A Brunch Like No Other

Do you know those traditions you have with certain friends? The ones you don’t see often, but when you do, you always end up doing the same thing? Meeting up to bake biscuits, or going to that pizza place in town, or going on a crazy shopping spree. Every time. Well, I have this friend with whom I like to go out for brunch on a Sunday. Once, maybe twice a year we see each other. And then we brunch.

Only problem: in Leuven, almost everything is closed on Sunday. Our options are very limited. So the last few years, we have been going to Bar Louis, on the Leuven Grote Markt. The interior is extravagant and even luscious. Shiny objects making the light shoot all directions, leather couches filled with fluffy shiny pillows, etc. It is definitely not my style, but for some reason it really works. You feel very fancy while sipping your coffee, that’s for sure. The food is very nice as well. But there are two massive downsides. First of all, their waiting system is far from effective. Certain bartenders can only take orders / serve food, and other will then take care of the payment. As such, if you would like to pay some time soon after finishing your drinks or food, you are best off asking for the bill the first time already when ordering. A second time when getting your food. And after that every five minutes. Other downside: when that bill does come, it will make you sad. I guess half of the price you pay for the location, since you’re sitting on the beautiful market square. Apart from that, the food (and service) really aren’t worth all that money.

So I went on a little google spree to see where else we could go for a Sunday Brunch. And what I found, was perfect. This Sunday, me and my brunch friend went to Bar Stan. It isn’t located in the centre of town, but since Leuven is not big at all, that is far from a problem. If anything, it is easier to reach and find parking. For me, it was just a 10 minute cycle from home, like almost everything else in Leuven.

We booked a table for 10.30h, and thank goodness we did. The small cafe had definitely overcome it’s not very obvious location and developed a large and loyal clientele. We were sat down at an old school bench on wobbly old chairs exactly like the ones at my old primary school. Definitely very different from the Bar Louis, going from super fancy to very approachable and wonderfully nostalgic. The vibe was what I would call medium hipster. There were definitely a few hipster families there (you know, those moms and dads with their kids in designer but locally produced clothes, probably a four-year-old sun wearing a bowtie, having a bicycle parked outside with a big tub in front to drive the kids around, and quite likely some small odd looking but very expensive pet waiting for them at home, a pitbull with a little coat on, or maybe even a big tortoise in the garden). But thank goodness there were also awfully normal people there, not pretending to be “different” and “alternative” while being exactly the same like any other hipster. Now before my post turns into an anti-hipster rant, let me tell you about the food.

The Sunday brunch was advertised as a brunch buffet, and what buffet it was! There was crispy bacon (exactly the way bacon should be, not soggy and chewy and not that crispy that it breaks into a thousand small bacon pieces when you put your fork in it) and scrambled eggs. Hmm, you might say. That is not much for a warm breakfast buffet. What about other types of eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, sausages, maybe some pancakes. True, this Brunch was definitely not trying to be an English or American breakfast. Which I kinda liked, because those breakfasts I can make myself quite easily. Instead, it offered a whole range of cold foods. There was a couscous with cherry tomatoes and coriander. Smoked salmon with a yoghurt sauce on the side. Spanish hame with sun dried tomatoes. Egg salad. Tuna salad. A whole range of different cheeses. White bread, brown bread, bread with pumpkin seeds and bread with raisins. Yoghurt, granola, and all sorts of fruit. Filter coffee (filter coffee!!!!) and fresh orange juice included, plus a whole range of teas and interesting sounding juices to choose from.

I went for seconds, and thirds, and yes, even fourths. Every single thing I tried was more than delicious. There was a nice and relaxed Sunday atmosphere. And I had a lovely chat with my brunch friend. Sunday Brunch at Bar Stan: successful. We will be back in, say, half a year!


Brainfood: A Night Between Books

Yesterday I felt like it was time for some brain food. In one of my previous posts, I have told you about my favourite coffee place in Leuven which is no more. It was a book cafe: a cafe that happens to have a book shop, De Dry Coppen. It has been replaced by a book shop that happens to have a cafe: BarBoek. Sligthly different atmosphere, but still a wonderful place to relax. Books everywhere, a few corners with big and small couches, and the same delicious coffee as in the last place.

Yesterday night, they had their opening event. They invited a writer to come talk about her new book: Isabelle Rosaert’s Dat is wat ik bemin. So as you do, I invited my mom for a date to the new book cafe.

The night had a high level of living room feeling to it. A very crowded living room, but still. The writer had invited a lot of her family and friends to support her, and so did the Barboek team. So everyone sort of knew someone, and everyone had a very positive and open mindset. The set-up was totally living room as well. A homely feeling of different couches, and a single lamp on the ceiling that everyone kept running into. And a nice cuppa.

The event was well thought out. The journalist interviewing the author was also a friend of the author, which made it a very easy going and personal interview. In between the questions, someone read some excerpts from the book, accompanied by some live music. I have to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the live music. I’ll call it “Experimental Double Bass”. The girl was holding the double bass in such an awkward way, it was hard to take her seriously. She had an amplifier and some pedals, so she could record her own playing to play it back to us. That way, she was her own musical accompaniment. I was quite impressed at first, taking an either jazz or classical instrument to a digital level, but I didn’t like what she did with it. She clearly wanted to create a different sound, contemporary stuff, alternative. But the things she did to her double bass simply did not go well on the ear. Or at least not on my ear. It is such a beautiful instrument, with its deep warm tones. The way she played it, it eeped and it creeped. At first I thought she wasn’t very good. Then it started dawning on me it was simply her style. As for the excerpts, they were a bit on the long side. Although I must admit, they suited the interview very well. Afterwards, we were served some wine and sandwiches to accompany the interesting discussion that started brewing right after the interview had finished.

In any case, the night definitely sold the book to me. Usually I am not a big fan of contemporary Dutch literature. Often, there is this idea behind it, “I have to shock my reader”. The stories and language use are vulgar and very much out there, the topics taboo. I can’t say it’s not good writing. It’s just not my thing. What is my thing? Post-colonial literature, like Khaled Hosseini, Salman Rushdie, or for Dutch Kader Abdollah. Or magical realism, like Isabel Allende or the king of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Now, guess which writer has had a massive influence on Rossaert?! Gabriel Garcia Marquez! She even experimented a little bit with the magical realism herself! So to say the least, I am intrigued! I might just actually read this book. Another thing for on the christmas wish list I say!

Coffee in Leuven

I found a new coffee place today! Which inspired me to write a little post about coffee places.

The place where you have your coffee, it’s like your favourite pillow: it has to be the perfect fit, and that’s a different fit for everyone. For me, a coffee place needs to be quiet. Or rather, peaceful. When I was still at uni, I used to come to these places to study or read some books. There was some nice mellow music, some soft chattering in the background. It is nice to be busy in your own little world, while at the same time noticing you’re not alone. The coffee was excellent, it also came with a free chocolate. And the seating was perfect for my aim: I always sat at the big table in the middle, surrounded by like-minded people trying to get some work done. Sadly, my cafe is no longer. And I’ve been looking for a new one ever since.
I went into the replacement of my favourite cafe, BarBoek!, but it is not the same. My cafe was a cafe with a book store. The new one is a book store with a cafe. Still awesome, but no longer the perfect fit.
So I went to another one I had been to before, The Coffee Cafe. It has all these old coffee grinders on the wall, cosy small wooden tables, and very good coffee. But since it closes at 2pm, again, not the perfect fit.
The one I am sitting in now is almost perfect, it’s called Anna, opposite of the museum in Leuven. It again has a long table, which is perfect because that way I don’t have to take up a whole seating arrangement for just me and my book or laptop. I can be just one of many working souls around this table. There are some couches as well, in case I would want to bring a friend for a chat. The lighting is perfect, and cosy. And even fascinating, since I keep staring at it. Maybe not the best idea.
The coffee stil has to prove itself though. I started with a filter coffee, which was not as nice as I had hoped. People always go for these fancy frothy coffees, I saw the barista do one up, it looked stunning. But I like my coffee simple and strong, no milk no anything. Either an espresso, or a filter coffee. I hate these Americanos, where they just fill up your espresso with water until they reach a bigger cup of coffee. That is not coffee. Filter coffee then is the ideal solution, that is, if it is good filter coffee. This one, not so much. But then again, filter coffee is hard enough to find, so I’ll try an espresso after to give them a second chance. (Later addition: the espresso is STRONG. That means GOOD! Though not as good as the ones I had in France a few weeks ago.)
The other minus point about this place is the music. The set up is modern-cosy, but the music is what you would hear in the town’s cheap club, 5 years ago, mixed with what the depressed teenager would listen to 10 years ago. This place needs lounge. Or jazz, even better. Or some singer-songwriter stuff. I’m not a big fan of the latter, because it can be so depressing, but it would definitely better than the stuff on now. Titanium. Really? And Rihanna? Whattt?!
Oh my god I just found a massive plus that will beat ANY Belgian cafe: they offer free water. It’s just standing there for you to poor into fancy glasses. Bazinga, well done new coffee place!
Oh and did I mention their free coffee-side biscuits are super tasty? Sticky oatmeal biscuits. Yum!
(Also, they’re playing Coldplay now. Much better. Thank you.)