Prominently positioned on the bank of the River Leie in the historic centre of Ghent, The Belga Queen Restaurant doesn’t look anything special from the outside apart from lots of tables and chairs with, on closer inspection, a stand filled with ice on which sits mountains of oysters.
However, once inside the glass doors it is a trendy, stylish venue. Multi-talented designer, chef and owner Antoine Pinto has converted a grain storehouse dating back to the thirteenth century, putting his stamp on everything from the lighting and furniture to the black and white uniforms. The ground floor is primarily a bar although food is also served including such delicacies as Siberian Oscietra caviar.
Belgium and beer go hand in hand with several hundred variations. Tony my partner is hooked on Trappistes Rochefort Beer, which comes in different strengths, and he says is smooth and velvety. I like fizzy wine, and have discovered crémant. The Belga Queen served a delicate light rosé version which I found was actually champagne mixed with fruits of the forest. There is also an extensive gin list with sixteen varieties. Gin, with different flavoured tonics, is apparently a very trendy drink in Belgium. There is an extensive wine list but what is so interesting is that all the wines are either produced in Belgium or made by Belgium producers with the majority of winemaking countries represented.
The main restaurant on the first floor can be accessed by a glass lift or stairs, which have chrome banisters, all very much part of the décor. The seating is in comfortable leather chairs, and something I have never seen before but a good idea is that the tables are easily moved around. While we were there the two tables adjacent to us were moved next to a table behind us to accommodate a party of six.
The menu is predominately shellfish although there are also meat and vegetarian options. Typical Flemish dishes are included although they have been adapted to modern tastes and cooking. Tony started with rare thinly sliced Belgium Charolais beef served in the vein of carpaccio with a delicate sauce flavoured with mushrooms and truffles, and covered with shavings of Old Roeselare cheese. He followed with a local speciality Ghent Waterzooi, a cream based stew made with cuckoo. It tasted, he said, and looked like corn fed chicken, cooked with boiled potatoes, and thin vegetable shavings. I choose the Belga Queen platter a tray of crushed ice filled with shell fish which included different types of oysters, lobster, langoustine, prawns and shrimps, sadly too much food for me to eat it all. €70.
Desserts included melting chocolate cake with icecream and vanilla bourbon, crème brulée, and a selection of Belgium cheeses.
The open plan kitchen is easily accessible on the next floor. The top floor however is a party area with a lounge and restaurant, and there is a D.J. open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
A bonus for me was that Poppy, my well-behaved dog, was welcome in the restaurant. I also understood from Wahim, their charming manager that plans are afoot to give the front area a face-lift.
www.belgaqueen.be T. +32 9280 0100 Ghent, Belgium