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Belga Queen Gent (former Het Spijker) (Long Post)

Posted by John White on 12/20/2003 05:44:59 AM

The following are my notes on this excellent place, based on my visit last Monday. The contact details are: Graslei 10, tel 09 280 01 00, e-mail belgaqueen.gent at pi.be . The notes form part of my downloadable guide to Ghent.

Het Spijker, "The Staple House" is the oldest building on the "world's most beautiful quay", alongside the city's oldest harbour. The harbour dates from the 11th Century, see the introduction. Het Spijker was built at the end of the 12th or the beginning of the 13th Century. It was constructed using Tournai limestone, in the Romanesque style with round archways to the doors and windows and characteristic small columns. Next door to it, is the Tolhuisje Taverne, at Graslei 11. This is by far the smallest building on the quay, superficially looking much older than Het Spijker, and thus often mistaken for it. This former Customs or Toll House is in the renaissance style, dating only from 1698.

Until 1734, Het Spijker was used to store the wheat that ships transported to Ghent prior to being distributed. The interior was completely destroyed by fire in 1896.

As Het Spijker, in the late 1990's it was a major tourist attraction, comprising a bar with a good selection of Speciality Beers, a shop and a restaurant that featured beer cuisine. Unfortunately it shut down in 2001, although it was a fair bet that such as prestigious place would reopen, which it did on the 16th of July, 2003 as the Belga Queen Gent. Note that there is a Belga Queen Brussels (32, rue Fossé aux Loups (Wolvengrachtstraat), tel 02 217 21 87, e mail belgaqueen at busmail.net , http://www.resto.be/belgaqueen ); this being the first in the "chain"; they have a joint business card. They share a similarity the Grand Café Horta ( http://www.grandcafehorta.be ), in Antwerp, this being renowned for its Boon Lambic and unfiltered Palm on hand pump, superb décor and very good food. According to a press release from the Brussels Belga Queen, the Ghent establishment has "alle grote Belgische bieren" (all major Belgian beers) and Antoine Pinto, of the Brussels Belga Queen, is responsible for its food. The press release goes on to state that the Ghent Belga Queen has as its theme "Made in Belgium". The press release mentions 100 wines; clearly, they cannot all be Belgian.

On its promotional material, the place is described as, or having, a: Restaurant; Café; Bar; Brasserie; Club cigares (Cigar Club or Bar); Bar à Huîtres (Oyster Bar); Bar - Écailler (another name for Oyster Bar); and, using English, a "Wonderfood Place".

I checked out the Ghent Belga Queen, at lunchtime, in December, 2003. It does indeed have the same hand pumped beers as the Grand Café Horta, in Antwerp; there are seven draught beers in all, and around twenty five in bottle. Draught beers include: the hand pumped, unfiltered Palm Spéciale at €3.50; [Normal] Palm Spéciale at €2.50; Kriek Boon at €3; Palm Royal at €3.50; Steendonk Witbier at €2.20; Rodenbach at €3; and the handpumped "Lambiek, Kelders van Lembeek" (on Pump Clip) (Lambik Ongefilterd in Menu Card), from Boon, at €3.50. Bottles include: Orval, Duvel, Westmalle Dubbel/Tripel, Rochefort ?, all at €3.50; and Kriek Boon at €10 (75cl). The hand pumps and the pump clips on the unfiltered Palm Spéciale and the unfiltered Boon Lambik are exactly the same as the ones in the Grand Café Horta, see the photo in the White Beer Travels guide to Antwerp.

I ordered the draught Lambik in the very smart, ground floor bar, and was given the menu card, which is in Dutch and French, but not English, so that I could place my order for lunch. There are some marvellous choices, both set menus and À la Carte. The menus, all of which come with a coffee at the end, include: a €14 Lunch Menu, the starter and main course being separately available at €8 and €10 respectively; a "Degustatie Menu met Bieren" (Tasting Menu with Beer) at €44, which includes a Mousse cooked with Boon Kriek, and is accompanied by Rodenbach, the Wheat Beer and the Rochefort, whichever one it is; a Caloriearm (Low Calorie) Menu at €27; and a three course Brouwersmenu (Brewer's Menu) at €36, which, despite its name, is not a beer cuisine menu.

On my visit, I chose two À la Carte dishes. For my starter, I had "Vers gebakken St Jakobsnoten met een reductie van Duvel en verse boter uit de Ardennen" (Freshly Fried Scallops with a Duvel and Ardennes Butter Reduction) at €22. For my main course, it was a "Mechelse Koekoek" dish which came with "Huisgemaakt Chips" (Homemade Crisps, not Chips) and a Side Salad with a Cider Vinaigrette Dressing, at €19. Note that Mechelen Cuckoo is a specially bred form Chicken, which has feathers with a similar colour to that of a Cuckoo, watch the introduction to http://www.mechelsekoekoek.dyns.cx ); it is a speciality of the historic city of Mechelen (Malines in French and English).

Both dishes that I had were excellent, as was the friendly service, from the young and enthusiastic staff, who said that I could sit down for my meal wherever I wanted, upstairs or on the ground floor. I chose a table on the ground floor that had armchair like seats, with an option for a large cushion placed behind you.

Other À la Carte dishes include: "Met Rodenbach en kruiden gemasseerde zalm, zachte mosterd saus" (a Salmon dish cooked with Herbs and Rodenbach, with a Mild Mustard Sauce) for €13; and a Roast Duck (Gebraden eend) and Knolgewassen (Turnip) dish, cooked in Boon Frambozen (Framboise).

From 3pm to 7pm, there are desserts in the range €3 to €8. Of course, these are also available at normal main meal times.

The wines did indeed prove not to be all from Belgium. There was a big selection, which were mainly from France, but also from other countries, such as South Africa, in a section of the drinks menu stating that the vineyards producing them were all Belgian owned (Viticulteurs Belges). The wines ranged from €17.50 a bottle, through €38.50 for a 2001 Chablis, through €420 for a 1997 Château Cheval Blanc, from St-Emilion, to €875 for a 1997 Château Le Pin, from Pomerol. The latter is indeed Belgian owned, only 500 or so cases being produced each year. The very famous St-Emilion super Château is also Belgian owned, so there is no reason to doubt that the others on the list are not. There were four actual Belgian wines on the list, all from the Wijnkasteel van Genoels-Elderen, in Riemst ( http://www.wijnkasteel.com ). These were: a 2000 Chardonnay Bleu (Blauw) at €34; a 1999 Chardonnay Or (Goud) at €67; and a Pinot Noir at €48.

One of the two house aperitifs is 50/50 Boon Frambozen and Champagne at €8.

Although there is clear evidence of its ancient times, some very trendy, modern metal structures have been added: stairs, lifts, etc. I was extremely impressed by the blend of old and new. In the foyer, by the reception desk, there is an imposing metal structure with a list of names, headed by a title "Les Belges du Monde" ("Belgians of the World", i.e. [World] Famous Belgians). I have to admit to not being familiar with many of the names! The toilets are on the second floor. In the Gents, the urinals are very trendy. There is a large flat vertical surface down which water continuously flows to permanently flush them. But the sit-down cubicles are truly amazing: One can see into them, as their fronts and doors are transparent, at least when unoccupied!

There is live music in the Cigar Lounge on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

I forgot to get the opening times for this Belga Queen.

The most impressive building on Graslei is at number 14, the Guild Hall of the Free Boatmen, which was built in 1355. The "un-free" boatmen (De Onvrije Schipper), who had to unload their cargo outside the city and use vessels of the free boatmen to bring their merchandise into the city, had their guild house on the opposite side of the canal, on Korenlei, at number 7. In fact, this is now a bar, De Onvrije Schipper (tel 09 233 60 45), that must at least serve up Duvel, as it is one of only two Ghent recommendations on the Moortgat brewery Web site, http://www.moortgat.be , the other being Den Turk.

Belga Queen Gent (former Het Spijker) (Long Post) - John White, 12/20/03 05:44:59 AM

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