Neil, Eating isn't Cheating Tuesday, September 02, 2014
The steam of mussels cooked in white wine rolls out of the open kitchen like sea fog, dulling the sound of enthusiastic conversation which fills the room. Only the occasional clink of glass or eruption of laughter breaks the comforting din of the cave as we melt down into our chairs and quaff our first glasses – strong, sweet beers and thick red wine - which does plenty to warm us through.
As the hours roll on the table becomes a battlefield of spilt wine and mussel liquor, passed and shared across the table in a flurry of arms and spoons. I look around and worry about our ever-increasing volume, but all I see are groups and couples far too engaged in their own impassioned story-telling to notice or care, each enjoying the food and beer as an aide to conversation.
Suitably brusque waiters move inconspicuously between tables, replacing bottles of red with a thud and suggesting beers with a friendly efficiency – each recommendation given with food in mind.
And what food it is.
Cauldrons of perfectly soft, fragrant mussels steam alongside piles of crisp frites and fresh cut baguette – a vessel for delivering pungent cooking-liquor to greedy mouths. Cricketball sized, well seasoned, pork and beef meatballs are smothered in a richly flavoured, lightly spiced tomato sauce and served alongside ‘stoemp’ – an aptly named local accompaniment of smashed root vegetables. A sort of Belgian bubble-and-squeak, if you will.
After a few too many glasses of local brew I feel an affinity with the rabbit braised in gueuze, a Flemish specialty that 'T Kelderke pull off as well as any. The gamey, distinctive flavour of rabbit is complimented by peppery fresh herbs, whilst a background acidity cuts through the richness of the meat.
Food and drink arrives, and is suitably dispatched, with an easy, nonchalant manner that in retrospect shows a slickness of service but at the time simply allowed us to continue with our banqueting untroubled, as the levels of laughter rose to disguise the by then far-off sound of beating rain.
Hours later we surface from the warmth of our rabbit hole; just as the clouds begin to scatter and the moon emerges triumphant over Brussels' dazzling Grand Place.
Restaurant ‘T Kelderke
Grand Place 15 - 1000 Bruxelles