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Thursday, 3 June 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Belgo Centraal

Lobsterfest @ Belgo’s

Just as 17 years ago when I lived in Chalk Farm and first started going to Belgo Noord, today I am still struck by the originality of the ideas introduced by this restaurant to the London food scene. Not only has it made moules frites an affordable and accessible choice, but it has also introduced a vast range of top quality Belgian beers to many Londoners.

Few people were familiar with Belgian food in the UK in the early 90s; dishes like Waterzooi and Beef Carbonnade were relatively unknown, and the concept of partnering food and beer was also novel.

Belgo also introduced us to the concept of “cuisine a la bière” where beer is used as a marinade, sauce or flavouring, and I cannot think of any other type of beer which would be more appropriate to this style of cooking. The meat in “Beef Carbonnade” is braised in sweet Gueuze, a sparkling sour beer, while the slow cooked shank of lamb is served with DeKoninck beer and balsamic jus.

The idea of preparing and cooking mussels can be a frightening prospect, but at £12.95 for a large pot, eating moules frites is no longer a daunting or expensive affair.

Belgo was also one of the first restaurants to open its kitchens to the public, when the concept of “open plan kitchen” was still to be adopted and popularised by other restaurant chains.

The design of its restaurants is as cutting edge as when it first opened. I like the combination of different elements like the exposed bricks against the copper walls, the long canteen style wooden tables and the roughly polished cement floor. These elements come together helping to create a modern and vibrant restaurant.

Dr G and I went to Belgo to try the 2010 Lobsterfest menu which is available throughout the month of June. All the dishes that we ordered, apart from the desserts, were lobster based.

For starter, Dr G had a “Red Thai lobster” @ £8.95 (half a Canadian 1lb lobster baked with a lightly spiced and nutty red Thai curry sauce).

I am not one to mess around with lobster (I prefer mine simply grilled with garlic butter), but I was very impressed by the combination of flavours in this dish - the light Thai curry sauce gave some welcome chilli notes that offset the succulent, perfectly cooked lobster meat .

The half lobster had been beautifully dressed with the intact meat from its claw sitting under the sauce at the top end of the lobster.

I ordered a “Lobster Thermidor” @ £8.95 (half a Canadian 1lb lobster grilled with a light cheese, mustard and Orval beer) – this was again delicious with the creamy, mustard sauce accompanying the sweet meat perfectly.

To accompany our starters we shared a bottle of “Chimay Tripel” @ £4.95 and another of “Steenbrugge Blonde” @ £4.35. These were excellent recommendations by our waitress, as both had a sweet spiciness, and long yeasty finish which stood up well to the Thai red curry.

We also tried the “Lobster Bisque” @ £4.95 – this is one of the cleverest dishes on any menu as little if any lobster meat is actually used for its preparation. I make this whenever we eat lobsters at home. The lobster shells are fried in butter and garlic together with a mixture of onion, celery and carrots. The mixture is then transferred to a saucepan while the frying pan is deglazed with white wine. Lobster stock is then added to the saucepan with some herbs, tomato puree, paprika and cream before sieving the soup.

Belgo’s version was excellent, with a strong lobster flavour, and a richness coming through from the brandy, tomatoes and cream. I could also taste a dash of heat from the paprika which added another layer of complexity to the soup. The bread was deliciously flavoured with caraway seeds.

For the main course, Dr G had a “Grilled whole lobster with frites” @ £17.95. The lobster had been halved and topped with garlic and Pernod butter. The aniseed flavour of the Pernod butter worked well with the sweetness of the lobster meat and garlic; the lobster was sizeable and very good value at £17.95.

I opted for “Whole surf and turf” @ £24.95 – a whole grilled lobster with garlic and Pernod butter served with a 60z sirloin steak and frites. The flavours were distinct and simple but combined very well together.

The double-fried chips were the perfect accompaniment to both dishes – they were very hot and deliciously crispy.

To match our main courses, we had a bottle of blond ale “Tripel Karmeliet” @ £4.95 and an amber beer called “Pauwel Kwak” @ £4.95. These were again recommended by our waitress to accompany the more robust main dishes and I felt they matched our choices well. Dark orange in colour, they both had a good balance of hops and malt, and a sweet, fruity nose.

The dessert menu had quite a few choices varying from £4.75 to £5.25. I ordered a “Hazelnut ice cream with Chantilly and toffee apple sauce” @ £4.75 which had an intense nutty flavour but was light and refreshing.

Dr G opted for “Creme brulee with tuile biscuit” @ £5.50 – the brulee was perfectly set and creamy, and black vanilla seeds were visible in the custard, with a delicious crust of caramelised sugar on top.

The wine list is well thought out and outstanding value with a good spread of choices varying from £14.25 to £24.95. There is only one bottle over £20 in any of the categories (white, red, rose or sparkling).

Cost: this was a complimentary meal but I have quoted prices of all the dishes we tried. I estimate that a 3 course meal during Lobsterfest (starter and main course being lobster) will cost £32 per person or £24 on the standard menu excluding drinks.

Likes: perfectly cooked lobster, great value for money, central location, fine Belgian beers and delicious double fried chips.

Dislikes: due to the low arched ceilings and informal dining style, the restaurant, particularly the Centraal branch, can get noisy.

Verdict: I cannot think of a better venue for top quality, well priced lobster dishes in London today. The whole grilled lobster @ £17.95 is comparable to fishmonger prices, and the moules frites @ £12.95 is also excellent value. A great place to try a large array of Belgian beers in a central location. Very highly recommended.

Belgo Centraal on Urbanspoon


  1. I haven't been to Belgo's in such a long time. But it's all about the moules frites and fine Belgian beer.

    If you want to sample more good beers from Europe. Goto Lowlander in Covent Garden. Food isn't much but the beer selection is awesome, or Dovetail in Farringdon area. Not tried the food, but with over 100 Belgium beers in stock it can not be beaten.

  2. That lobster looks so tasty! haven't been in so long probably because it becomes a chain and puts me off - but what the heck I'll go for the lobster. Thanks Luiz!


  3. @ Dave - hi there, you have a great blog, enjoyed your review of Afghan Kitchen, I've been meaning to go there for a while. Thanks for your comment, I have been to Lowlanders in Covent Garden, but not to Dovetail, thanks for the recommendation.

    @ Fernandez and Leluu - I had not been to Belgo for years, and was completely unaware of the Lobsterfest until recently - it is AMAZING value, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I will surely be going back again.

  4. Looks absolutely lobtastic, lobsterlicious even! I'm very tempted go there just for a trip down memory lane at those prices - haven't been there for over 10 years.
    Mr Truffle

  5. @ Mr Truffles - thanks Mr Truffles, I have also re-discovered Belgo last week, hadn't been for years but it was as good as I remember it to be. The lobsterfest is excellent value for money.

  6. Hi London Foodie,
    Belgo's in defo an oldie but goodie in London. Have you been to the Norfolk coast to try the seafood there? There is fantastic crab as well. Not London of course but still great food.
    Hungry Female

  7. Sounds like a fine rediscovery. Belgian beers are definitely more suited to food than as session beers. I find them often too sweet (or sour) and usually too strong to drink for a whole night. But, with food, particularly meaty food, they really come in to their own.

  8. The Dovetail in Farringdon used to be my "office" local as I worked in Aylesbury Street. It is really good and, I believe, non-chain. Good times were spent drinking raspberries flavoured beer ... (yeah I am a girlie drinker) hee hee

  9. @ Hungry Female - hey there, thanks for stopping by and commenting. You have a lovely blog, tried to comment on your crab/seafood post but could not see any links for commenting (?!) or maybe is just me being dizzy. I hadn't been back to Belgo's for a long time, it was lovely to be back.

    @ The Grubworm - it was indeed a great rediscovery, I couldn't put it any better. I love Belgian beers and can easily drink them through a whole evening but I see what you mean - I couldn't drink a fruit flavoured beer a whole evening or something else a too strongly flavoured. I find Leffe is quite easy drinking and so is Duval.

    @ Louise Wong - hey Louise, thanks for commenting and your recommendation. I will look this place up, and it is also great as it is close to my house and office.

  10. Oh this looks FAB! I lived in Belgium a few years ago, put on a stone due to moules and carbonnades and beer, but the food was wonderful. I do love Belgo - every time I go I am amazed at how good the food is for the price. Thanks for the tip about the lobsterfest - I'll put a link to your post on the FB page!

  11. @ Sasha - hello my dear, thanks for the link and tweet! It was a complete re-discovery for me, I hadn't been for a few years, but Dr G and I were very impressed by the food and how affordable the menu still is after all these years. Can't wait to go back now!

  12. LOBSTER FEST!!!! I've been meaning to go to Belgo for EVER and this might just be the perfect opportunity!! :)

  13. @ Catty - the perfect excuse in June, you will not be disappointed, the lobster dishes were all excellent, and incredibly good value.

  14. I wish I knew about Lobsterfest, but I was in England for a wedding, and just happened to have tried Belgo's as a recommendation! We went for Express Lunch with great food, huge portions and excellent prices! the desserts we enjoyed was to die for! :) Thanks for the post!

  15. Looks great! The lobster looks very nice, I recently went to the Belgo in Nottingham and have to say the moules were excellent! Next time im in London will have to look out for it :)


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