Tel: +44 (0)20 7813 2233
Address: 50 Earlham Street, Covent Garden, London WC2 9HP
Cuisine Type: Belgian
Belgium is probably better known for its beer than its cuisine, but many will be familiar with moules frites, and if not, Belgo Centraal is the place to try it.
In a space that, by some perverse contradiction, looks simultaneously futuristic and dated (in a Dr Who kind of way), Belgo’s harsh metal décor may not be to everyone’s taste. Waiting for a table in the cage-like bar area is a strangely unsettling experience, whilst the basement dining room can be dark and noisy, rather how I would imagine the dungeons of yore or, to be more generous, a boisterous tavern – an impression reinforced by seating at long refectory tables. On my most recent visit here, we sat in one of the booths on the side, which offer marginally more privacy and where it feels less like communal eating.
The big thing here is mussels. Opt for either a kilo pot (£11.95 – £12.50) or a platter (£8.95 – £9.95), from a traditional marinière style to a Thai-influenced curry dressing with lime, coriander, coconut, chilli and lemongrass. We had a “Bisque” pot, steamed with a shellfish and brandy sauce, and a platter à l’escargot, 18 mussels in their half shells, grilled with a Pernod-flavoured garlic and herb butter. Served with piled-high bowls of frites and mayonnaise, this makes for a filling meal.
Other main courses (£8.95 – £16.95) are similarly of the hearty, comfort food variety, including saucisses de sanglier et Chimay (wild boar and Chimay beer sausages with Belgian mash), jarret d’agneau jardinière (lamb shank with savoy cabbage and Westmalle beer sauce) and bouchée champignons (mushrooms, onion and asparagus in Orval beer with a pastry case). The Bloke’s sister isn’t keen on mussels, so ordered carbonnades flamandes – beef braised in sweet Gueuze beer with apples and plums until the meat was very tender and the beer and fruit almost syrupy.
If you hadn’t picked up on the beer theme in the food, the drinks menu will put that right – an encyclopaedic selection of unusual beers, many native to Belgium and served in weird and wonderfully shaped glasses or steins. I have known people to set themselves the objective of returning to Belgo until they have sampled every one of the beers on the list. We tried a fruity St Louis peach beer, which might be too sweet for some but is great for a self-confessed girly drinker like me, a mellow Floris honey beer and a surprisingly strong apple beer. The drinks list spans beers (lambic, gueuze, fruit, white and trappist), ales (blond, pale, triple, strong, dark and golden), speciality beers, and pilsners. Not to mention the exhaustive list of spirits that are served in shot glasses lined up on long wooden “sticks” (£8.50 for 4 shots).
We finished with what must be the only indigenous dessert to make it out of Belgium and into our culinary vocabulary – waffles. Try the gauffre de Bruxelloise (£4.25), with vanilla ice cream, Chantilly cream and white chocolate sauce, or the gauffre au chocolat (£4.50), topped with dark chocolate and hazelnut ice cream.
Belgo is a fun place to eat, and while this is hardly haute cuisine, a total bill for three, including drinks and service, of under £60 represents reasonably good value.