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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.