Fantasy Fridays: Durbuy, Belgium

For the benefit of those who are reading this blog for the first time, we had earlier decided to give ourselves another reason to look forward to Fridays 🙂 A holiday every Friday! Not exactly a real vacation every Friday but more of a photo re-cap of a trip we or either one of us have taken in order to re-live our past travels and all the related memories of each trip.

FANTASY FRIDAYS!

Today, we head to Durbuy. Wait, Durbuy, where? Durbuy is a town located in the French-speaking southern region of Belgium (otherwise known as Wallonia) about 95 kilometres (59 miles) from Brussels, the capital city of Belgium and 33 kilometres (20 miles) from Liege. Its ‘claim to fame’ is its reputation as the smallest town on earth (le plus petite ville du monde) though with a surface area of 157,5 km² and about 11,000 habitants, I think this small town’s claim is somewhat stretched. Smallest or not, this town has a special place in our hearts…read on to find out 🙂

Perched on the banks of the River Ourthe, the charming medieval town dating back to the 17th century is quaint with winding and narrow pedestrian streets lined with old stone houses. Confiturerie Saint-Amour (bottom-right of photo) is an artisanal jam factory that shows how jam is made in large copper basins…

Stop in one of the cafés for a drink while walking through the old town…

The Château d’Ursel in Durbuy which dates back to the 11th century and refurbished by the d’Ursel family who became owners of Durbuy in the 17th century…

Small as it may be, there are a number of good restaurants in and around Durbuy.  Here we are at one-Michelin star restaurant Le Cor de Chasse celebrating Valentine’s Day…which brings me to why Durbuy will always hold a special place in our hearts… Bolly proposed 🙂

I should have seen it coming. Even the town was trying to drop a hint!

Chee said yes and us BollyChees have been married for 2, coming 3 years (in 5 days’ time 😉 )…

To many more days, months and years of walking down the path of life together

🙂

Experiencing 3-Michelin Star Chef Alain Passard’s L’Arpège

I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to have lunch – a gargantuan one to boot! – with Mr Hugo Desnoyer and Mme Chris (hailing from one of, if not the best, butchery in Paris “Boucherie Hugo Desnoyer”) and Mr Inada Saburo (my ex-boss and owner of my favorite restaurant “Chez Inada” in Brussels) at Alain Passard’s 3 star Michelin restaurant, “L’Arpège” recently. Sadly, Chee couldn’t join us as she had work commitments.

First things first, many write off L’Arpège as an expensive 3 star restaurant serving only vegetables.  To be frank, I was somewhat apprehensive at first but went ahead with the choice made by Hugo and Inada. It was a “risk” worth taking.  The fact is that Alain Passard serves what he describes as “la cuisine legumiere” which is way beyond plain vegetarian dishes.  For one thing, Alain Passard only uses vegetables from his organic farm located just outside of Paris.  Furthermore, the white meat served in the restaurant comes from Hugo’s boucherie. Due to this special link, our lunch was nothing short of an exceptional menu. Since I was too caught up with the great company and fine cuisine, I must say I did not note down the names of the dishes but hopefully the photos will do the talking 😉

Our amuse bouche and first starter (tartlets and spinach, confit of shallots and puree of sweet potatoes with orange)…

Followed by a few more starters: sushi of vegetables, velouté of fresh peas with foam of speck (a type of Italian ham), lobster garnished with marinated radish, as well as one of L’Arpège’s signature dishes, fine ravioli in a hot broth of root vegetables…

Moving on to our main dishes: Roasted monkfish with smoked potato as well as 3 dishes of milk-fed veal (from Hugo nonetheless!) each cooked in a different style…

Hugo chose an incredible, exceptional, fantastic, wonderful (you get the idea…) assortment of wines from the wine list (which I may add has to be one of the best wine lists in a Parisian restaurant) to compliment our meal…

And to top it all off, our dessert was the signature dessert of L’Arpège, a beautiful creation of Tarte aux Pommes “Bouquet de Roses” (apple pie shaped into a bouquet of roses) which tasted like…pure bliss…

I’m indeed grateful to Hugo and Chris for this memorable lunch.  Without them, the experience and certainly the menu would not have been the same. With excellent food and great company, what more can one ask for? Yes, just one thing, the presence of Chee…

L’Arpège

84 Rue de Varenne  75007 Paris

+33 1 47 05 09 06

Boucherie Hugo Desnoyer

45, rue Boulard, 75014 Paris

+33 1 45 40 76 67

Chez Inada

Rue de la Source 73, 1060 Brussels, Belgium

+32  2 538 01 13

I can think of one reason to have a kid

Because they are so cute100000000000000!

Featuring our sooooo adorable and cute niece Louise and her uncle Bolly 🙂

Can’t help but say it again, so cute100000000000000!!! Trop mignonne!!!

Idiot’s guide to eating mussels in Belgium

“An entire pot of mussels? How am I going to finish it?”. It’s a usual exclamation when I bring friends to eat one of, if not the national dish of Belgium, mussels (or moules-frites in French). For a ‘first-timer’, the 1-1.5kg full pot of mussels does seem intimidating but a lot of the space is taken up by the shells so it really isn’t that enormous 😉

I’ve been told by many a Belgian, including Bolly himself, that the best time to eat mussels in Belgium (most of the mussels eaten in Belgium come from the North Sea) is during the window where the months end with “er”, i.e. September to December. In practice, the mussels season go on till about February or even March. Thankfully this was the case at one of our favourite restaurants in Brussels and we managed to each order a huge pot of mussels.  Not surprisingly, Bolly chose the a la crème version loaded with full cream while I chose the stock based on tomato sauce and vegetables. The mussels that we were served were big and juicy….yummy!

To impress those around you and look like you’ve actually been to Belgium and have been eating mussels for the longest time, instead of using the fork to get those juicy mussels out of their shells, take one of those empty shells and use that instead.

Moules without frites (fries)? Unheard of in Belgium! Belgians eat their fries with mayonnaise but feel free to ask for tomato sauce and/or even tabasco.  Perhaps waiters from more traditional (read: old fuddy duddy) establishments may frown at your request but who cares?

Table space may be tight when eating mussels as you not only receive a pot of mussels, a bowl of fries, mayonnaise (& ketchup + tabasco for some) but also a deep bowl in which you throw those empty shells.

Anthony Bourdain (chef, author and tv personality who hosts his own show on Travel Channel) had this to say about mussels in his book “Kitchen Confidential” – “I don’t eat mussels in restaurants unless I know the chef, or have seen, with my own eyes, how they store and hold their mussels for service. I love mussels. But, in my experience, most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of them. It takes only a single bad mussel, one treacherous little guy hidden among an otherwise impeccable group … If I’m hungry for mussels, I’ll pick the good-looking ones out of your order.” It’s rather easy (not that I’ve actually prepared them myself but I’ve witnessed Bolly preparing them ;)) to prepare mussels so perhaps that justifies not eating them at restaurants. But for those (like me) who don’t really cook and crave mussels, simple common sense could save us from any messy, ugly visits to the toilet, i.e. don’t eat the mussel if you find that it’s still tightly shut and not when it looks dubious like this one below!

Except for this one nasty looking fella, we enjoyed our yummy mussels. Evidence below…

MUSSELICIOUS!!!

Three of our favourite places to enjoy mussels in Brussels (and no, please do not go to Chez Leon that is frequently mentioned in guide books):

In’t Spinnekopke

Traditional Belgian restaurant in central Brussels. It was one of my first discoveries in Brussels and I’ve brought many friends to this restaurant given its old-world charm and huge list of Belgian classics.

Le Zinneke

Not that centrally located but the menu boasts 69 ways of cooking mussels. An experience in and of itself.

La Marée

Portuguese couple, Mario and Teresa Alves run this restaurant in the centre of Brussels. Apart from the mussels, the fish soup, gray shrimp croquettes, steam skate and sole fish are also excellent choices.