The place: Belgo Centraal
The food: Belgian
I judge whether I’ve visited a country by whether I’ve eaten there or not. I’ve driven through Belgium and run around its border with Germany and the Netherlands (see Vaalserberg), but I’ve not been to Belgium.
All I know about Belgian food is that one should expect good beer and good chocolate. And good waffles.
Thus, it was with a fairly open mind that I sat down to eat at Belgo, a small London-based chain. We were on a rare family outing to the theatre. The challenge was on to find a place that we could eat in under an hour and half and make it to the show on time. Belgo was our conveniently located place.
Our visit didn’t get off to a smooth start. My parents had a table booked for 5.30pm and I was supposed to join them at 6pm (after escaping from a statistics class eugh). But somehow, they’d got lost along the way. They’d called ahead – their table was safe. Everything should be fine.
I arrived just after 6pm and explained the situation, and how my family might possibly be waiting downstairs. The maître d’ quite rudely rebuffed me and told me that my family would probably not be getting a table as they were so late.
“But they’ve called ahead and they’ve been assured there is one. And they might be downstairs already,” I protested for the second time.
Thankfully, a polite and smiley waitress appeared, knew where my family were, saved the conversation from escalating, and guided me downstairs.
Belgo Centraal is an underground, wannabe-warehouse. It tries to mix industrial with presumably Belgian. The overall impression is eclectic and a little confusing. Not a look I’d be going for if attempting to run a restaurant.
A waitress came to take our drinks and my father pounced with the most important question of the evening: which beer is best?
To his great delight, the waitress didn’t hesitate in her recommendation. Troubadour Blond.
My father is a dedicated beer-drinker and this hit the spot. He ordered another one almost immediately.
Good beer ✓ So far, so good.
The chain is apparently keen on serving up giant bowls of mussels but no-one was in a shellfish mood, and my parents took advantage of the rotisserie chicken with a variety of different sauces and marinades.
My mum ordered Sticky Chilli and Ginger Chicken, which was fantastic. Juicy, succulent and sweet. Really Asian in flavour, and very successfully so.
I know when my father is enjoying a meal. He makes a lot of “mmm” noises and enthuses about it almost constantly. Silence, however, is a very ominous sign. The Roast Tomato and Chorizo Chicken was unexciting – dry and lacking any hint of chorizo.
Now Belgo has a policy of “Beat the Clock” – pay the price of the time shown on your food order. So I took “Pork and Leek Sausages, with Stoemp mash and jus.” The sausages were well-seasoned and tasty, but I prefer a rougher texture to the meat. And why were there only two on my plate?! That’s just mean.
However, the “Stoemp mash” stole the show. It contained carrots and courgettes, and made any mash potato I’d eaten before shrivel in my mind. This was clearly the way forward.
Last of the mains – my sister’s chargrilled rib-eye steak. I almost ordered this (due to my beef obsession) but one mouthful told me that I’d made the right choice.
Everyone has their favourite cut of steak, their favourite way of seasoning it and their preferred level of cooking. However, I like to believe that anyone with a vague interest in food would conform to the principles that a) the steak must be tender and b) the steak must have flavour. This steak had absolutely nothing to commend it, and smothering it in garlic butter couldn’t hide the fact that my sister might as well have been chewing a Wellington boot. She couldn’t be bothered to send it back, but I would have or I’d have broken down and wept.
So the mains ranked from best to worst:
- Sticky chilli and ginger rotisserie chicken
- Pork and leek sausages with Stoemp mash
- Roast tomato and chorizo rotisserie chicken
- Chargrilled rib-eye steak
Now the desserts. No-one can screw up desserts right? Right?!
Does the waffle (above) look delicious? Yes, I thought so. Actually, it was more like eating air.
Good waffles X – Oh dear, we’re in trouble now.
Mmm. Is that a hot chocolate fondant? That’s got to be great. NOPE! It tasted like cocoa powder that had been badly mixed with a few other ingredients.
Between us, we could not finish the desserts. They were that terrible. How can someone ruin CHOCOLATE? This would have been really traumatic, if I hadn’t already been traumatised by the statistics class earlier.
Good chocolate X – OK, so maybe expecting Belgian chocolate would be way too much, but how do you make a chocolate fondant so bad?
I left Belgo wishing I’d skipped dessert and eaten the over-priced Haagen Dazs at the theatre.
Dishes are hit and miss, but with the right choices, a meal at Belgo Centraal could prove a fun and reasonably-priced evening. But why take the risk?
Food 2/5 – The food is difficult to collate into a score, as the dishes were so varied. But overall, there were more negatives than positives with the dishes.
Value 2.5/5 – For the location and style of food, the prices are reasonable, but food quality and portion size need to be increased for some dishes.
Atmosphere 3.5/5 – Popular and, with the rather strange industrial aesthetic, it’s trendy in a quirk way. But it’s a somehow just a little bit cold and alienating. Also, any atmosphere DIES when you visit the toilets. They were rather gross.
Service 4/5 – Our waitress was fabulous, providing us with great service, recommendations and rapport. But one mark is docked for the stony welcome I received from the maître d’.