Ghent, mon amour

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The sun is out and it’s Saturday, Vera needs shoes and I need Vera. We both need fresh air and something to feast our eyes and palates on. No place better than Ghent then.IMG_2076

First rule: Avoid the ‘dead men’s alley ’ (the Veldstraat and Lange Munt, that run from the Kouter, to the Korenmarkt and then onto the Vrijdagsmarkt. You can’t miss it, a thick crowd of tourists and teenagers in a zombie-like procession, stumbling from window to window past very last century shops) You can do so much better, as Vera will explain in below lines:
Well, OK. For some real shopping then: We started at Schleiper (Onderbergen 31), to have two canvasses we had bought during the holidays framed for us. Expensive…but these paintings have some value too and we’d rather have the job done by professionals than to clown around with it ourselves.

Onderbergen is a good place to start hop&shop: Take “A.Puur.A”, for instance, for shoes, clothes, jewelry, ceramics, and interior design. Or “Black balloon” (young clohtes label), “Art Nivo” (interior design), “Gallery Ilunga” (tribal arts), “Deco 48” (gifts and decorations), and “Surplus” ( young design in the Zwartezusterstraat, just around the corner). Feet hurt? Dehydrated? There’s plenty of places for coffee or a pint of beer, try “Petit Coeur” or “Het Brood-Huys”. Then, refreshed, turn into de Hoornstraat and discover the world of “Au Bon Marché” (all kinds of accessoires), “Javana” (more coffee and tea) and fashion designer “Jo De Visscher”. Cross the Veldstraat (don’t even look, but watch out for the passing trams) and continue via de Volderstraat (“G-Star”, “Sacha”, “Marc O’Polo”…) and follow the Sint-Niklaasstraat to the Korenmarkt and the Groentenmarkt. Marvel at the goodies in bakery “Himschoot” (the best mattetaarten and very good bread), at the musterd varieties of “Tierenteyn”, and buy a sachet of Gentse neuzen if you’re a sweet tooth, from one of the two little stalls on the pavement.(sworn enemies, competing for the right to call their ‘cuberdons’ the best. They taste pretty much the same though.)

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Take a right into the Hoogpoort, where you will find original gifts at “Huiszwaluw”, original jewelry at “Elisa Lee”, shoes at “Zoot” (where I bought mine), interior design at “Aksent”, urban fashion at “Cream”, and jewelry at “Mayenne”. Tired of looking at all these things you can’t really afford? Then turn to the other side of the road and feast your eyes for free at the most beautiful town hall of Belgium! (yep, that’s where we got married, a few years back.)
Walk into the Belfortstraat on your left and then left again in de Onderstraat and then right into the Serpentstraat where “Zsa Zsa Rouge” and “Petit Zsa Zsa” (great gifts), “Zoot” fashion (great clothes), “Studio Woot Woot” (retro interior design) are waiting for you. On the other side of the Vrijdagmarkt we found “Antiek-Depot” in the Beaudelostraat, a great place to browse for antiques, vintage and design stuff. Another store where you will surely find that exceptional present you did not find anywhere else: Pur Sens in the Meersenierstraat, a small cosy shop full of original clothes, jewelry and more. Thirsty? Try “Pink Flamingo’s” (Onderstraat), we didn’t, but it is on our list for next time!

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After Vera dragged me through all these place, we found ourselves near the Gravensteen and agreed it was time for good coffee.

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Well now; if you fancy a nice piece of cake, great music and a relaxed ambiance, find your way to the ‘Jardin Bohemien’ (Burgstraat). We rate it miles above ‘Julie’s House ‘ (Kraanlei). Julie’s House may have great ratings on TripAdvisor, but we’ve tried it twice, the first time it was so packed that we lost patience, the second time the staff was so rude that we lost intrest. 
Julie’s house is now earmarked in our book as just another ‘tourist trap’ and we advise it to move address and join the hodgepodge of other mediocre venues in the Veldstraat.

For ‘Le Jardin Bohémien’, we refer to a different blog with more detail on this Bed&Breakfast&Coffee&Cake heaven.

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Then we did more shopping, we bought a lot of things almost and Vera’s shoes at ‘Zoot” for real. So, Vera was super happy, which in turn made me super happy too and we decided to celebrate with a cocktail somewhere.

Somewhere is called “Bar Popular” and sits on the St. Jacobs markt. A great pub with a very cool looking barman who boasted he could make great cocktails. He didn’t exaggerate and I enjoyed my Gin Fizz while watching how – as she downed her glass – Vera’s cheeks slowly got the same color as her Strawberry Margherita. (Great prices too, all cocktails at around 6.5 euro’s a glass.)

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To round off the day, and after another brisk walk to shake off some of the alcohol, we ended up near the Vrijdagmarkt and took our table at the Marc O’ Polo Trattoria (Serpentstraat, 11).
We have great memories of this place. When we were students we already used to hang out here. It was then a Spanish restaurant (Sol y Sombra)with tapa’s and fusion, and it is great to see that the Italians who took over managed to keep the bohemian atmosphere and also put some very decent food on the plate.

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We both went for the tagliatelli with Ossobucco shank and sauce, but not before we enjoyed a Spritz Aperol together. They served it just right, with a lot of prosecco and not too much water. The Ossobucco was tender and tasty, the marrow in the bone succulent and yummy. What a pity that the tagliattelli was overcooked. But we didn’t let it spoil the fun. The Tiramisu (Vera couldn’t resist) was ‘Oh my god so good!’ and the ice-cooled limoncello tasted as if it was home made, which it probably was.

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Vera, Saturday night, Ghent, Vera, great cocktails, magnificent shoes, Ossobuco, Vera, Limoncello…Life is good.

The House of Eliott is now Maison Elza – Ghent

‘The House of Eliott’ is now ‘Maison Elza‘. No more dinners but breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea with homemade scones instead! Open from 9 AM to 5:30 PM. Same cosy interior but a different approach! We haven’t tried it yet, but if we do, we will surely write about it!

Aaaah Happy places. Yes this time we definitely visited a happy place, it made us smile and happy anyway. It was a surprise, since this time Neil had made the reservation for a restaurant, and I was smart enough not to ask any questions. ( Yes I managed to suppress my curiosity!) We walked from our hotel in Ghent towards the Gravensteen. We took a drink in the bar next to the restaurant since we were a bit early. The bar ‘Club Reserva’ is also a music bar with daily live music in the cellar. Some people having a drink in the bar were waiting for the live performance downstairs. The bar is in a brown jazzy style, but seems to miss a bit in atmosphere. But it was good enough to have a drink and talk a little. At 8 PM we entered  ‘The House of Eliott’, which Neil offered as an early birthday dinner (one month in advance, but this also meant I was having a very prolonged birthday party this year, so no complaints!)

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We could choose between a table already free downstairs or wait five minutes for a table upstairs. The upstairs seemed lighter and a bit more attractive, so we decided to wait five minutes in the ‘Salon’ in front of the bar when you enter. We took the time to take in the surroundings, which are lavishly decorated in a nostalgic twenties style, a bit bohemian and burlesque, with a fascination for Chanel (so pearls everywhere). After five minutes we were taken to a romantic table with leopard seats. A lot of lobster on the menu, and I love lobster, so no worries there. There were two menus (Menu Eliott and market Menu) and we chose the shorter one (market Menu), with half a lobster as starter and half a lobster as a main course, and a dessert after. And half a bottle of white wine. We received bread while waiting, together with pepper, salt, oil and butter and a small pot with fresh herbs with some scissors to cut onto the bread. Really cute and delicious, especially the virgin olive oil was of very good quality. (and you can really win me over with these kind of original and tasty ideas ). We were also brought an appetizer with fresh grey shrimp and cauliflower cappuccino. The hosts are hip, charming and very friendly. They obviously love their job and the restaurant they are running. The music is in the same twenties style and ads to the warm atmosphere.

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The first lobster was very succulent and the combination with green asparagus, rucola and Italian cheese original and refreshing, without drowning out the tasty lobster. We ate the lobster till there was nothing to suck out anymore! We got some cucumber sorbet in between and after that our second half lobster with white asparagus Flemish style, on sea lavender ( a vegetable that looks a bit like spinach). It was Flemish style with a twist and with a poached egg on top! Besides lobster I also adore white asparagus, and again the cook really knows what he is doing. The lobsters are really fresh, combined with high quality ingredients and prepared with love for the product.

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We went for the favourite dessert of chef Tom, based on strawberries in different preparations, I believe there was white chocolate mousse and some strawberry sponge cake, and a lot of fresh strawberries. I think I should remember this meal for my last supper (should I ever have to choose one, god forbid!), since it includes most of my favourite ingredients: lobster, white asparagus and strawberries. We combined it with a coffee to end in style. This restaurant takes the coveted first place on Tripadvisor for restaurants Ghent, and they more than deserve it! Go and feel happy!

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Address:
Jan Breydelstraat 36, 9000 Gent
09 225 21 28

Open
Thursday from 6 pm, Friday to Monday from 12 to 2 pm and 18pm to…. Closed on Tuesday and Wednesday

Le Jardin Bohémien – Ghent

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The best spots are stumbled upon by accident, and they give you the feeling of discovering something unique. We were looking for a coffee around the Gravensteen in Ghent. We had heard many good things about „Julie’s House”, had even tried to have breakfast there, but since it was fully booked at the time, and 11 o’clock sounded more as lunch than breakfast, we decided to keep it in mind for next time.

So this was next time. It was Saturday afternoon and when we arrived the queue for „take away” and the one for „eat in” were both too long. We had just passed a cofeehouse in de Burgstraat and decided to go back on our steps.

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Le Jardin Bohémien” has two huge windows (that go with the elevated ceilings of the beautiful old building), and when we stepped through the entrance door we immediately felt welcome. We found a table for two, just next to the glass fridge full of mouth watering, decidedly home made „gateau’s”. The place is quite big, with small as well as big tables (where you just join others), and some corners with sofas. There is a homy counter where you order and pay, and a beautiful wooden winding stairway that leads to a b&b which I am sure has to be good. The place is decorated quite eclectic, and it seems from the website there is a interior designer on the team. We chose from the menu and ultimately went for the home made ginger chai (de GingerLove you find in most places is far too sweet for my taste). We couldn’t resist the pastries, I went for the lemon meringue, Neil for the cheese cake and we made a deal to share.

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The menu serves breakfast (yes, next time for breakfast!), light lunches, coffee, tea and tarts, and healthy drinks. There is free wifi! We just came from a live jazz café performance (café „Het Onverwacht Geluk” just a bit further down the street) and the music here was in the same jazzy style, perfect. The pastries were simply delicious, homemade, and served generously. The home made ginger chai, tasted pure and natural, the sugar can be added to your own taste.

Le Jardin Bohémien” is open every day except on Tuesdays from 8:30 am to 6 pm, and on Thursdays stays open till 10 pm when they serve cocktails, while you can listen to, what I understood from the blackboard, live music.

Conclusions: all the way for authenticity, honesty, originality and homy experience

Address: Burgstraat 19, 9000 Gent

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Coeur d’artichaut

Spring started early this year, but this was still a rather chilly Saturday in April and we had been walking for quite a while. Our Son, Yolan, had just played a rehearsal at a local jazz bar and we were looking for a place to eat. The noontime cheesecake we had savoured at the ‚Le Jardin Bohemien’ , a new discovery to add to our lists of ‘cool coffee-houses&more’ was long digested and we were longing for something hearty as to end this perfect day in beauty.

We were now close to the Vrijdagsmarkt (Friday market) and had already knocked at the door of one of our old favorites, the Marco Polo trattoria. We should have made a reservation, story of our live, indeed.

We then remembered a restaurant with a very inviting name, close to this other one, ‚Lepelblad’,  that we had visited just the week before.  ‘Coeur d’artichaut’ that was it.
A quick search on the Iphone, a quick call “yes, some people called off, so we have a table for you.” Great, give us half hour, we’re on our way.  (although intuition says: a really hot restaurant is overbooked and has a few people in a queue waiting for free tables.)

What a cozy place to enter! It is as if you are at your favorite library  and you’re offered by the librarian (in this case a friendly man with a screaming bow-tie) to put your book aside for a moment and enjoy dinner, there and then. The connection between writing and eating and writing about it, struck me again.

The wine menu offered an interesting selection, and we went for a Pinot Grigio from Friuli. We knew this very refreshing and fruity wine from our visit to Trieste. Friuli, a region with many fantastic Italian specialities, like Parma and San Daniele ham, Parmeggiano and Balsamico, the ambrosia  among the vinegars.

A little pang of warning flashed through Vera’s eyes with the arrival of the ‘amuse bouche’ offered by the house.  A scoop of French creamcheese rolled in moonseed and quartered by ‘homemade cookies’.  “Could just as well have been some Philadelphia”, Vera later muttered. “And as for ‘homemade?’” …she didn’t offer any adjectives, just the question mark. But we were still in a good mood and weren’t going to let it spoil easily.

Crab on Mango for Vera, a warm goat cheese salad for Yo and goose liver terrine for myself. I know,  I should never take goose liver, and I rarely do. As it turned out, it tasted pretty good and I just shrugged off the uninspired crumbles  of crushed peanuts strewn on the side.

The Goat cheese salad was uneventful with big wedges of onion, but the Crab was a different story altogether. Vera’s silence gave it away. “How’s the crab?” I ventured.  No reply. Aw!
And I agree, it hurts to spend 16 euros on something that tastes like canned fancy crab with mayo. The mango was hard to find and totally tasteless.

Hum. But, we still enjoyed the evening, and we were hungry, after all.
The real shock came with the main dish. Again, I was the lucky one. My codfish was, uninspired, again, but tasty. I couldn’t help but wonder if the few mussels that swam on the side had accidently fallen in or if they had been there on purpose. They were cold but tasted OK.

But my heart really sunk for the first time when I saw Vera’s asparagus plate. I didn’t count the heads, there were two or three, the rest of the trunks neatly cut in three pieces and piled into a little stack, smothered in an enormous blob of  estragon foam.

My heart sunk again when Yolan asked me to taste a bite from his lamb filet. I could hardly swallow it, I kid you not, it was completely over-salted and over-peppered, so much even that it was impossible to taste the meat.

What to do? I’m a Vet, and as a doctor I know that one needs to treat the disease, not the symptoms. Complaining and asking for another plate, that would be treating the symptoms, would lose us another half hour and probably we would receive something else that would be equally unsatisfying. So, we drank our coffee, we didn’t blink but swallowed bitterly when we coughed up the 164 euro bill and left the place, still hungry.

It had been a beautiful day in Ghent. Yolan had played wonderfully, we had strolled through this pearl of cities and we had enjoyed each other’s company. The Arti-shock experience would not take that feeling away from us. But, folks, don’t waste your money here. Move just a few doors further down the road and go to the ‘Lepelblad’ instead.

Conclusions:

Coeur d’artichaut is lacking all of the essentials to a satisfying experience: lack of honesty, originality, authenticity, inspiration and quality. They are pure bluff.

And by the way; had we consulted Tripadvisor prior to calling we would have been warned. We went by intuition and intuition failed us.

Address, if you really want to know: Onderbergen 6, B-9000 Ghent

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