If there’s anything you’ve heard about Belgian food, it’s probably limited to chocolate and beer! What isn’t known outside of Europe is that Belgium has a lot more to offer when it comes to their cuisine, which is described as “French finesse served in German portions” (disclaimer: being half Belgian, I may be a little biased!). Owned by a lover of Belgium and its cuisine, de België is a restaurant and bar in Soho where Hong Kongers can experience homely, honest Belgian food… and a whole lot of Belgian beers!
When you first enter de België, it looks like any other pub in Central, where the majority of the clientele are gulping down beers while watching football on TV screens around the bar… but pass through and you’ll find a hidden dining room tucked at the back. The restaurant section is a charming space with red and white-chequered tablecloths, dim lighting and kitschy cherub decorations, where one wall proudly displays de België’s collection of over 80 Belgian beers. While a lot of bars outside of Belgium don’t bother serving beers in their corresponding glasses, de België takes their beer seriously and tries to get the correct vessel for each drink – and has impressively succeeded at acquiring them for at least 60% of their beers.
It goes without saying that de België’s beer menu is not for the faint of heart! In a city that most often serves San Miguel or Carlsberg, a Belgian beer novice is likely to suffer from decision fatigue with the extensive number of options de België offers – blonde, brown, fruity, Trappist, champagne beers, and more. Don’t be afraid to ask for help… or simply pick one blind, as I highly doubt there is one bad beer on their menu! I wanted to try something new so tried the Bush Blonde – a strong, pale ale. While I don’t usually prefer this type of beer, it was sweet, balanced, had enough body and was really smooth for a beer that’s 10.5% alcohol.
The chef at de België is actually Malaysian, but used to work in restaurants in Belgium where he learned the traditional cuisine. The food menu stays fairly close to the real deal, with a few exceptions: there’s a veggie burger, as there aren’t too many options in Belgian cuisine for those who don’t eat meat or fish, and garoupa is used instead of eel, as the eels in Hong Kong didn’t quite work for the dish.
We started with some small bites to whet the appetite. The bite-sized croquettes and bitterballen, which are savoury, meaty and deep-fried in beer batter, are the perfect bar food. de België also does a very good attempt at true Belgian fries – crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside – but don’t even think about asking for ketchup! That just isn’t the Belgian way… choose from the different homemade mayonnaises and aioli for dipping instead. de België’s baby blue mussels didn’t disappoint either; they were cooked in a lovely spicy tomato broth, and for just the right amount of time too.
For mains, I’d highly recommend the beef beer stew. The beef is slow-cooked in Brune Leffe (one of my favourite beers), and comes out tender and intensely flavourful – this is the ultimate winter comfort food. My only gripe was that the side of mash potatoes was slightly gummy, but drown it in delicious stew and you don’t notice a thing!
If you’re looking for something a little lighter, try the seafood waterzooi (a traditional stew that originated in Ghent), with shrimp, mussels, calamari and vegetables. It’s basic, fresh, but just as comforting.
de België doesn’t have many dessert options, but the ones they do have are solid. We tried the beer-poached pear, which is cooked in cherry beer and served warm with vanilla ice-cream and flaked almonds for a bit of crunch – a fabulous combination.
Of course, we couldn’t leave a Belgian restaurant without trying the waffle! de België’s waffle is fairly traditional and comes served with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice-cream. While I can’t compare it to some of the best waffles I’ve had in Belgium, these were pretty authentic with just the right texture. They also aren’t too sweet, which is great for the Hong Kong palate. The chef wouldn’t divulge what’s in his secret recipe, except that it contains beer (are you sensing a certain theme in this menu yet?)!
de België’s food is not fine dining, trendy or innovative – but what it does do well is capture the essence of Belgian cuisine. It’s simple, hearty and well executed, whilst the atmosphere is homely and intimate, making it a great place for a cosy dinner with loved ones or close friends. And with main courses from $128-298, it’s a very affordable place for a classy night with good food and great beers – whether you’re a Belgian cuisine aficionado or not!
De België G/F, SOHO Central, 21 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong 2869 8388 www.belgie-group.com
Iris blogs about clean living and her cooking adventures figuring out a HK-sized kitchen at Eating Clean In The Dirty City