Tag Archives: Food

Dining in the capital of Europe

Four Brussels restaurants have launched an initiative aimed at using only tasty local produce while helping to save the environment. So Tony Mallett felt obliged to pop along to one… Later, he tries truffles at the famous La Truffe Noire, too

‘One hundred percent Belge’ is hardly a new idea, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy. Or tasty. Those behind the move describe it as a way to introduce diners to the flavours and products of Belgium’s different regions while, at the same time, allowing them to play a part in a concept that also has its roots in the environment.

All of the suppliers to these four hotel restaurants are located in Belgium, meaning that transportation of the produce is kept to a minimum. So not only will customers be eating the freshest and best that this gastro-mad country has to offer, they will also be contributing – at least in some small way – to a better environment.

The four hotel chefs (Vincent Masson, Dominique Gaudemer, Christian Tirilly and Jeroen Demuydt) have sourced local producers – some of them really not much bigger than smallholders – in a search for the finest foods, which they then combine with flair and imagination if the Sheraton Crescendo, in Place Rogier, is anything to go by.

‘Fun Times In Europe’ clearly had to drop by for lunch and a chat with ‘Slow Food Movement’ fan Christian Tirilly

Reaching a Crescendo: 'Slow food' fan Tirilly Christian

and came out a lot more inspired – and a little bit fatter…

According to Christian: “It’s my creativity in the dish but, of course, I search for the best local produce. I always go to meet the supplier personally and I’m now cooperating with eleven-or-so.

“For example, the butter we use at Crescendo is churned in the wood by a very small supplier in Lens. I asked to see his butter and he just opened one little fridge! Also, of course, I use bio products if I can get them.

“Meantime, I go to the local marchés (markets) three times per week to see what the product is here and now, and figure out how we can use it creatively.”

As for the environment, well, it’s one small step – or bike ride – according to Christian: “Well, maybe we don’t use our bikes every day to go to work but maybe we can leave the car at home one day each week. It’s the same with food. If we can eat at least one meal per week that helps the environment – and local business – then it’s a start.

So, have the diners noticed a difference? Says Christian: “From a customer point of view, of course the first thing they notice is that the food is good. Then they realise that ‘Oh! It’s local too!’ So you can have both.”

Just for the record, we tried small snails from Namur firmly planted in a Brussels sprout muslin – basically a mousse of sprouts, butter and potato. This was truly amazing and the normally dreaded sprouts will never be thought of in the same way again.

This amazing starter was followed by roasted codfish with bacon and seasonal vegetables. Now, cod these days normally tastes of nothing at all – but this dish was extremely flavoursome – although how one can ensure that a cod is ‘locally sourced’ is a bit of a mystery. It also goes surprisingly well with bacon.

For pud, well, it just had to be chocolate. Belgian, of course. As Christian pointed out: “In this country it is impossible not to use chocolate and biscuit.”

Amen to that, we say.

100% Belge cooking is available at:

Crescendo, Sheraton Hotel, 3 Place Rogier, 1210 Brussels, Tel: 02 224 34 20

Also at:

L’Epicerie, Le Méridien Brussels, 3 Carrefour de l Europe, 1000 Brussels, Tel. 02 548 4211

Le Gullivers, Sheraton Brussels Airport Hotel, Brussels National Airport, 1930 Zaventem

La Fourchette, 15 Rue Paul Spaak, 1000 Brussels, Tel: 02 645 6111

More info at
http://www.centpourcentbelge.be

Truffle Fan Luigi is a Real Funghi

‘Fun Times In Europe’ paid a visit to Luigi Ciciriello’s splendid restaurant, La Truffe Noire, which not surprisingly given its name specialises in serving truffles – both the black and white varieties (the white truffles from Alba are only available throughout December, so book ahead!).

The establishment is to be found just a little way off swanky Avenue Louise and the smartly dressed and talkative Ciciriello meets and greets every customer – once you get past the friendly doorman, of course.

Luigi founded the restaurant back in his 30s, some 22 years ago and says: “Good food is good food. It was good 22 years ago, it’s good today and it will still be good in 22 tears time.”

He once held a coveted Michelin star but that has gone, at least for the moment. He doesn’t seem too upset,

The trouble with truffles: Luigi at the table

though: “Food techniques change all the time. It’s just a matter of current fashion.”

Due to the restaurant’s glowing reputation, he certainly attracts the top-end customers. The night before our visit, the former Belgium premier and now leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament – Guy Verhofstadt – dined there. In fact, over the years, Ghent’s Verhofstadt has been a regular guest at Ciciriello’s tables.

Says Luigi: “The dinner table is the heart of conviviality. Only there the body, mind and soul are being restored.” Well, we certainly felt restored after trying one of the host’s self-confessed ‘weaknesses.’

Prepared at the table by the man himself, we had Carpaccio of Bleue des Prés and parmigiano with sliced black truffle. The truffles are weighed at the table so that everyone gets exactly what they expect. This dish was fantastic – very Italian-tasting and benefitting from the personal touch.

As Luigi points out: “The truffle is the authentic jewel of the gastronomic universe – an initiation for some and a ritual for others.” It was, indeed, an initiation for this writer who, until that moment had lived a completely truffle-free existence, but it would be pretty easy to see it becoming a ritual too…

And what about the aromatic white truffle – or ‘Alba’? Well, it comes from the Langhe area of the Piedmont region in northern Italy and, most famously, in the countryside around the city of Alba.

To give you some idea of how esteemed these truffles are, the record price paid for a single white truffle was set in December 2007, when a Macau casino owner paid US$330,000 for a specimen weighing 1.5 kilograms, discovered by Luciano Savini and his dog Rocco. It was one of the largest found in decades and unearthed near Pisa.

That’s serious, stuff. Enjoy!

La Truffe Noire, 12 Boulevard de la Cambre, 1000 Brussels, Tel: 02 640 44 22

http://www.truffenoire.com

Maldon – Salt of the Earth

Tony Mallett (just about) avoids the Essex-girls jokes and spends some quality time in and around Maldon

Being a northern lad, I don’t know Essex very well, although I do know a few gags. OK, I have a great old mate in the Romford/Gidea Park area, so have fettled a few ‘Times’ crosswords with him in various locals, but that might as well be a London suburb to my mind.

Maldon, on the other hand, is deep into the county and can be found between Chelmsford and Colchester – and what a great little place it is, too. Not so far away is Mersea Island, but more of that later.

Your correspondent pitched up in Maldon due to the fact that another dear friend (originally from the north) now runs a thriving pub there. Any old excuse, eh? Guilty as charged…

But before I bang on about the delights of the Rose and Crown, here’s a bit of local history and ‘colour ‘…

Making a ‘Mael’ of it

Maldon – whose name comes from Mael meaning ‘meeting place’ and dun meaning ‘hill’ – was peopled by Saxons in the fifth century. The area to the south is known as the ‘Dengie’ peninsula after the Dæningas tribe. By the time of the eleventh-century Domesday Book there were 180 townsmen, yet there are about that, these days, in The Rosie on a busy Friday night…

The main part of Maldon sits on top of a hill, and the small-but-lovely, be-churched High Street is a great change from the too-busy city boulevards I’m used to in Brussels these days.

The Hythe: Ship out and visit the estuary

Even better, a ten-minute walk down the hill at the bottom of the main drag will eventually bring you to The Hythe – essentially the local port.

With two pubs, a lake, gardens, boats and more, it’s a great spot on a sunny day, whether the tide is in or out. In fact, so great is it that you might want to visit in the early morning as it gets choc-a-bloc with mums ‘n’ kids during the warmth of summer.

Here’s Mud in Your Eye

The Hythe was, once upon a time, a separate hamlet nestling under the tower of St Mary’s Church. Back in the day, Thames barges would carry food and bedding straw to London and sail back with other cargoes. There was even a boat-building yard.

Fishermen, meanwhile, ventured into the muddy estuary in search of eels, plaice, sole, whelks and winkles.

These days the area is probably best known, among discerning chefs, for its sea salt and, among the clinically insane, for its annual ‘mud race’. No, trust me, you really don’t want to know how badly that mud stinks…

Whole Lotta Rosie

Now, while this writer was staying as a guest at the Rose and Crown (better-known locally as ‘The Rosie’), the early-16th century pub has no letting rooms these days. But I’ll point you in the direction of somewhere that does take paying guests later.

Come on down: The Rose and Crown pub

What The Rosie does have, though, is a warm atmosphere, excellent live music, some of the best and friendliest bar and kitchen staff I’ve ever come across (and I’ve been around), proper grub and more-than-acceptable ale. Plus, it boasts genuinely welcoming locals who treat the turned-around pub as a hub of the community.

And what an entertaining community it is: rub shoulders (and occasional other bits) with tattooed pagans, pregnant teenage beauties, charmingly bonkers wine guzzlers, dizzy blondes, frankly mad boat dwellers, talented musicians of every type and sexual preference plus a whole host of, erm, ‘normal’ folk. It makes the term ‘eclectic’ a bit redundant, frankly.

Whose Round Is It Anyway?: Some of the 'friendly' bunch

Be My Valentine: Yes, this really IS the landlady!

So, mate of mine or not, it’s safe to say that landlady Sheena Valentine has done a brilliant job in her three years of tenure. If only they could speak with ‘proper’ accents, innit?

Anyway, there’s a beer garden to the rear, often policed (in a very docile manner, so don’t be alarmed) by two other residents – a couple of gorgeous chocolate Labradors named ‘Henry’ and ‘Scooby’. They’re playful and harmless, but they’ll certainly nick your scarves and/or shopping if you leave them lying about! You have been warned…

Ale and Hearty

A bit higher up the High Street is another pub, The Swan, which I popped into occasionally to watch the football. There’s food available here too and it always seems busy.

Even further up the road, on Silver Street, is a delightful pub/guest house called the Blue Boar. It has a gorgeous Georgian frontage and the buildings to the rear, through the coaching archway, are even better. Oh, and the real ales available are pretty fantastic too (try Puck’s Folly, for example). This is no real surprise as the excellent Farmers Brewery is located onsite.

Something Blue: The Blue Boar pub and hotel

Something Fishy Going On

Before heading to Essex, I was told by a fellow Brussels-based journalist that I must – MUST! – visit the oyster shack on Mersea Island. Having persuaded Sheena to take an afternoon off, we were driven by our delightful and accommodating friend Claire (with the assistance of sat-nav, natch) for 40-or-so minutes and reached the famous place by early lunchtime. It was already packed.

The shack’s official name is The Company Shed and it’s a brilliant ‘eatery’ – the owners won’t hear of it being called a ‘restaurant’ as its primary business is as a fishmonger’s. Basically, posh it very, very isn’t. Think formica tables, and customers sitting on benches outside, waiting to be called in from the often-bracing breeze.

Good Company: Tell your mates you've 'gone fishing'

So, this is no five-star experience. Except that it is. The exquisite seafood is second-to-none and comes almost exclusively from local fishermen who land their catches daily. You can’t get fresher than that.

There are no fancy recipes and diners bring their own bread and wine but, if you like oysters, lobster, crab, smoked salmon, prawns, local cockles and more besides, you’ll be in heaven. Believe me, that lobster will not die in vain.

By some bizarre ‘accident’, on the day of the Mersea trip, I was suffering from an Adnams-induced hangover (or maybe it was the Jack’s) and didn’t really do justice to my share of the monster, three-way seafood platter.

I See Food!: A seafood platter down the shed

But, thankfully, the girls were ravenous. Now, there’s probably an Essex-girl joke lurking here somewhere if I tried hard enough but, let’s just say, they were up for it, big time.

It must be all that sea air…

The Rose and Crown

109 High Street, Maldon, Essex.

Tel: 01621 856767

http://www.roseandcrownmaldon.co.uk

The Blue Boar

Silver Street, Maldon, Essex.

Tel: 01621 856202

http://www.blueboarmaldon.co.uk

Farmers Brewery

The Stable Brewery, The Blue Boar Stable Yard, Silver Street,

Maldon, Essex

Tel; 01621 851000

http://www.maldonbrewing.co.uk

The Company Shack

129 Coast Road, West Mersea, Essex.

Tel 01206 382700

The nearest railway station to Maldon is Hatfield Peverel, reachable from
London’s Liverpool Street station. Trains are frequent in both directions

Brussels’ Best Friteries

Hughes Belin picks out his favourite – and least favourite – friteries in the capital of Europe

It’s crazy how we’re capable of dropping our standards when we’re partying or going out in town. I mean gastronomic standards, of course.

We all discuss finding a restaurant that meets everybody’s ideas of quality, ethnicity, choice, atmosphere and perhaps location. But often we fail to question the quality of the friterie we may end up in at midnight.

But what if the fries could be a great gastronomic experience, even in the middle of the night? And for very little money?

A while ago, I took my fiancée by surprise…to a great friterie in Brussels. And, believe me, she appreciated the place as much as if I‘d picked a nice restaurant – a Valentine’s dinner for just €4. The friterie was Chez le Grec, in Anderlecht, a place where people are friendly and talkative and where there’s excellent fries, value for money and a choice of some classical Greek snacks.

Le Crunch: Enjoy the best of Brussels' frites

Chez le Grec is centrally located in a well-populated area. It’s been there for so many years that it’s now part of the local culture. But, for a foreigner like me, eager to discover this Belgian must-eat, there were plenty of as-of-yet tried friteries.

Most visitors will probably have heard about Chez Antoine (Place Jourdan), Frit-Flagey (Place Flagey) or Friterie du Parc (Barrière de St Gilles). To me, these have long-outlived their usefulness. They belong to yesterday and, in my view, are still living undeservedly on past excellence.

Instead, try La Friterie du Bourdon, close to Brussels crematorium. These fries are close to perfection and the owner knows it. TV channels and newspapers pay him regular visits for good reason. He wants to remain number one in Brussels, so we can trust his constant dedication to quality.

Not that far from Le Bourdon is chez Clémentine – located in the middle of St Job square in Uccle. Excellent fries and a great sauce tartare maison await: everything is fresh, served with a smile and there’s plenty of space to park.

Back in the centre of Brussels are two great friteries just behind la Bourse: Fritland and Tabora. It’s a surprise to have two excellent outlets right in the centre, where you would normally expect low quality for innocent tourists.

However, at Fritland, they peel and cut their fries, ensuring the freshest in Brussels. Who else could afford to have some staff dedicated to making fries ready to cook, when you can get, like most friteries do, daily peeled and cut fries delivered in vacuum bags? The fact that they sell a quarter-of-a-tonne on average each day is perhaps the answer. First opened in 1978, this fast-food restaurant was fully refitted in 2005 and is now perfectly clean and modern.

Some 50 metres further, just behind la Bourse, the 35-year old Tabora is much, much smaller. Its speciality is the fat it uses. Most good frites in Brussels are cooked with blanc de boeuf – the inside fat of beef. Here, they cook them with veal’s fat, which gives them a much more fruity taste, a perfect golden yellow colour and plenty of crunchiness.

In the bag: The best fries in the world are arguably made in Belgium

So what makes for great frites? I asked Jean-Pierre Jacquet, from Karikol, Brussels’ slow-food chapter.  J-P said: “They must have a yellow colour, with slightly ‘coppery’ edges and be, at first, crunchy then immediately afterwards crispy, to finish soft when the teeth get to their heart, giving a nice taste of potato, nut and a very slight flavour of meat broth.”

My god, it seems some Brusseliers are qualified in potatology!

J-P and I then had dinner at Friture René, which is not a friterie, but an excellent and picturesque restaurant created in 1932, serving a handful of Brussels’ specialities and of course, excellent fries. Dirk Pilon, owner since the 80s, knows his job. He explains that there’s only one good potato for fries: the bintje. This is the most-floury and allows for perfect heat penetration. In Winter, the taste of fries changes, as they’re harvested until late Autumn with the next batch only available in Spring.

Fries should be cooked twice, Piolon says, first at a temperature of 150°C. Then the fat has to escape and, less than one hour afterwards, they must be cooked a second time, but at a much higher temperature (165-172°C) to give them their great crispiness and their definitive colour.

But temperatures and times differ from one shop to another, which makes each unique. Also, the potatoes come from different places in Belgium and Holland. But one thing is certain: no truly great fries are delivered frozen or cooked with vegetable oil.

Fries are inevitably part of the Brussels culture, although little help comes from the authorities to enhance quality and preserve the best places. The friterie Martin, perhaps the city’s best, closed its small door in place St Josse in late December, after almost 50 years.

“When an old man dies, it’s a library that dies”, so they say. Let’s add that: “When a great fritkot disappears, it’s a piece of Brussels which disappears too.”

Chez le Grec, Square des Vétérans coloniaux, 1070 Anderlecht,

Tel: +32 476 56 18 39

Open Monday-Saturday 11.30am-11pm

Maison Antoine, 1, Place Jourdan, 1040 Etterbeek, Tel: +32 2 230 54 56,

http://www.maisonantoine.be

Open Sunday-Thursday 11.30am-1am, Friday-Saturday 11.30am-2am

Frit-Flagey, Place Flagey, 1050 Ixelles

Open Tuesday-Sunday 11.30am-00am

Friterie du Parc, 156, avenue du Parc, 1060 St Gilles

Open Sunday-Thursday 11am-5.30am, Friday-Saturday 11am-7am

Friterie du Bourdon, 1142, Chaussée d’Alsemberg, 1180 Uccle,

Tel: +32 2 332 04 48

Open Tuesday-Saturday 12am-2.30pm + 6pm-00am, Sunday 12am-10pm

Chez Clémentine, Place St Job, 1180 Uccle, Tel: +32 2 374 08 86,

http://www.chezclem.be

Open Sunday-Thursday 11.30am-1am, Friday-Saturday 11.30am-6am

Fritland, 49 rue Henri Maus, 1000 Bruxelles,

Tel: +32 2 514 06 27

Open Sunday-Thursday 11am-1am, Friday-Saturday 11am-5am

Friterie Tabora, 2 rue Tabora, 1000 Bruxelles

Open 7/7 11am-6am

Friture René, 14-15, Place de la Résistance, 1070 Anderlecht,

Tel: +32 2 523 28 76

Open Wednesday-Sunday 11.45am-2.30pm + 6pm-9.30pm

(also open Mondays from October-July)

The Dean and I

Fun Times In Europe editor Tony Mallett took a trip back to his happy-hunting ground of York and ran into a few old friends. Some of them made of red brick…

It had been a while since I’d been back to York. Once an ex-girlfriend had virtually run me out of town nine-and-a-half years ago, just after she came to visit Yours Truly in Brussels, there seemed little incentive.

OK, I made a few trips in the early days but, as you do, I let it slide. So it had been about six years. And most of the memories had faded away like the taste of a Betty’s cream cake.

Amazingly, it had been a whole 19 years since I’d last set foot in the Dean Court Hotel. That was on my wedding night. Fortunately, the hotel lasted a good deal longer than my marriage…

Court in the Act: The hotel and York's magnificent Minster

I knew we were in trouble when my new – and, to date, only – wife said: “Come to bed…Ian”. Just so you know, Ian is the name of her previous spouse. Heigh-ho. Fortunately, I was already bored with her wedding-day antics and having way too much fun sipping champers and looking out of the window from the bridal suite to the magnificent Minster – located only yards away – to care.

York Minster would be the stone-built, stained-glass-rich edifice that is (it says here) the biggest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe.

Who the hell counted the bricks?

So, nearly two decades on, what’s the Dean Court Hotel actually like? Well, I’m used to hospitality but the staff at this relatively small but perfectly formed hotel are among the friendliest I’ve ever had the pleasure of being looked-after-by.

After many ‘hellos’ I was shown to a room with a 4-poster bed. I thought I recognised the view from the window. As God and the Minster are my witnesses, it was not only the same hotel but the same room. The bed had been moved, however, since my ill-starred post-nuptials. Can’t think why.

Anyway, a bit of history; the red brick Dean Court Hotel was built in the 1860s, originally as three separate houses. These held the Minster’s clergy – so they certainly didn’t have far to go to work…

Just after the First World War, the middle dwelling was opened up as a guest house and, eventually, all three were merged into a hotel.

By 1978, the cottage next door had become part of the complex and the whole forms what is now a multi-award winning, grade II-listed, 4-star hotel with 37 individually styled guest rooms. The hotel is recognised as one of the top ‘boutique-style’ places to stay in God’s Own County.

And then there’s the restaurant and The Court café bistro… I had booked dinner for two in D.C.H, the restaurant, not really knowing what to expect. My guest was a much-adored lady from the city who actually works in a hotel herself  (not the Dean Court) and I reckoned it would be a bit of a treat for her to have a lovely dinner as a guest, rather than as a hotel staffer.

First up, Kim and I had generous glasses of wine at the bar – top marks to the cool barman – before being ushered in to the delightful surroundings of the recently rebranded and trendy ‘D.C.H’. There, we found a slightly odd combination – it was upmarket but not aggressively so. The waiter, for example, was attentive but not pushy and was quite happy to leave us to enjoy the view of the Minster – from the same corner-angle as my room above, as it happens.

Cooking up a storm: D.C.H chef Valerie Storer

It’s not hugely formal, but smart enough so that the hotel requests that you switch off your mobile phone. Trying to marry chic, elegance and respect for your fellow diners while keeping the atmosphere relaxed, warm, chatty yet chilled is a fine line to tread but, in many ways thanks to those brilliant staff, D.C.H pulls it off.

As for the food, well, creative French chef Valerie Storer has done wonders with the menu in the  recent past, using produce sourced from within Yorkshire and, of course, her Gallic gifts.

Under Storer’s watch, D.C.H has become renowned throughout the county for its superb food and finest, personally selected wines. Certainly, my salmon was glorious, the wine excellent (and not over-priced) and the dessert a dream for a chocoholic such as me. Kim was pretty happy too…

I spent two nights at the Dean Court but sadly, due to my hectic catch-up-with-friends schedule, I didn’t have a chance to eat in The Court bistro. I had a look around though, and it’s another world again – bright, airy, modern and, by all accounts, the place to get your afternoon cream teas.

To sum up, the Dean Court has undoubtedly the best location of any hotel within York’s city walls. Rather than try to be the most modern place on Earth, it revels in its history yet is comfortable and stylish. And, no, I don’t know if it has a ghost. But one ‘sort-of-ghost’ from 19 years ago was certainly glad to be back in an old haunt…

Dean Court Hotel

Duncombe Place

YO1 7EF York

http://www.deancourt-york.co.uk

Tel: +44 1904 625082

Hot Hotels in Belgium and Beyond

Over the past year-or-so, we’ve been lucky enough to visit a number of cracking designer hotels in various locations in and outside Belgium.

Here’s (one particular) top five. Each one is fairly easy to reach from either Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent or, indeed, the UK and all are ideal for a weekend away.

So let’s take another look at fabulous places to stay in Amsterdam, Paris, Maastricht, Tongeren and…Brussels.

Sweet Suites

First up is a real fave of ours, Lute Suites in the Netherlands.

Pop on a tram in downtown Amsterdam and head out to the suburb of Ouderkerk, to a former gunpowder factory on the banks of the River Amstel.

There, surrounding a calming courtyard, you’ll find 18th century gabled cottages now gutted and decorated by celebrated young designer Marcel Wanders, who turned them into exquisite apartments with the bonus of views onto passing barges and bicycles.

Wanders, recruited and inspired by top chef Peter Lute, gave every suite its own unique character and charm, and these places are so well-equipped and relaxing that you could pretty much move straight in.

Indulge yourself: One of the fabulous Lute Suites

The suite we stayed in had a transparent rain-shower next to a large white bath tub, a loft bedroom, a small-but-perfectly formed kitchenette and a living area with a Bisazza-tiled stone ‘table’ as a centre-piece.

It was highly comfortable yet stylish, but in no way over-the-top.

The whole place is so relaxing, in fact, that the complex feels secure enough for you to leave the front door open if you fancy a wander around the courtyard to say ‘hi’ to your temporary neighbours.

Also on-site are conference facilities benefitting from clean and humorous Dutch design – large picture windows connect the rooms to the courtyard to give a strong sense of space while cleverly chosen photo-montages take the grind out of working. Peter Lute’s restaurant, meanwhile, adjacent to these facilities, is undoubtedly one of the best in the country

Lute Suites and restaurant

De Oude Molen, 5

1184 VW Ouderkerk a/d Amstel

Amsterdam

Tel: +31  20 47 22 462

Fax: +31 20 47 22 463

info@lutesuites.com

http://www.lutesuites.com

An Eiffel of Paris

Not far from the Champs Elysées and even closer to the Eiffel Tower stands La Réserve, a series of apartments that are so exclusive you only know you’ve arrived there courtesy of a small, discrete plaque on a Parisian wall.

After a warm welcome, we were taken by elevator to a stunning apartment that boasted, from a small terrace, an awesome view of Place du Trocadéro and the tower itself.

In the two-floored suite’s entryway was a grand, chiseled staircase of smooth stone leading to two ground-floor bedrooms, plus a jacuzzi bath, a couple of huge flat-screen TVs, simple but tasteful furnishings and every amenity you could hope for.

Upstairs was an opulent living and dining area plus a large kitchen. The whole floor was redolent with designer furnishings and housed four couches, yet another even bigger TV, ceramics in tranquil colours, a small bureau space for diligent workers and, through French windows, the compact balcony.

The night we stayed, the famous tower lit up in an awesome display and we toasted its glory from the balcony with the contents of a complementary bottle of wine. Simply gorgeous.

As a building, the five-star La Réserve is classically styled with domed roofs and arched doorways yet original details come with modern touches, such as the spa bath and deep-sleep blackout blinds.

Interior expert Rèmi Tessler focused on France’s connection with Africa via the use of beautiful black and white photographs, while elsewhere in this old building you’ll find rooms with glass catwalks and even office mezzanines.

The final touch was the appearance of a housekeeper to set the table for breakfast, before pouring coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.

La Réserve

Place du Trocadéro, 10

75116 Paris

Tel: +33 1 53 70 53 70

Fax: +33 1 53 70 53 71

info@lareserve-paris.com

http://www.lareserve-paris.com

http://www.designhotels.com

Roaming Roman-Style

Situated in the oldest Roman village in Belgium, opposite the church tower in the middle of  Tongeren’s Grote Markt, is a monument to a tribal prince, and The Hotel Eburon is named after the clan once ruled by Ambiorix.

Opened relatively recently, the hotel boasts, 4th century walls and a towering, white entrance leading to pebbled floors and cloister-wide hallways. These are awash with light, and glow from the reflection of fuchsia carpeting.

Once a home to monks, also a sanctuary for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella and even a hospital, the building now has a heady mix of modern flair that’s framed dramatically by original features – wooden beams meet glass walkways while white glass sills sit under gothic windows.

The rooms are white, white, white apart from the ever-present fuchsia carpet and red chairs, with an open bath and a big-enough-for-two rainshower set behind an opaque wall.

If in a room facing the cathedral side, the glorious view takes the eye right across the rooftops to the spire. There’s also a half-moon inner courtyard plus conference rooms and a wellness centre, while a semi-hidden second courtyard sits aside a restaurant with a graceful tarpaulin across the terrace.

The courtyard is also a shopping mall, which we found a little unnecessary as the high street is so close. The cathedral, wall and Roman site, meantime, are just two minutes walk away.

Hotel Eburon Tongeren

De Schiervelstraat,10

3700 Tongeren

Tel: +32 12 230 199

Fax: +32 12 261 370

info@eburonhotel.be

http://www.hampshire-hotels.com/hotel/63/Eburon_Hotel_-_Hampshire_Classic.html

Loving Limburg

Epicurian Limburg province is renowned for its taste sensations and drink discoveries, while the area around Maastricht has a beauty all of its own.

The famous ‘treaty’ town has undergone a major transformation in the last decade, to now rival other Dutch cities for beauty, shopping and a rich café culture. Out of town, the countryside is peaceful and fragrant, with picturesque villages and historic chateaux.

The hotel of Chateau Saint Gerlach is classic Limburg and a true haven, situated ten kilometers (via a shuttle service) from the train station.

Set in sprawling grounds, the large main chateau has a restaurant, bistro, indoor pool with spa, the apartments themselves, and two chapels – the eldest of which is considered to be one of the ten most beautiful monuments in Holland.

A smaller, oxblood building is home to hotel rooms, a breakfast conservatory and a bar. The rooms are classically designed and steeped in aromas, while rose and herb gardens sit just metres away, next to baroque-style grounds, with orchards and a cemetery.

Beyond lies the Geul Valley, filled with Monik horses and Galloway cattle.

The hotel’s Bistro de Liège is situated in the former kitchen, dining room and living room of the baronial homestead, while outside is a romantic courtyard, in which tables surround a classic fountain.

Restaurant Les Trois Corbeaux, meanwhile, has restored painted walls and ceilings alongside an inspired menu. Its terrace features a giant, sparkling, mosaic egg.

The highlight of the stay though was probably the morning visit to a Roman-style, saltwater pool complete with jet stream. What a way to wake up.

Chateau Saint Gerlach

Joseph Corneli Allée, 1

6301 Valkenburg aan de Geul

Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)43 608 88 88

Fax: +31 (0)43 604 28 83

reservations@stgerlach.chateauhotels.nl

info@stgerlach.com

info@chateauhotels.nl

www@chateauhotels.nl

www.slh.com

Back in Black

The new black: Try the BeManos, Brussels

Close to Gare du Midi in Brussels is a silver facade with tinted doors that lead into the Be Manos hotel.

A fashion designer and the wife of the owner, Sylvie Poulgouras runs this excellent establishment which, with its black ink-wash of textures is nicknamed by some “the black hotel”. But black or not, it is given an opulent feel by glinting corners, glimmering chandeliers and blocks of apple green. Elegant and cutting-edge at one and the same time, the talents of top designers are on display. “It’s all European design, art and materials,” says Poulgouras.

Take, for example, the collage of 65 black-and-white photographs in the hallway, a different one of which is repeated full-sized on the door to each guest room, with the room’s interior themed after the photo’s subject.

These spacious rooms have black carpets, ample beds wrapped in crisp, white sheets, and bold furniture. The grey-stone bathrooms are tactile and glamorous, with some rooms having private terraces.

Downstairs, meanwhile, is a funky bar with a vibrant seating area featuring shaggy carpets, a fire and a television. Nearby, designer ‘Panton’ chairs frame a cosy, blackened computer corner for quiet work time.

The breakfast room, in contrast, is in sunny white, silver and acid green, while the next door dining room is sleek, sexy and monochromatic, with a striking black-and-white photograph of stockings being pulled up over a lovely, long leg.

A courtyard sits between the bar and eating areas, sheltered under an awning and heated. Bonuses include a blissful spa, a dramatic lounge for events and a slick conference room. There’s also a guest shuttle to-and-from Gare du Midi, courtesy of one of the very friendly staff members.

Taken as a whole, we reckon this is the best-designed and most relaxing of the several hotels we have tried in the Belgian capital.

Be Manos

Square de l’Aviation, 23-27

1070 Brussels

Tel: +32 (0)2 520 65 65

Fax: +32 (0)2 520 67 67

stay@bemanos.com

http://www.bemanos.com

Coming soon – great hotels in York, Newcastle, London, Lincoln and more from Belgium too…

Welcome to Fun Times In Europe

Manneken Pis

Manneken Pis: Brussels' famous peeing boy

Hi there, traveller!

This new blog is designed to help you on your journeys to and around Europe, detailing places to see, the best restaurants, the coolest bars, the comfiest hotels and more.

Slowly, bit by bit, we’ll be building up a database and putting up regular postings. As we’re located in Belgium, the first postings will concern that country – mainly Brussels, but taking in Antwerp, Ghent and beyond.

There will also soon be postings on UK cities – Newcastle, York etc – and the various ways to get there, by train, boat and plane.

Hopefully, we’ll be up-and-running by the time the Icelandic ash crisis has subsided – so it’s time to think about getting your travel boots on!

Incidentally, for extra info, be sure to use the links to your right.

Any contributions are welcome – please submit ideas and/or articles to funtimesineurope@gmail.com.

Meantime, Bon Voyage!