When you think of Belgian cuisine, what comes to mind? For Sarah and me, it was beer and waffles and luxurious chocolate. But surely there must be more? It was time for us to fill in another blank space of terra incognita on our culinary map of the world.
Thanks to the Consulate General of Belgium in Chennai and the launch of latest special menu (It runs through May 6) at the Hyatt Regency, we had the opportunity, along with many of the diplomatic cognoscenti of the city, to sample the best that country has to offer. The evening was staged on the verandah at the Arena 365 venue at the Hyatt and it was the perfect spot for mingling, connecting, quaffing, and grooving—if only slightly in my case—to the energizing Belgian Techno Music, and to sampling all that Belgium has to tempt the palate.
Starting, of course, with a tasting of a tiny fraction of the country’s more than 800 beers! But before we could indulge our love of hops, everyone enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine to toast the event and recognize guest Chef Vincent Tibau, Private Chef to the Belgium Vice Prime Minister, who orchestrated the design and preparation of so many uniquely Belgian dishes. When we chatted with Chef Vincent, he admitted his love—and knowledge—of Belgian beers he considers the best in the world. Sarah chose a Hoegaarden White, one of her favorites she enjoys back in the US, and I opted for a hoppier Chimay Red, one of Belgium’s signature Trappist brews. Coppery in color, a snap of hops, and oh so round and flavorful. Ahhhhhh, I do miss good beer!
We then moved on to the serving line, where we quickly recognized how vast that empty space on our tasting map really was. While we expect that when exploring food in Madurai or Chettinad country or Bangkok, we were both a bit surprised at how many new ingredients and combinations we encountered and enjoyed. First up, Parsnips and Mushrooms in Belgian Beer! I’ve never been a huge fan of parsnips, but the rich, tawny sauce had just enough maltiness to provide the right setting for both vegetables, known mostly for taking on the flavor of their surroundings. Great, simple start.
As we made our way along the serving line, we added Lobster and Sole in a Foamy Emulsion with Saffron; North Sea Shrimp Croquettes garnished with lemon and deep fried parsley; Braised Chicory with Creamy Cheese Sauce and Truffle; Mussels in Belgian White Beer Sauce with Crunchy Celery’; White Asparagus a La Flamande; Pommes Pont Neuf with a tangy tomato relish; and Chef’s twist on the traditional Waterzooi of Succulent Chicken and fresh vegetables. Finally, we grabbed a herring fondue graced with roe.
The Braised Chicory was a standout, with the chicory’s spicy bitterness softened with a rich, creamy sauce, while the shrimp croquettes brought new meaning to a dish sometimes viewed as a vehicle for leftovers. The croquettes gave a satisfying crunch while the shrimp treasure inside was oh so silky and mild. Then, the crispy-skinned chicken of the Waterzooi and vegetables proved a winning combination of mouthfeels and flavors.
Then, the simple Pommes Pont Neuf (Frites) had an al dente texture and a hint of savory that was a pleasant surprise and one that Sarah especially loved. And the accompanying tomato based sauce had a jam-like texture and flavor that was a fresh delight. Of course, who can dislike a perfect mussel? These were soft and silky, and, again, following a theme here, so creamy, while the white beer sauce—another theme—gave them a rich background that complimented their quiet flavor. And the white asparagus, while nicely al dente, also had a creaminess of taste and texture on the tongue.
Another Chimay of course aided our journey through the Belgian Indulgences—I avoided a bottle with the rather foreboding title “Delirium Tremens”—and we knew the best was yet to come as we were still two thirds short of our full trio of beer, waffles, and chocolate. The dessert station inside proved easy enough to find, with its “Chocolate as Miracle a Cure” sign. Right, I now have another good excuse for my love of cacao!
Sarah kept it simple, going for the Brussels Waffle with raspberry jelly, strawberries, a drizzle of ruby chocolate, and a dollop of mocha cream; then adding what proved the highlight of the evening, a panna cotta with a foamy cherry beer granita that was tart and malty at the same time. We have a winner! I went for the other end of simplicity, minimizing my choices by asking for “everything please.” The everything included a dark chocolate cake with toppings of coconut, kumquat, mint and a meringue; an Iced Coffee 22 which is dedicated to the number for the famous Belgian goalie Simon Mignolet who plays for Liverpool, and it savored like mocha “milkshake;” and finally a simple Smurf Tart—a delicate fruit tart—with heavy cream, in addition to the waffle. Oh, and the Iced Coffee 22 and the Smurf Tart were both brought alive with a liberal sprinkling of white chocolate bits. Miracle cure indeed!
So now our map of the culinary world has at least a good sketch of the delights to found in Belgium and we look forward to coloring in even more of the details! Vacation in Brussels, maybe?
Don’t miss the Belgium Indulges Chennai event at the Hyatt Regency, now through May 6.
HYATT REGENCY CHENNAI
365 Anna Salai, Teynampet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018, India
Tel: +91 44 61001234
Mob: +91 9176633310