Mechelen: a final weekend of ticking
Posted by Jeremy Gray on 03/25/2005 07:29:49 AM
A few notes from our little jaunt last weekend:
For once, we had decided that instead of rising at the crack of dawn, we’d take a very sensible mid afternoon departure, so we wandered down to Folkestone in what we thought was plenty of time for the 4pm shuttle through the tunnel. We hadn’t, of course, bargained for the first of the weekend’s overturned lorries, which completely shut the M20 just before Junction 11, which meant a very pleasant but frustrating 45 minutes sitting completely stationary in the middle of the sunny and warm Kent countryside.
They finally got one lane open and we got to a completely deserted terminal – everyone else was in the queue behind us and had also missed their shuttles – where they very kindly got us on the 4.30pm departure, so in the end we only lost half an hour. But what a mess that lorry made of the wall by the motorway…..
The rest of the journey, including the Brussels ring, passed without further incident, and we pulled into the carpark at Hotel Carolus in Mechelen two hours after leaving Calais, at 8.15pm, which meant plenty of time for dinner and drinks in the brewery bar & restaurant.
Dumping our bags in record time, we’d sat down and ordered by 8.30pm – I once again had the excellent chicken in beery sauce with bits of vegetables and bacon, and Theresa had superb entrecote with béarnaise sauce. Once again we were had a great meal in this increasingly brilliant place.
The beers: first up was a 75cl of Gouden Carolus Classic. Then a 75cl of Gouden Carolus Tripel, then a 75cl of Gouden Carolus Easter Beer and finally a 75cl of 2004 Cuvee van de Keizer. All were superb, especially the Classic, the Easter beer and the Cuvee: it was one of those nights when the beers were all top notch, in great surroundings, and of course with fantastic wifely company. The Easter beer - a new one for us – was a real surprise, being dark, rich and wintery – not at all what I had imagined an Easter beer would be like. Massive liquorice nose on this first bottle too.
Having got way too comfortable to contemplate moving, we ended the night where we began, and shuffled back through the brewery courtyard to bed.
Saturday was to be the main Bob Hendrickx ticking and general café exploration day, with an evening back at base in Mechelen to follow. Rising early, we were out by 10.30 am and on our way. The route was to take us firstly to the Molenhuis in Scherpenheuvel, which was about a 40 minute drive east. Decent bar, in Tim Webb, with just under 60 beers including 4 from nearby Kerkom.
Next up was our first visit to Diest. Here we collected our Bob ticks in De Grenadier – another TW entry which has cut their list since the last edition, but which still has around 70 beers – and the amazing Gasthof 1618. This is set just outside the centre of town in the pretty Begijnhof area, full of historic buildings. The pub itself dates, not surprisingly, from 1618, and it has been beautifully preserved. If you like old pub interiors, then this is one for you. However, if you like quick service, then go somewhere else. We had lunch here – two reasonable omelettes, but the friendly and welcoming owners operate at a very sedate pace…..
Checked out a couple of other TW possibilities in town then left early afternoon and headed for Paal and Beringen, just over the provincial border in western Limburg Province. This is where we hit the TW jackpot, following up a lead which I would assume will definitely produce a full new entry for Paal.
Quick ticks were then collected in De Stam and then in Café Paal 26, before heading over to the superb ‘t Vijgeblad in Beringen. This is another Bob H tick and is one of the best cafes in the whole book. Described perfectly as a modern brown café, it is just that, with the obligatory old stove, tiled floor and, more importantly, an excellent beer list of around 70 beers.
By now we were getting ticking fatigue, so in order to get back to Mechelen as early as possible, we went cross country to collect the final two ticks of the day, at De Kruimel in Vorst-Meerlar (also in Webb) and finally at the newly reopened ‘t Laak in Laakdal.
Arriving back in Mechelen by 6.15pm, the night was still young. First up, some food, and as the standard of the food at Het Anker had been so high the previous night, we decided to go back for more. This time I had the entrecote and T had another chicken dish, this time cooked in Gouden Carolus Tripel. Unfortunately I had a slight misfortune with my steak, as it wasn’t up to the usual standards, but the charming staff quickly sorted it out and I was soon presented with a replacement. This was one of the best steaks that I have ever had – completely perfect, and served with a delicious mushroom sauce. I have to say that the way the staff sorted my steak issue out was a perfect example of excellent customer care. Dinner was taken with another luscious Easter Beer 75cl, plus a draught GC Classic: as I suspected, the draught stuff was something of a disappointment after the 75cl bottle of Classic the night before – still good, but not half the beer it is in those large bottles.
Emerging from the brewery relatively early, we were ready to hit some other venues in Mechelen. First stop was d’Afspraak, an excellent new bar on the same street as Webb and Hendrickx entry Hanekeef. D’Afspraak is superb, with over 100 beers in an old town house on which they’ve done a superb conversion. It even has an effective non smoking area. They do a nice range of 75cl bottles, so we continued the large bottle theme with 75s of Floreffe Tripel and Floreffe La Meilleure, which were both excellent. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Borrel n Babbel, the lovely genever focussed bar in the courtyard behind the cathedral, where we had a 33cl bottle of Classic: this was better than the draught but again not to the same high standards as the 75cl bottle the previous day.
Back to the hotel for a night cap of Cuvee in the atmospheric brewery bar.
As we had ended the previous trip on 201 Bob cafes, extended by a further 7 on Saturday, we had long since qualified for our 3 free crates of beer, which we collected from Bob on Sunday morning at his home in Antwerp. So, our reward for all the hard work was 12 x 750s of Floreffe La Meilleure (had the first last night, what a superb beer this is); 24 x 33cl bottles of the same beer; and a crate of 24 x 33cl bottles made up of Floreffe Dubbel, Tripel and Moeder Overste. Bob also very kindly threw in a few glasses and other goodies, and it was great to visit with him.
Sunday’s ticking was to be in and around the Hageland area near Leuven, and we made it to In de Ster in Rotselaar in time for a lovely lunch. I had a Hageland speciality beef stew with croquettes, one of the best beef stews I’ve had in Belgium – and T had some Belgian Hageland wine, which she said was very good. In de Ster is another superb old café, and its good to see the beer list has expanded to over 50 with many good choices – many more than when the Bob book was published.
Next up was our first visit to Aarschot, for the unremarkable D’Elf Ure Mis, then a detour to TW entry Hager Op, Nieuwrode – 100 beer café in the middle of nowhere – then ‘t Werrek in Wijgmaal – also unremarkable, followed by two gems in Kessel Lo.
First up was De Kastaar, a brown café with a pig theme and 40 beers, then the real star of the show, the wonderful In den Rozenkrans. This is one of the best cafes in Bob’s book – an absolutely wonderful place set in the grounds of the abbey. Again, they have expanded their beer range to over 50 since the book came out, and the list includes two real rarities from Br de Schuur – Nikolaas and Meneer – first time I’ve ever seen these beers on the list anywhere (though I haven’t checked in Delirium, no doubt they may well have them). Busy beyond belief on Sunday afternoon, it had a superb atmosphere. The café is superb – lots of breweriana, implements and pictures on the wall, and a terrace outside in the abbey grounds.
As it was our final Bob H café – bringing our total to 214 – we had a beer to celebrate and mark the occasion, before heading back over to Calais.
Just the one overturned lorry on the E40 near Brugge which caused a slight delay - but one heck of a mess in the neighbouring field into which it had fallen – we made good progress and had time to stop for a very good dinner in the ultra reliable ‘first and last’ café in Adinkerke, De Verloren Genoare, which is right on the border at Junction 1 of the E40.
Back to Calais in good time for the 10pm crossing, in fact we got on half an hour early and were back home by 10.30pm after a superb weekend.
I cannot commend a stay at Hotel Carolus highly enough: and the Br Het Anker deserves all the accolades for its excellent work on the beers, the brasserie, the food and whole show – what a great place to stay!
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