An Expert Guide To Ghent’s Best Restaurants
De Superette. Photograph by Mr Piet de Kersgieter, courtesy of De Superette
Join us for an in-the-know look around the underrated and overlooked Belgian city.
Finding special places to eat and drink in big cities such as New York, Paris or London – which are as well known for bustling food scenes as iconic landmarks – can be difficult. New bars and restaurants open seemingly every day, and everyone has their own opinion (usually in the form of a long, written list) about which of these is the best. This is not only confusing – especially if you’re planning a brief stay – but also underwhelming if every place on your visit has already featured on your brother-in-law’s awful blog.
At MR PORTER, we enjoy the feeling of discovering lesser-known (yet no less excellent) establishments a little way off the beaten track: the type of places where you don’t have to keep the receipt to remember exactly what you ate. And it is with this in mind that we kick off our new insider food guide series, designed for short weekend trips, and created by the food experts who know the places best.
First up is Ghent in northwest Belgium where Mr Merlin Labron-Johnson – head chef of London’s Michelin-starred and much-loved Portland, and new restaurant Clipstone (which opened last week) – spent his formative years. “I worked at a Michelin-star restaurant called In De Wulf – it’s about an hour from Ghent. I spent two-and-a-half years there,” says Mr Johnson, who is known for his innovative French cooking. Here, he details his favourite spots to eat and drink, and explains why Ghent is well worth a visit.
“Ghent is very undiscovered, beautiful and underrated. A lot of people don’t know where it is. It’s a unique, gothic city with a castle right in the middle of it. It has great food, art and fashion scenes. My favourite restaurant in the world is in Ghent – but the city isn’t known for its food, and nor is Belgium. The most-known dish is fries and mussels… or mussels and fries. Followed by the carbonnade flamande, which is basically meat bathed in beer, and is delicious.”
WHERE TO GO…
Photographs by Mr Piet de Kersgieter, courtesy of De Superette
“I’d take you to De Superette [Guldenspoorstraat 21, 9000 Gent], which means ‘supermarket’ in English. It’s my old boss from In De Wulf collaborating with an American baker. It’s a cross between a restaurant, a café and an incredible bakery, where they have some of the best bread in the world. It’s open all day, and they have a girl called Valentina – the top barista in Belgium – making coffee. In the evening, it’s a bit more of a restaurant. They make pizzas in their wood-fired oven. I go there for breakfast and have an amazing coffee, one of their pastries and one of their brunch-type items.”
For lunch or dinner
Photographs by Mr Piet De Kersgieter
“My favourite restaurant in the world is Jef [Lange Steenstraat 10, 9000 Gent] and it’s run by a chef called Jason Blanckaert. He used to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant and then he decided to open this place with his wife. The pair refuse to be in any kind of guide and he cooks the most delicious food all on his own. He has a way of cooking so generously, almost as if he’s cooking for himself. This is food that is, above all, tasty. The restaurant has amazing suppliers – great vegetables, in particular. They usually offer a selection of snacks and three starters, mains and desserts. The last time I went, I had grilled pork belly with lots of onions accompanied by a tartare of pork brain mixed with loads of pickled mustard – it was super-fresh. The desserts are extremely satisfying as well.”
For a drink
Photographs by Ms Zaza Bertrand, courtesy of Jigger’s
“If you’ve been to these places you probably won’t be that hungry any more. So go to Jigger’s [Oudburg 16, 9000 Ghent] – a really great cocktail bar run one of Belgium’s best-known cocktail guys, Mr Olivier Jacobs, who experiments a lot with wild herbs and fermentation. It’s only got a few tables and they do about three or four different cocktails a day, which the staff write down in this lovely notepad so you can see all the drinks they have been making over the years. They’re really interesting. The bar makes its own fermented stuff, and infusions, etc. Generally, the beer in Ghent is great as well. Trappist beer is made by the monks in monasteries, which isn’t a myth. You’ll also find lambic beer, which is a sour ale – a real connoisseur's drink. The beers you get in British pubs, such as Leffe, you wouldn’t consider drinking here.”