A Girly Afternoon – High Tea at Nosh in Leuven

Last weekend it was time to try one of those places in town you keep walking by thinking it’s a good idea, but you never manage to make the plans to do so. I went to the café called Nosh to try their High Tea!

I really liked the idea. Nosh is generally one of the only places you can find open in Leuven between lunch and dinner time for something other than pancakes (which I do love, but I was wanting something more special). We had to make a reservation before, which made total sense if you saw all the stuff they gave us.

We were sat at a table a lot bigger than necessary for our company, but it turned out to be a good plan when all the food started showing up. First we were brought, one by one, a glass of cava to start with, then a pepper and cream soup, a piece of quiche and some finger sandwiches. And then it was time for the sweets tray! A feast on the eye just as much as on the tummy! Not to forget the all-you-can-drink offer on the tea.

The tea menu really took my fancy, and apparently they are extending it soon to 20 different kinds of teas, so I’ll definitely be back. I first had a green tea mix with some extra herbs, then I had a herbal tea with mint and elderberries. My friend, more into the sweet kind of teas, started with a strawberry and lime infusion, which was surprisingly fresh while at the same time still sweet, and finished with a rooibos and caramel tea. I do like rooibos, but the caramel was definitely to sweet for me. I can imagine that for proper tea specialists (if such a thing exists) it might be a bit weird that we were switching teas between our snacking, but it was just so much fun to try out all the different flavours.

The whole experience was perfect for a girlfriend afternoon, it wasn’t too loud so we could have a proper chat, we were surrounded by nice little bits and bobs totally finishing off the cosy decor, and between every story we told we could fill our bellies with cute little yummy thingies. The sweet tray held little marzipan cakes, gingerbread, scones, tiny biscuit cakes, vanilla rice, a sort of raspberry bavarois cake, and lots more.

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The only downside of the place is the price. I would never go in there for a normal coffee or tea stop. The teas go for 3 euros, bagels are easily 7 euros, and the English breakfast goes for 16 euros! I guess the location plays a part in the pricing, as it’s located right in the centre, very close to the two main squares in town. But for me as a local, I can think of other places in town where all of this is a lot cheaper. However, for the High Tea it is different. It is 25 euro a person, and even though it is a bit much for an afternoon snack, you do get a lot of value for your money. Consider the tea being all-you-can-drink, the glass of bubbly, and all the little treats. And also, the fact that this really is a unique experience in Leuven.

So if you’re in want for a fun girlie afternoon in Leuven, and you don’t mind eating a crazy amount of food in front of these girlfriends, this is definitely your thing! The table next to us was a nice crowd of ladies in their early 30s, but they seemed to be very concerned with being judged by each other and didn’t eat even half of the food! What a waste! We all know it, girls, we really can eat that much. And we would. If no one was watching. So make sure that when you do come here, you enjoy it to the fullest! And if you don’t, I’ll come have your leftovers, thankyouverymuch.

 

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The Perfect Lunch Celebration – Kyoto Sushi in Leuven

The boyfriend found a job! Woopteedoooooow! As soon as he got the call, we wanted to go celebrate. Turns out though, that spontaneous celebrations are hard to plan for. So we decided on lunch in town on the last day of my easter holiday. We went to Kyoto Sushi in Leuven.

I’d been to Kyoto Sushi many times before, for the sushi. Both for take away as to eat in. And every time I am more than delighted with the food. The sushi is absolutely delicious and they have all sorts of fun stuff to eat! From salmon to tuna and crab, avocado and creme cheese, crispy stuff and things that melt in your mouth in all sorts of genius combinations. All being prepared right there and then for you to watch behind the bar. I am definitely a big fan.

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Now, the restaurant isn’t located in the centre, and it doesn’t look very inviting, probably because the flooring gives it a slight cafeteria look. I think they mostly do well on their take-aways. But the few times I went their to eat, I was always happy with the super friendly service (maybe a bit slow, but I really don’t mind if you get a thousand smiles in return) and the beautiful ways they served their food, like on your typical sushi boat and all sorts of cute little plates and bowls.

The boyfriend isn’t much of a sushi eater, but last time I was here I saw one of the waiters carrying in a massive plate of noodles. Now, the boyfriend sure loves a good stir-fry or curry, so I’ve been wanting to take him here for a while now. And let me just say, it was everything we wanted it to be!

For starters, we ordered Gyoza-chicken and Gyoza-shrimp, which turned out to be some of the most delicious dumplings I’d ever had, served with a yummy sauce (something sweet-chilli like) and some salad. For mains, I went for the salmon teppanyaki with noodles, the boyfriend went for his favourite: sweet-and-sour chicken stir-fry with rice. You should’ve seen his face when he detected this on the menu. Like a little kid on Christmas morning!

My teppanyaki was served on two plates: one plate came with a delicious mountain of noodles, full of veggies and some egg, and the other plate came with the grilled salmon, baked so crispy, swimming in a pond of delicious teriyaki sauce. Also served with salad. For me, the salad wasn’t really necessary. It seemed to be a rather Belgian side to this delicious Japanese dish. Also, the food wasn’t served the traditional teppanyaki style, that is, on a burning hot sizzling dish where the food cooks while it is being brought to your table. But who am I to complain if it was all so tasty!

The boyfriend was quite happy with his sweet-and-sour too, although it was a bit thin on the sauce. In his words: more sweet than sour. But nevertheless it made for a tasty meal! And a big one at that. No more space for dessert, but we wobbled home perfectly satisfied.

The Burger Review: Ellis vs. Huis der Burgers

The last two years, burger restaurants have been popping up all over the place in Leuven (Belgium). I’ve never really been a burger fanatic, can’t remember the last time I had a MacDonalds without being slightly drunk on my way back from a party way after midnight. But these places don’t just sell your average burger. They call ‘m Gourmet Burgers. High quality ingredients, your meat baked medium or even rare if that’s how you like it, and the proper restaurant experience.  By now, two burger restaurants are amongst my favourite places to eat out in town. So: time for a comparison review!

To start off, let me say I don’t have a favourite. And it’s not even that some things are less good in one of them than in the other. It’s more like it’s good in both of them, but just even better in the other. I’m talking about Ellis Burgers, a chain with restaurants in Brussels, Antwerp, and other cities in Belgium and the Netherlands; and the last one we’ve tried: Het Huis der Burgers (The House of Burgers). Both of them are located right in the centre and also, good for us because we often go eat out when everything is still closed: they are open before 6pm!

Let’s talk restaurant experience first. Ellis has its typical set-up, the same in any city you visit one. Quite modern, wooden interior with dark finish, and the lighting is very modern and just finishes the picture perfectly. The waiters are friendly and efficient, and you feel taken care of very well. Huis der Burgers is actually rather similar, modern set-up, amazing staff. It is slightly bigger and often you see bigger groups in there, everyone happy and satisfied even though the menu is limited to burgers and salads. The people who come here are not your average ‘on-myway-home-from-work-grabbing-a-quick-bite’. People dress up to come here, it counts as a night out.

Drinkwise, they both have a limited selection of beers, which in a city like Leuven could easily be expanded. But they also both do homemade lemonades which I am always a fan of. And when you ask a glass of wine in Huis der Burgers, you definitely get value for your money. Very decent red wine for a very decent price, in a particularly decent serving size.

But really I want to tell you about the food. Oh the food. (Just the thought of it is is making me hungry. I’m just gonna grab a quick snack and then continue.)

The best thing about Ellis is by far its mayonnaise. I know this might sound silly, but if you are Belgian you know what I mean. If you are foreign and you think you don’t like mayonnaise, I can tell you you are wrong. I would even dare promise you, you will like Ellis‘s mayo! It’s homemade! The chips are excellent as well, in case you were wondering.

The burger I usually go for is the standard bacon and cheese one. For me, those are still the best ingredients to put on a burger. The burger itself is baked medium-rare unless you specify otherwise. But even for someone like me who doesn’t like my food bloody, the meat is just such good quality it really works. They do have some other interesting burgers but I have to admit, I like my usual so much I haven’t really tried anything else, except for this one special I wish they would bring back. A lamb burger with sheep cheese and grilled peppers. Oh my, paradise! Next time I might just go for the Blue Cheese Madness, or maybe the Bollywood Delight, with chicken, yoghurt-mint sauce and mango chutney.

They also do salads and some typical but tasty sounding appetisers (I am thinking nachos and onion rings, amongst others), but they must really sound very tasty since they always happen to be out when we decide to order some. Quantity wise, let’s just say you don’t need to order starters. Which is also why we have never made it do the dessert.

Now, in Het Huis der Burgers, they have some truly genius combinations as well. The first time I went for what I would call an Italian burger, but they originally call The Soprano. It is basically your standard bacon and cheese burger with only Italian ingredients: rucola for lettuce, pancetta for bacon, provolone for cheese, and a basil mayo together with some more veggies to top it off. A-ma-zing! Last time, I tried one of their specials. The Portobello Burger. Yup, with portobello mushrooms. I was a bit sceptical because often these big mushrooms get a bit chewy, but they were amazingly juicy and just melted on your tong. Again, the meat was cooked to perfection, and it was topped off with some goat cheese and salad of course. Perfect mix of flavours, cooked just the way I like it.

Sadly, Huis der Burgers doesn’t do their own mayo. The mayo you get is your usual one, which in  Belgium is still very nice, but let’s just say Ellis has spoiled us. The chips are cooked Belgian style, so no bad words about those, but one thing I really like in this place is that they give you a side salad. Now, I am not much of a salad eater, but this one is quite nice really! It’s more than just some lettuce and it comes with a nice yoghurt dressing. It’s such a nice fresh change to mix things up in between the burgers and the chips, and of course it makes you feel less guilty after. You definitely get your veggie serve in this place! In Ellis, all you get is a massive pickle, I think mostly to decorate your plate. But then you could order a side salad or coleslaw if you really wanted to.

So to summarise: if you’re in want of some unhealthy food that might just not be as unhealthy as you had originally planned for, Ellis Burgers and Huis der Burgers are the places to be! They transform classical fast food into high quality meals in the perfect setting for a nice night out. I, for one, can’t wait to go again!

Just a Random Evening with a Magnificent Dinner

The other night my parents invited me and the boyfriend to go out for dinner. Apparently, their date had cancelled last minute and we were the honoured second choice.

And was I delighted to be their first second choice! It wasn’t just any dinner in any restaurant. We went to the Voltaire in Heverlee because the restaurant  was celebrating its 20th birthday. And for this joyful occasion, the chef had invited famous Belgian television chef (think the Flemish equivalent of Jamie Oliver) Jeroen Meus. As he told us later on the evening himself (the good man made time to have a chat with everyone in the restaurant), he used to be a kitchen hand in this restaurant many years ago before his career took off. And now he had helped put together the menu for this wonderful evening.

We started off with some pre-dinner drinks. The gang ordered a variety of different gin tonics, for me a cava as I simply do not like gin tonic and will not give in to the hype even though it does look awesome in the big glasses with the funky stuff in it. As an appetiser, we got ham with tuna. Say what now, I hear you say. Yes indeed, ham with a tuna sauce, as delicious as it sounds surprising.

But this evening had more on offer than yummy food and casual chats with a famous person. We went for the menu with the wine tasting. This meant that before the starter and before the main, the waiter would poor us three tastings of white, then red, and let us do a blind tasting. Now, both me and the boyfriend do not know much about wine, but we do know the kind of wines we like more than others. All wines were always very distinct and even though all of them were tasty, it was fairly easy to pick the one you wanted. The waiter would then come back to the table and explain a little bit about the wines. Where they were from, the kind of grape, the kind of dirt they grew in (apparently you can taste the minerals in the dirt in some of the wines), and what kind of food they would accompany well. And all of it smoothly in English as well, so the boyfriend could follow! I was well impressed.

Turns out I like my white wines quite “mineral” and my reds with a lot of tannins. My favourite red in the supermarket in the section of affordable wines, is an Australian Shiraz. The red I went for, was a blend of different grapes, including the Syrah grape, as the Shiraz is called in Europe. I was quite proud of myself that I could actually tell the difference between the wines and obviously know my kind of wine. I consider it my first step to become a snobby wine specialist. Hooray.

For starters, I decided to go for the salmon, a mix of smoked and raw. I am sure “raw” would not be the correct culinary term as it sounds a bit untasty, but it was tasty I can assure you. The only downside was that, since the two kinds of salmon were mixed up on the plate, the smoked salmon flavour massively predominated and it felt like a bit of a waste of the lovely fresh uncooked salmon. It came with a tzatziki and some fresh green apple, brilliant idea!

For mains, I had a hard time deciding. I wasn’t really in the mood for fish, and I am always to scared to order a steak as I secretly like mine well-done, and having worked in a kitchen myself, I know that chefs go berserk if anyone orders a steak well-done because it is a waste of the good quality meat. So I went for the duck. A slow cooked duck leg with veggies and spuds. And this is where I tell you what heaven tastes like. My goodness, that was the best duck I had ever eaten. The meat just fell of the bone, and I ate every last string of it. It was deliciously stringy, like the meat you get in stews, but so juicy at the same time! And the sauce, I don’t know what it was, but it was so perfect for the dish! The taste was subtle, so as not to ruin the delicious duck flavour but to add just that little bit more deliciousness. I was a happy bunny.

For dessert, I picked the mascarpone with white chocolate and cherries. I wasn’t a big fan of the cherries, but I guess that’s just my own taste, since I have never really liked cherries. I merely ordered it for the white chocolate to be honest. It also came with some berries (raspberries, blackberries,…) and I am more than a big fan of those. But of course raspberry season is already over, and the raspberries weren’t the tastiest I had ever had. But now I’m just nitpicking.

The evening was truly wonderful. Just the other week I mentioned to the boyfriend how I would like to see my parents more often, so of course we had loads to talk about. The restaurant has a really nice lay-out as well, it was a joy to look around. It was a spacious room out of a dark wood, with some hunting-themed decorations. The lighting was perfect, bright enough to inspect the food meticulously but dark enough for a super cosy atmosphere. We were sat in a quiet corner by the window and taken care of excellently by the waiter. By the end of the night, we wobbled down the stairs wonderfully satisfied and ready for bed. Evening at the Voltaire: successful!