I’ve just returned from a short work trip to Leuven and was utterly charmed by the small university town (of a population of about 100,000, about 40,000 are students). There wasn’t much time for sightseeing but I did have Flemish food for almost all my meals! My trip also coincided with a record breaking snowstorm that dumped at least 20 cm of snow on northern France and Belgium over 2 days, which meant that a few of the project partners could not actually travel in and it was lucky that the rest of us had shown up the evening prior.
On my first evening, a Monday, after a delay to my Eurostar train and running to catch the earliest connecting train I could, I was happy to find that some restaurants were still open. I entered the Troubadour not too far from my hotel and was found a comfortable seat. No starter for me, I just needed something to keep me warm – Vlaamse Stoofcarbonade (16,00€) was perfect! That’s a Flemish beef stew cooked with beer and brown sugar. And the hand cut Belgian fritjes (fries) that accompanied it – oh, the beautiful sound they made as the waiter scooped up a few to place on my plate. Wow.
It’s not a bad place to stop for proper Belgian and Flemish classics. It’s not the cheapest place but it’s certainly reliable.
After dinner, I wandered around the centre a bit but had to give up after a while as it was getting colder and it was getting dangerously icy. The town is beautiful though and felt very safe with lots of students still up and about.
I didn’t think much of the light snow that seemed to be coming down and went to bed. The next day, I woke to this:
Yeah, not very light it was overnight. I was very cold and underdressed and now I’ve got a cold to show for it.
That night, we all went to Domus, a small brewery with its own restaurant/pub. Now this place was full of students as prices are relatively low. My Koninginnehapje (11,50€) was another Flemish classic – a creamy chicken and mushroom stew served in a puff pastry vol-au-vent. You get your choice of side dish to go with this – there are at least 4 potato preparations on offer in addition to pasta or rice. I had potato croquettes though I’m positive they were fried from frozen.
Portions are huge here and this certainly filled me up. Desserts are pretty grim so I’d give them a miss (my speculoos ice cream was terrible). Don’t expect anything fancy – the food is very basic but the beers are good, I hear.
Apart from these two main meals, there was a lunch at a student mensa (not bad and quite cheap) and a catered lunch with a fantastic chocolate mousse. Only in Belgium!
My hotel warrants a mention as well. Hotel de Pastorij is a small 7-room guesthouse located right in the centre of Leuven. Rooms are generously sized and very comfortably furnished but what’s best is the fabulous breakfast buffet in the morning. There’s Yakult! And passion fruit (maybe not all the time)! And lots of other very very good things.
The weather cleared by the end of my trip and I was able to catch my train (delayed) home. If I had been stuck though, I would certainly have stayed again at this hotel.
I’d recommend a visit to Leuven – it’s only a short train ride from Brussels and would make a lovely day trip out. All the photos from my short trip can be found in this Flickr photoset.