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Friends reunited at Belgo Centraal

By on 5 May 2010 in Food & drink

Friends reunited at Belgo Centraal
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A lawyer, a lobbyist, a scientist, a banker and an IT guy met up on a Friday night. Well, that’s what we are now.  Back in 1994 we were class mates and frolicking teenagers.  We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years but through the wonders of Facebook we were in touch again and arranged to go for dinner.  With all our Brussels connections, where else could we go but Belgo Centraal in Covent Garden?  “The world’s greatest Belgian restaurants” according to the website, diners are served in a cavernous underground room by waiters dressed as monks.  The menu includes the traditional moules frites, steak and chips and a dazzling selection of trappiste beers.  Depending how our reunion unfolded, we would at least have the safety net of a Duvel or two to sort us out.

Now, meeting up with old friends can be a daunting experience.  And the apprehension started to mount as the evening approached.  There was only one way to deal with it: cocktails at Christopher’s American Bar and Grill. And that’s exactly what The Guide and BFF did.  BFF had a Cosmopolitan, The Guide a Martini.  And boy was it a good Martini!  So good in fact that we ordered a second immediately.  Was that a smart way to start the evening?

We first went to Belgo in the nineties and loved it.  Cosy, welcoming and most importantly authentic (even the mayonnaise!), we were instantly charmed.  Going back in 2010 was a different experience.  The entrance is tired, the diners made up almost entirely of tourists and students (come to think of it, that’s what we were in the nineties), and it smells of frying throughout.  But as we walked in, we immediately spotted our classmates.  Big grins all round.  Following some confusion about whether we needed to check in or not (the banker insisted he’d done it, BFF wasn’t so sure), we were called to our table.

The lift brought us down to the dining area and we took our seats, giddy with excitement. “How long has it been?”  “What have you all been up to?”  “How could so long have passed since we last met up?”  “Let’s see a picture of your baby!”  We couldn’t shut up.  The waitress came around two, three, four times before hinting that perhaps we should accept her offer of menus.  One look at the menu and the banker was decided: moules frites.  The Guide agreed, so did the IT guy, and the scientist.  BFF opted for roast chicken.  As the boys happily sipped their Jupilers, the ladies ordered champagne (for the moment, a beer later would be inevitable).

When our moules frites arrived, the smiles momentarily disappeared.  The frites were not frites as we knew them.  No salt, the wrong shape, chips like this would never have been served at the Barriere St Gilles.  And we had to specifically ask for mayonnaise.  “Come on!” said the banker, “is this place Belgian, or what?”  (“what”, we later concluded.)  The mayo when it arrived was not good.  We think it may have been Heinz.  Tut tut.  That’s not correct.  The moules were ok, but we knew it was wrong.  In Belgium mussels are only eaten in months with an ‘r’ in them so April should be safe, but in reality the best mussels arrive at the end of the summer – in early September (when Belgian restaurants put up large banners declaring: “Nos moules sont arrivees!”)

None of this stopped us from having a wonderful time though.  The ladies switched to wine, the boys made their way through the beer menu and we all relished the company of old friends.

Just as we began contemplating our next step, the banker stood up.  And before we knew what was going on: “‘come on, let’s go”, he said.  “But we have to pay” we all replied.  “Done”, he said “how often do I see you all?  It’s my pleasure”.  See, some things haven’t changed since the 90s – bankers will be bankers!  We said we’d buy his drinks later on.

But where would we get a drink?  Covent Garden on a Friday night is not The Guide’s natural habitat and it was late.  Ah, but what’s that we see before us?  A pub.  We walked across the road.  It was last orders.  Five beers please.  And they came in plastic cups.  Classy.  We stood on the pavement chatting away.  We’re not sure how long we were there but at 1.30am BFF decided it was time to head home.  Good idea.  Not sure about Belgo Centraal for food, but it’s great for a school reunion.

Belgo Centraal, 50 Earlham Street, London WC2H 9LJ, Tel: +44 20 7813 2233

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Friends reunited at Belgo Centraal

A lawyer, a lobbyist, a scientist, a banker and an IT guy met up on a Friday night. Well, that’s what we are now.  Back in 1994 we were class mates and frolicking teenagers.  We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years but through the wonders of Facebook we were in touch again and […]

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The Guide's Paris correspondent is a lobbyist by day and a world-class, champion cocktail drinker by night. Having devoured almost every Martini in London, like a swarm of alcoholic locusts, she had no choice but to migrate to pastures new. In the summer of 2010 she moved to Paris from where she continues to report on the very best restaurants, bars and nightlife that her adopted city has to offer. Watch out Milan; it’s only a matter of time…

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  • Lord Hackers

    Hmmm…. where does one begin? The Belgo Centraal today is not the Belgo Centraal of 10 years ago. Back then, your moules et frites came with rye bread and mayo – something I’ve had to ask for on the occassions I have visited this year. And what happened to the extensive beer menu of over a thousand varieties? The atmosphere is not the same – the place was lit up like a football stadium, the staff no longer wear the amusing monk’s habits blah blah blah. I could pick faults with the place all day. However the food, as always, is never a let down. I’ll keep it as short as that. The real reason I descend on the place is not for all of the above, no. It’s the schnaaps! Usually, two or three of us will turn up unannounced (what happened to having to book weeks in advance?!) and get stuck in to some serious boozing. Only last Sunday, and much to the amusement of our fellow diners, my American au-pair friend and I downed 48 shots. I have never woken on a Monday morning with a clearer head in my life! It’s the same everytime. LH

    • Straight-Six

      The two of you had 24 shots EACH? We need to make you an honourary member of this online rag immediately!

  • Lord Hackers

    Straight-Six that was quite reserved of us! A 24-stick each is nothing! Next time you’re there, don’t hesitate – just do it! Yes you will be smashed but you will have NO hangover the following mornin! There must be something in the water?! LH