It’s no secret that I love to travel. So you can imagine my excitement when Eurostar offered me a Little Break to Belgium last weekend as part of its Little Break, Big Difference
campaign. MTV boyfriend and I got to travel in Leisure Select on Saturday morning and return on Sunday evening to London. Those better at maths than me will realise this is less than 48 hours, but who want’s to spoil a good title. It is going to be hard to go back to cattle class/economy on the Eurostar after luxuriating in the space of Leisure Select, working our way through the complimentary newspapers and magazines, a meal and best of all, free flowing champagne. Little Break, Big Difference is all about taking a break on the Eurostar for just a day trip or short trip and return fares are offered from London for as little as £59.
Belgium is known for its beer, friiten (French fries, although the Belgiums claim they were invented by the Belgiums, not the French), mussels and chocolate. I lived in Belgium for six months a number of years ago, so I was well placed for some friiten feasts but I actually managed to surprise myself with my self restraint this time. Most of my little break visit centred on pastries and chocolate.
Raspberry tart at Gaudron
First stop in Brussels was Gaudron to meet a friend Sophie who has lived in Brussels for the past few years. Gaudron is Sophie’s favourite brunch place and as soon as I walked into the light airy space lined with shelves of goodies such as Gaudron’s own jam I realised why. One wall is occupied by a large deli cabinet which is filled with an assortment of salads and meats. You can order a selection of three of the salads with one piece of “protein” for around €14. The protein on offer on our visit included slices of roast beef and tomato stuffed with minced veal. The salads were light and bright although I thought they were on the pricey side for what you got. Sophie insisted that we also try some of Gaudron’s pastries which are highly regarded in Brussels. The raspberry tart was loaded with juicy berries all encased in soft, buttery pastry. As for the Belgian chocolate brownie, what can I say, there is a reason that Belgium is famous for it’s chocolate after all and that reason was perfectly evident in Gaudron’s dusky, decadent and very adult brownie.
Details: 3 Place G Brugmann, 1050 Brussels, Belgium (Ph +32 (0)2 343 97 90)
The interior of Arcardi
Tucked away just off Brussel’s famous covered shopping arcade, Arcadi is a Brussel’s institution. The interior is from another time, ancient biscuit tins line the shelves and old postcards are pinned to the walls. Nab yourself a window seat on the leather banquettes with a tiny rickety table and try and flag down a waiter to order one of Arcadi’s famous quiches. There are about fifteen different sorts on the menu. The quiche Lorraine (€7.50) is probably the pick of the bunch with a crisp crust of pastry and a creamy filling peppered with pieces of bacon. The tomato, basil and parmesan quiche (€7.50) is a little heavy on the tomato (to the extent that it is a brilliant red colour) but otherwise vibrant and slightly peppery. MTV boyfriend also has a vanilla milkshake (€4) which he swears is the best milkshake he has had all year.
Details: R D’Aremberg 18, Brussels 1000, Belgium (Ph 02 511 3343)
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve.
The Restauration Nouvelle occupies prime position. It teeters on the top floor of the Old England Art Noveau building Brussel’s Museum of Musical Instruments. The views of Brussels are amazing so of course you have to pay for the view rather than the food. It serves to reason that the best bet is to order coffee and cakes rather than an actual meal. MTV boyfriend had a reasonably good (but not brilliant) cappuccino and I had some fresh mint tea but the real show stoppers were the cakes: tarte tartin was silky smooth and perfectly caramalised but a tepid temperature while the decadent chocolate tart suffered from the same problem.
Tarte Tartin at Restauration Nouvelle
Details: Rue Montagne de la cour 2, Brussels, Belgium (02 502 9508)
Belgium is famous for it’s chocolate shops but Pierre Marcolini is widely regarded as the best in Belgium. The shop looks like you are in an art gallery rather than a chocolate shop, with pieces of chocolate displayed individually amongst a background of stark white. Flavours change seasonally keeping chocolate lovers hooked. Although my friend Sophie is devastated at the demise of the Pierre Marcolini chocolate coated marshmallow, I found plenty to rejoice in upon tasting Marcolini’s distinctive saffron infused dark chocolate.
Details: 1 Rue de Minimis, Place du Grand Sablon, Brussels, Belgium (00 32)2 514 02 516
Tips for Gourmet Travellers
We stayed at Gasthous de Pastorij
in Leuven which is half an hour out of Brussels by train. This was a little B&B which was clean and comfortable although with an overly chintzy theme (there were gold angels everywhere). It won’t win style awards anytime soon but was right in the heart of things. Rooms were €95 for a double.
In Brussels rent some bikes from the city wide bike scheme and explore the Grand’Place and surrounding streets, track down Mannekin Pis (although be prepared to be disappointed), and then head to the Museum of Musical Instruments for a great museum experience and fantastic views over Brussels.
Gourmet Chick travelled on the Eurostar as a guest of Little Break, Big Difference. All accomodation, food and drinks were paid for personally.