During our Little Break to Belgium we headed to Leuven to dinner, a university town which is half an hour by train from Brussels. I lived there for six months a few years ago and was keen to revisit the town. First things first, we went for some drinks on the Oude Market which is lined wall to walls with bars selling Belgium’s fabulous beers. Then, onto dinner at Kokoon which is a cosy little restaurant where chef Guy Vantoortelboom promises to serve up traditional Belgian cuisine. The menu doesn’t stop there though and includes some rather bizarre dishes such as bison served with vodka and also a kangaroo dish. I am fairly confident that neither bison or kangaroo could be characterised as Belgian produce.
The town hall in Leuven
The look is modern with sturdy square tables and chairs which are dotted with flickering tea light candles. Complimentary appetisers of olives and salami are served at each table and we choose from the wine list which spans Europe and the new world. A bottle of Sangiovese at €26 is a well priced option with a mild but peppery taste.
There is a set menu available, including wine for €55, however we opt to order a la carte. To begin, pumpkin and carrot soup served topped with a splash of cream provides a perfect blanket for your insides. After that, a huge pot of mussels (€22) provides the quintessential Belgian meal. The mussels are cooked in a simple tomato and onion sauce which doesn’t overwhelm their briny flavour. Another good option is the leg of lamb which is served with a dark tarragon flavoured sauce. Its a nicely judged sauce and the indulgence factor is increased by the accompanying small casserole of potato gratin. It’s all hearty, comforting food of the sort you crave when it is cold outside.
Leg of lamb with tarragon sauce
From the dessert menu the simplest dish is probably the best: a plate of fresh figs, halved and served with good quality vanilla bean ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce. Which just goes to show that if you can avoid the more eccentric menu options you can dine well at Kokoon. Besides the mussels, the menu was not as identifiably Belgian as promised. However if you think of Belgian cuisine as rich and sustaining, then Kokoon probably fits the bill.
Details: 1 Meierrstraat, Leuven, Belgium 3000 (Ph +32 (0)16 230 726)
If you liked reading this you might be interested in my post on eating in Brussels. If you feel like mussels, you can try my recipe for moules marinere here.
Tips for Gourmet Travellers
We stayed at Gasthous de Pastorij in Leuven. 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 Leuven stroll around the old town and university buildings, check out the town hall and try doing a pub crawl in the Oude Market which is lined with bars.
Gourmet Chick travelled to Belgium on the Eurostar as a guest of the Little Break campaign, all food, drink and accommodation was paid for personally. A Eurostar ticket to Brussels includes free train travel within Belgium and return fares begin at £59.