During the last 2 weeks or so I have been commuting back and forth between Kent, home of the great Shepherd Neame beer, and Roeselare in Belgium, home of the Rodenbach beer. Le Shuttle has come in useful – that’s the car train onto which you drive your car, park in first gear, read a newspaper or book or go to sleep, and 30 minutes later you emerge from the Channel Tunnel in either Folkestone or Calais ( depending on which way you’re going ), drive off the flat bed, up a ramp, down the other side and straight on to a motorway and dinner.
One evening returning from Faversham I drove off at Calais heading towards the Bruges area in Belgium, about 50-60 minutes drive past Dunkerque and Ostend. Supplied with sandwiches and an excellent black cherry sundae from Café Primo in the Folkestone terminal, I stopped at a service area just short of Bruges. It was a nice evening and I parked my car next to a van with UK number plates. While eating my sandwich I noticed some black-hatted Chasidim emerge from the van who then walked into the field opposite to say Arbit ( the evening prayers ). They must have been en route to Antwerp. They started swaying sideways and then forwards and backwards. One gave a deep bow and then jerked sharply backwards which can’t be very good for the oxygen supply to the brain. Anyway there were five of them lined up in front of this hedgerow, all making voluntary spasms sideways and forwards. I don’t know how this appeared to other travellers but to me it looked as though they wanted to urgently relieve themselves.
The next evening I ate at Dickie’s Bar in Bruges on T’Zand at 16 Vrijdagmarkt. This time of year the place is full of tourists. As a consequence the gap between meal prices and gastronomic standards widens, both pulling in opposite directions, Dickie’s Bar being an exception. The owner chef produced a grilled salmon and baked potato with a freshly-prepared sauce bearnaise. This was washed down with a recommended Brugse Zot, a beer that I had not previously come across but which is locally brewed in Bruges with a 6% ABV. Worth a visit, good range of local beers, good-sized portions and sensible prices.http://www.hi-spirits.co.uk/cgi-bin/tro ... rod_172807
A good place to eat in Calais is in the Calais-Plage or beach area, well away from the main town centre and the English. One evening I ate at Le Dauphin at 57 Digue Gaston Berthe – cod in mustard sauce, salade de tomates and two Kasteel biere blanches, all for 20 Euros. Another good fish restaurant in Calais is Le Grand Bleu opposite the Holiday Inn along Boulevard des Alliees. I first ate there in 1989 when it opened. http://www.legrandbleu-calais.com/intro.php?id=437
The Belgian coast is only 40 miles long and tends to be heavily built-up along various resorts. On another evening returning from England I drove from Calais and turned off the motorway into De Panne just after crossing the border line into Belgium. De Panne is at the western extremity of the coast, Knokke being at the eastern end. I had another grilled salmon with vegetables, this time accompanied by a Rodenbach beer, at the Astoria Palace eetcafe, located on the beach.
Further along the coast towards is Ostend is Nieuwpoort, the third largest fishing harbour in Belgium. Looking for a place to eat here I stopped at Turbotin. This was very good. I ordered a starter portion, which was a mistake due to the portion size of the main course. To start with I had that great Belgian staple, champignons sur toast or mushrooms on toast which was elevated to an art form here with chunky field mushrooms on 2 slices of toast. The main course was a filet de bar poelee, or sea bass lightly fried in butter or meuniere with a side dish of mashed potato, lightly blended with béchamel. Absolutely delicious, solid Belgian cooking, no messing about here with complicated recipes. Worth a return visit or two. Turbotin is at Albert I Laan 92 in the beach area of Nieuwpoort, or call it Newport. Closed on Tuesdays. About a mile or so down the road is the town itself with several fish restaurants along the harbour. I shall have to try these another time.
Last Monday I drove my new Volvo to Belgium to stretch its legs a bit. I bought some bread and some salmon salad for lunch at a local supermarket in Roeselare. On the way back to the office I ran into a line of traffic held up by the impending arrival of the round Belgium cycle race, the only cycle race that takes about 40 minutes to complete. Shuffling forward I got to the head of the line at a roundabout only to be ordered to stop by a policeman. He could have let me through as the first group of cyclists was still some 5 minutes away. Anyway he told me to wait. So I got out my bread and salmon salad and started to have lunch in the car. A few minutes later a rush of cyclists, camera cars and support vehicles passed by. After this the policeman waved his hand to proceed but I thought that I’d wait a bit more and finish my lunch. The policeman waved his arm again but I carried on eating. He started gesticulating again and again but I didn’t move. After a few more minutes he came over to my side of the car and muttered something which seemed to be half Dutch and half English. I told him that I was finishing my lunch, having been stopped for the best part of 15 minutes. This standoff continued for 2 or 3 more minutes with the policeman becoming visibly agitated after which I decided that I was about 2 nanoseconds away from being arrested, so I put away my bread, started the engine and with a deft use of clutch and accelerator drove away with a screech of tyres. I had considered waving goodbye with a reverse V-sign but decided against that. A car with foreign number plates is regarded as fair game in Belgium.