My Instagram feed probably gave it away but I was in Belgium last week for work. Sadly, the excitement of the novelty of Belgian food has now worn off for me – it was probably the endless chips, dairy and mayo that did it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with chips, dairy and mayo but when encountering some combo of the three at almost every meal….well, yeah, I needed a break.

On our last night in Leuven, we were, to our relief, brought to an Italian restaurant. I think I’d been expecting an average Italian restaurant, perhaps catering for the cheap-and-cheerful student population, but what I was not expecting was a brilliant Slow Food restaurant. And that’s exactly what Ristorante Rossi is.

We had all been booked in for their €35 3-course menu; there’s also a 5-course menu, an a la carte option, and occasional themed menus that reflect one particular region in Italy. The restaurant itself is quite small and quaintly decorated with vintage Italian signs and red and white checked tablecloths. On that Thursday night, the place was packed (Leuven, being a university town, has a busier Thursday night than Friday night. On Fridays, the majority of the students go home.) and buzzing, and the food on the surrounding tables looked excellent.

Anyway, first was an amuse of vitello tonnato on crostini. I love that classic combination of creamy tuna sauce with mild and tender veal.

Vittello Tonnato Crostini

Next was a giant pea and cheese arancino sat on a bed of pea puree, drizzled with pesto. This generously-sized ball of fried risotto (about the size of my fist) went down easily and I may have also helped myself to my friend’s unfinished portion. I clearly had no idea of the size of the next few dishes to come.

Pea Arancino with Pea Puree and Pesto

The pasta course was spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fresh tomato sauce with mint. This was fabulous (such an unexpected combination) and I could have gorged on this for my entire meal. But good thing I didn’t. I was again offered my friend’s extra ravioli but I just couldn’t manage anymore, especially when I saw the fish that was to come!

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Tomato Sauce and Mint

Our main course was that fish I saw – I’m not entirely sure of the species but it was a white fish that flaked easily and had been cooked with a delicious crispy skin. This was served with a celeriac puree, a creamy gravy, green beans and to my utter surprise, seared foie gras! And that little blob of dark green in front? A pesto of parsley and pistachio, from what I could gather – gorgeous stuff.

Fish with Foie Gras and Celeriac Puree

Dessert wasn’t included in the menu and I opted to share a massive serving of tiramisu (€6,50). This was gorgeous, with lots of coffee and quite light, just as I like it. Look at those distinct layers!

Tiramisu

I forgot to get a photo of the little squares of chocolate cake that came with coffees and the bill – the two layers had been sandwiched together with cream and Nutella! Dreamy!

It’s not the cheapest restaurant in Leuven (not sure if the students from the main university go there!) – our meal (with drinks and desserts) worked out to €50 per head. I definitely recommend it and definitely also recommend making a booking before you go.

Ristorante Rossi
Standonckstraat,2
3000 Leuven
Belgium

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.

Vlaamse Stoofcarbonade

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.

Troubadour
Tiensestraat, 32
3000 Leuven
Belgium

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.

Town Hall

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:

Down My Street

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. 

Koninginnehapje

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.

Domus
Tiensestraat, 8
3000 Leuven
Belgium

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.

My hotel buffet breakfast has Yakult!

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.