Thursday, January 03, 2008

Belgian Crusine ...

What do you do when a friend invites you away for a girls weekend ... a mystery weekend, somewhere in Belgium.

Well you go ... so I did, never imagining the delights that were ahead of me.

It's taken me a few days to absorb the experience; an experience that included a drive into Wallonia, wandering through the ancient city of Huy, following the River Meuse, exploring Dinant before heading out into the countryside and Gilain Hostellerie in Dinant-Liroux where I ate some of the most stunning Belgian food I've ever tasted.

Lut picked me up at 10am on the Friday and we drove off in sunshine. She has this thing going with Saint Peter. She does the praying, he organises the weather. It's marvellous traveling with her.

We walked around Huy and already I could feel the photographer in me was happy.

Then on to Dinant, I didn't know but it was the town of Adolf Sax ... the man who invented the saxophone. So the trip was educational too.

And it was good to be out in the rolling hill farmland that is the Ardennes out that way - it felt like a small taste of home with lots of fresh air and empty space.

We pulled up at Gilain Hostellerie and Lut expressed a small concern that it might not be as good as it seemed when she booked on the internet however it was better than good. It was actually a small slice of heaven.

We were each shown to a beautiful room that took my breath, and then we wrapped up and went for a pre-dinner stroll through the tiny hamlet of houses nearby. Some photographs were taken amid much laughter, some locals were quite possibly made curious by the laughing leather and fur coat clad creatures in their midst.

Back in the hotel and I disappeared into the shower in my room. Two years in Istanbul with very dubious showers that trickled more often than not and I'm a great fan of good hotel bathrooms.

The bed, did I mention the bed ... I could lie sideways across it and then there was the balcony, the sun lounger and chair, the view out over farmland, the warmth and the incredible peace of the place.

But, then came the dinner.

Before the evening of 28 December, I have to confess, I had never experienced a gastronomical menu.

Every course was heavenly and small and beautifully presented by a lovely French-speaking waiter who informed us about the food and the wine accompanying each course.

Still a gastronomic innocent, we started out in the tasting lounge and were served with a red wine and blackcurrant syrup drink that I'd like to replicate one day. Little parmesan biscuits arrived first. Followed by 3 small elegant glasses of mousse ... that would be a pheasant, a mussel, and a veal mousse.

I savoured each mouthful, as did Lut.

The waiter invited us to move through to the dining room and there the courses continued.

A white wine accompanied the beautifully presented scallop and eel sauce with wild mushrooms.

Then came the tender venison steak that had been created by some magician the owner was obviously keeping in the kitchen, with a foie gras and bacon strip on the plate too and a red wine.

A small space and then out came hare ... both as small steaks and another small glass containing a stunning hare stew, and that new red wine.

Then there was the fully-stocked cheeseboard, and I shouldn't have but I did.

Then there was a dessert. A chocolate gateau-like cake, with special ice cream and things that went over my head because I had all but passed out from pleasure.

Rivesaltes ended the meal ... and I learned that I love Rivesaltes.

Laughing over the experience and clutching a bottle of water each, Lut and I retired to our rooms, having agreed to meet for a 9am breakfast.

3am and I sat bolt upright, sweating and oh so full.
I had eaten too many members of the animal kingdom and they were playing in my little round belly.

A little water, a little walk around the room and I climbed back into my huge and comfortable bed in my stunningly comfortable room and slept until morning, vowing never to obediently eat all dishes that any charming French-speaking Belgian puts in front of me again. It never occurred to me once that I couldn't or shouldn't eat all of the small venison steak, or that the hare that melted in my mouth might be too rich ... no no no, it was all about food and how sometimes, it's better than any other delight you can possibly think of.

I was scared as we strolled into breakfast, scared that I wouldn't have the willpower to stop when I should.

There was freshly squeezed orange juice, a pot of beautiful coffee, fresh bread rolls, croissants and a type of scone, proscuitto and cheese and this sunflower seed-type toast. The owner/chef seemed concerned when we said we didn't need anything else, I think Lut said something about muesli across the room - neither of us could imagine even finishing what was in front of us.

Heartfelt thanks and we were on the move again, following the River Meuse, stopping to photograph as rather elaborate castle and garden along the way - a Castle Freyr .

The owner of the hostellerie had suggested we pop in at Celles , just down the road.

And on into Givet but by then my head had been turned towards Belgium and nothing in France could compare or compete with what I had experienced while wandering.

Dank u wel Lut, for convincing me once and for all that Belgian crusine isn't all about Gert's Hutsepot and for showing me that Belgium is a more of a land of contrasts and history than I realised; a land of good people who really know how to prepare food, and of others who are stunningly kind to their friends.


furiousBall said...

That food looks amazing! I wish I had a friend named Lut, what a cool name.

Manictastic said...

See, we do have tasty food :D

Gastronomical trips to Wallonia are always a delight.

Oh and thanks for reminding me of my craving for chocolate cake, I've been wanting to eat one all winter :(

Di Mackey said...

It was stunning, furiousball. I needed to blog it just to remember it all.

Oh Manic, you Belgians do have good food. Good luck with the chocolate craving :( I'm about to join Gert as he exercises for a marathon ... I'll be on the bike but still, movement is good ;)

wandering-woman said...

Oh, this was nothing short of sumptuous.

Di Mackey said...

Exactly w-w :)