So today I'm in Belgium – we usually come in February each year to attend FOSDEM, and try to leave a couple of days leeway either side of the conference for some general exploring and re-visiting our regular haunts.
On Thursday we flew in late and after checking in, headed to Monk, a GBG-listed bar named after the jazz musician rather than Trappist brewers. We normally stay in the St Catherine area where Monk is situated – for me, it's a great area to stay in – it feels safe to wander the streets at night, and near the centre but is off the touristy vibe. It has an imposing old Gothic church and a host of good things to offer – I think it's the best area to be stationed in if you're food-obsessed. There's a great fish shop – Noordzee - with it's own stand-up lunch counter, serving all kinds of seafoody treats with crisp Argentinian wine; there's a fromagerie with lots of Belgian abbey cheeses and charcuterie delicacies. There used to be a place selling all kinds of mushroom from a street cart near the Carrefour and Delhaize supermarkets – this has gone but now a dedicated mushroom shop has sprung up in it's place, with lush window displays of Trompettes de la Mort, Chanterelles, Pieds Bleus, about 10 other mushroom types and lots of interesting vegetables. There's a couple of artisan bakery shops, some good coffee and speciality tea stores, and reaching out in various directions is the Asian grocery and cafe area, fine modern Belgian eateries like Bonsoir Clara, and specialist fish restaurants with lurid crustacean signs lit up along the old fish market quay. I'd love to find an apartment or apart-hotel to stay in next time I visit, so I can buy some of those enticing champignons to cook with steak, and some razor clams from Noordzee to throw in a pan with white wine, parsley, garlic, and butter.
However we'd arrived at midnight so all there was time for was a visit to Monk – I love this bar because it seems to have an alt-friendly music policy and also provides wifi along with usually some interesting 'off the beaten track' Belgian beers. But even better this time – and which meant we stayed for rather longer than intended – is that it had gone non-smoking. It's always been a downside to spending time in great Belgian bars – the pervasive smoky air that seeps right down to your underwear layer. But with no fug around us, we chilled out, slurped up the wifi, and kicked back with a few beers. More than a few were Rochefort 10, but there was also a Belgoo Magus and a McChouffe making appearances. The music didn't disappoint – from Led Zep, to some noise and rocky metal, to old school Belgian electronica (Klinik) – which led us to conversing with bar staff who were selecting the music choices and had actually heard of Supersonic festival in Brum too!
A great way to start our trip – I wish every bar was as good as this, but I guess because they're not, you appreciate it more at the time!