and Melbourne many times before. Twelve hours cooped up in a small car hurtling down the Hume Highway only taking breaks to fuel up and grab some more junk food isn’t exactly what I would call a relaxing road trip though!

That’s why K and I decided to take it slower on our recent move to Melbourne from Sydney with the first carload of our possessions (everything else is boxed up and stored at his parents house!). We decided to drive down the coastal Princes Highway from Wollongong to Eden before turning inland to Melbourne over a leisurely two days, splitting the fourteen hour drive over two days.

We left Sydney on a drizzling Friday morning and spent some time caught up in peak hour traffic before reaching blue skies and a clear road to Wollongong. Choosing not to stop in Wollongong, we drove half an hour further and stopped into Kiama to check out the Kiama Blowhole (my first time!) and for a quick morning tea treat at Flour Water Salt Sourdough Bakery. I had never heard of the bakery before, but I think it may actually be part of a chain as I saw another outlet further down the coast in a sleepy little town. Either way, it’s one of the few places in town that are unashamedly modern and hipster with modern minimalist décor with a touch of rustic living.

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K ordered a Brioche Roll with Ham, Swiss Cheese and Dijon Mayonnaise, lightly toasted. The brioche roll was deliciously sweet and the cheese melted just right, creating an interesting blend of sweet and savoury. As he devoured the roll, I found myself eyeing the deli section of the bakery, offering everything from homemade gluten-free pasta to picnic packs for day-trippers.

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I had more of a yearning for something sweet for morning tea, so I ordered the sweet Pear Frangipane Tart. It wasn’t quite as sweet as I was actually expecting, which probably worked out a bit better! I particularly liked the crust on this tart, which was nicely baked with a vague caramelised or burnt butter flavour.

Note – while I don’t think this tart was either gluten-free or vegan, Flour Water Salt had a number of different options across both its savoury and sweet menus for those with dietary requirements. Whatever your dietary need, it can be accommodated!

We jumped back on the road and found ourselves in Batemans Bay a few hours later for lunch. Wandering around somewhat aimlessly struggling to decide on where and what to eat (neither the local Chinese takeaway nor the Hogs Breath Café was particularly appealing!), we finally stopped in at The Starfish Deli, right on the water’s edge. We walked in towards the end of their lunch hour rush so service was a little patchy, though friendly.

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Still quite full from our morning tea, we decided to share a main and an entrée. The main actually came out first – their daily special of the Grilled Swordfish with chips and salad. It’s a pity that we couldn’t order some seafood that was a bit more local, but the waitress had informed us that they weren’t serving oysters that day as the river was currently too dirty to harvest oysters. Nevertheless, the swordfish was still cooked well with firm smooth flesh, especially with its accompanying herbed butter.

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The entrée came out a little while later, Dips served with woodfired pizza crust. I thought the pizza crust was done perfectly as it was crispy on the outside while still being a tad doughy on the inside – but K would have preferred it baked for a little while longer so that it was perfectly crispy throughout. The pumpkin dip was definitely my pick, as the hummus lacked any punch of flavour.

Starfish Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Absolutely stuffed to the brim, we returned to our car and kept driving down the coast until we reached our accommodation for the night – an evening at the caravan park in Merimbula. For a cheap family-friendly holiday resort, the individual cabins were surprisingly well furnished and decked out. The next time I visit Merimbula, I would probably look at staying an extra night or two in a nicer Airbnb apartment or resort as the area was quite pretty.

We also didn’t get much of a chance to try any of the cafes or restaurants in Merimbula as we chose to go to the supermarket to buy supplies for dinner and breakfast instead of going out to eat. We were just too full from lunch still! Some microwave soup and salad from Woolworths saw us through the night.

Early the next morning, we hit the road again, with a slight break to check out the beautiful scenery near Eden. Later that morning, we stopped at Cann River, a tiny town with a single main strip of shops and cafes that rely on the tourist trade for survival. K was desperate for a coffee, but with each café advertising themselves as having the “best coffee” or “great coffee” or “superb coffee”, it was difficult for him to make a choice!

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He ended up getting his coffee from the Cann River Bakery as I declared that I wanted a bit of a morning tea break. While the coffee was only middling, the Apple and Cinnamon Teacake was absolutely stunning. A buttery, moist little cake lightly spiced with cinnamon and chunks of fresh apple, it was a real delight. I’d drop in again just to try some of the other flavours of teacakes!

Cann River Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Our final stop on our road trip was Orbost, a tiny little town in East Gippsland. With four middling cafes in town to service the small population, we chose what looked like the best option – the Wishing Tree Café. It was located opposite an empty lot on the main street, in which was located one of the most stunning blossom trees I’ve seen (see my Instagram photo).

K ordered a simple toasted sandwich – Chicken and Avocado Focaccia. You can’t go too wrong with this combination, especially when it’s made using a herbed focaccia roll.

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I stupidly chose one of the warm lunch options that had been on display in the bainmarie for who knows how long…the Spinach and Mushroom Quiche with a side salad. The bottom of the pastry had gone a little bit soggy, and there simply wasn’t enough flavour in the eggy quiche. I couldn’t even add a little bit of cracked black pepper or sea salt to the quiche as there was only table salt or white pepper. At least the grated beetroot helped save it from being completely flavourless.

And there you have it – two days of café stops along the Princes Highway from Sydney to Melbourne! There’s obviously a heap of much more famous foodie places that we didn’t stop at along the way (Berry Doughnut Van, Rick Stein’s at Bannisters), but I was more interested in seeing what impromptu unplanned walk-in dining experiences would be like. On the whole, I’m largely impressed with the quality of food available for the casual road-tripper, which just goes to how advanced Australian cafes and chefs are compared to many other parts of the world.

Review: Nick’s Seafood Restaurant, Darling Harbour

Recently, someone said to me – “I don’t know how you afford to go out for a meal as often as you do!” It’s true – neither K nor I are on big salaries as we’ve chosen to pursue passion over profit. Working for a charity, or as an industrial designer is never going to make us rich. By rights if we ever wanted to save money for the future, we’d be having baked beans on toast most nights.

Luckily, our passion for fine food has meant that our friends and family know how to treat us for special occasions. (It certainly also helps that I occasionally get invited out for a meal as a blogger!) When we got married, we got gift vouchers to amazing places like Catalina, Quay, Tetsuya’s and Sepia (review to come!). For K’s recent 30th birthday, his uncle gifted us a Red Balloon dining experience for an “Indulgent Seafood Dining Experience by the Harbour for 2”.

The meal was at Nick’s Seafood Restaurant in Cockle Bay Wharf, a restaurant that you’re usually more likely to find tourists in than locals. I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular as a result, but hoped for the best given that we had previously enjoyed a decent breakfast at Adria Rybar and Grill, their sister restaurant.

Grapefruit juice and pineapple juice
Grapefruit juice and pineapple juice

Included in our seafood banquet was a drink each. They had a good variety of house wines and beers on offer, but K and I both opted for a juice instead – grapefruit for me, and pineapple for him. We ended up switching halfway because I do tend to prefer a sweeter juice, so the pineapple was a better choice. Unfortunately, I think these juices were from a bottle – they certainly didn’t taste freshly squeezed.

Grilled Moreton Bay Bugs, Sydney Rock Oysters, Salt & Pepper Calamari and Tasmanian Smoked Salmon complimented with Avocado and Creme Fraiche
Grilled Moreton Bay Bugs, Sydney Rock Oysters, Salt & Pepper Calamari and Tasmanian Smoked Salmon complimented with Avocado and Creme Fraiche

The first course of our seafood banquet was really well thought out. Two extremely fresh oysters each, plus the perfect accompaniments for some savoury smoked salmon – fresh green avocadoes and light creme fraiche. The Moreton Bay bugs were probably the highlight of this dish though, as they were just grilled to perfection – slightly smoky and charred on one side, but juicy and plump inside. I could have eaten ten of these!

Catch of the Day, Fried King Prawns, Tempura Soft Shell Crab & Chargrilled Octopus with a Citrus Ginger Sauce
Catch of the Day, Fried King Prawns, Tempura Soft Shell Crab & Chargrilled Octopus with a Citrus Ginger Sauce

I was a bit hesitant about the next course as I know how terrible badly-cooked octopus can be – tough, chewy, stringy, and utterly unenjoyable. Surprisingly, the chargrilled octopus was actually the highlight of this course – delightfully marinated in a sauce that even I enjoyed (and I don’t normally like ginger!), smoked, grilled, and served while still so fresh it could almost slither off your plate. By contrast, the fried king prawns were overly battered and plain without any seasoning – they definitely could have been cooked better.

Chef's Choice of Whole Fish to Share
Chef’s Choice of Whole Fish to Share

The last course was a multi-part course. We actually could have had the option to skip this course, and replace it with dessert. As our waiter said to us, “This seafood banquet is a lot of food. I’ve never seen anyone finish it. You can replace the last course with dessert if you feel like you’re too full.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounded like a challenge to me, so I decided that we were going to try and tackle the whole banquet instead of copping out and opting for dessert! The first part of this last course was the chef’s choice of a whole fish to share, baby barramundi in this case. It was very simply grilled without much adornment, allowing the freshness of the fish itself to shine through.

Tasmanian Mussels in a Tomato Chilli Sauce
Tasmanian Mussels in a Tomato Chilli Sauce

The second part of the last course was the Tasmanian Mussels in a tomato and chilli sauce, served with some crusty bread on the side for dipping into the delicious fragrant sauce. I actually also really enjoyed spooning some of the sauce over the baby barramundi as well, so it proved to be a good base sauce for other dishes too. The mussels themselves were deliciously fat, plump and juicy – unlike other places I’ve eaten (Bungalow 8, I’m looking at you) where the mussels have been tiny and shriveled.

Greek Salad
Greek Salad

The last part of the meal was a side serve of Greek salad, and a side serve of hot chips. I’m not going to lie – we barely touched either of these dishes because we just got too full from the whole banquet. We did not complete the challenge. I’m embarrassed and disappointed in myself. At the same time, given that the salad was overdressed and the chips too mushy, it’s probably good that we didn’t try to force ourselves to eat it!

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by our experience at Nick’s Seafood. I went in being quite sceptical, but actually ended up enjoying at least 75% of the seafood as it was all quite fresh and kept simple, allowing the fresh flavours and textures of the seafood to shine on its own. The side dishes are questionable, but it’s definitely seafood that’s the star here.

While we probably won’t be back any time soon (there’s other cheaper places you can go for seafood as a local!), I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Nick’s Seafood to a tourist!

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