Lepelblad – Ghent

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There are good restaurants, and we love to find those, and then every now and then you stumble upon a restaurant that is a very good restaurant with that little extra, that really makes it stand out.
Lepelblad’ in Ghent falls in that last category! And we really stumbled upon it on a Friday evening in March when we were looking for something  to eat after choosing a frame for a special poster for Neil’s birthday. We were walking around in the very hip neighborhood around Onderbergen, where restaurants and interior design shops attract a crowd in search of quality and a degree of coolness.
Many restaurants were already full, the Kastart included, but this restaurant just next to it had a very interesting menu, so we decided to give it a try. It looked also quite full at first sight, but we could take a table for two that had just come free for the three of us. We took it, being hungry and with the atmosphere of the place really drawing us in. Once we sat down, people kept walking in hoping for a table, most of them leaving in disappointment. Our table looked more priceless by the minute.
The restaurant has two big connected rooms with high ceilings, and a slightly simple but very light and natural interior design with some color touches, and a big blackboard with suggestions above the fireplace in each room. The second room is connected to the partly open kitchen.  In the first room is a small bar where drinks are prepared. There is a happy bustle in the restaurant that can become a little too noisy in the second room, as we experienced on our second visit. But as I said, the place has a little extra, the owner being one of those extra’s. She walks around keeping an eye one the place. The second visit was together with Neil on a romantic evening, and after seating us on a table for two in the middle of the second room, the owner proposed another table a little later next to the wall where we would sit more quietly and intimate. (under a very special tableau of colored paper squares put together in  quilt like way to form a huge work of art. ) We accepted her offer gladly and appreciated the sensitivity for her clientèle.
The first time with my children, they immediately loved the menu. My son was happy to order his favorite drink Roomer, an alcoholised frink with elderflower produced in Ghent. My daughter had trouble choosing from the many juices. While choosing our plate we got an appetizer which tasted lovely. We all ended up choosing a dish from the blackboard, I took something out of the wok with a lot of vegetables and beef, my daughter fish in curry, my son chicken with mozzarella and salad. Every dish was first of all filled with loads of fresh vegetables, many of the kind used far too little, (but oh so tasty), fresh herbs (my daughter loved the fresh coriander in her plate, her favorite fresh herb), and tasty meat and fish. All well seasoned but with respect for the natural flavors of the ingredients. We were immediately taken by the restaurant, and I placed it on my all time favorites list.
That’s how I ended up here again just a few weeks later with my husband. Although we could have chosen one of the more high end restaurants in Ghent, I really wanted to introduce him to this place. And it didn’t fail this ultimate test. The second time was just as good or maybe even better than the first time. This time we made sure to make reservations, luckily because the restaurant was packed. We both took a first course from the blackboard with suggestions, I wanted to take the asparagus as a main dish but since they had ran out, I decided to take the owners’ advice and try the saltimbocca with Mediterranean vegetables, while Neil went for the rib-eye angus steak with a salad. Again all dishes excelled in the many very fresh vegetables and the high quality of the meat, prepared originally, without being overworked. And the wine ordered by the glass did not disappoint. There was a desert with rhubarb on the blackboard, (my favorite), so we both enjoyed the rhubarb with ice-cream and a coffee to finish it of. We will come back many times I am sure, and with the daily or weekly changing suggestions on the board won’t tire easily either, suggestions often using ingredients in season.

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Lepelblad: address: Onderbergen 40, 9000 Gent, 09 324 02 44,

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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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