Last week my best friend and I discovered a little gem in Saint Gilles called Cafe des Spores. It’s a restaurant specialising completely in mushrooms. We thought it sounded quirky, as well as brilliant – we are both mushroom lovers. But we didn’t expect it to be exquisite gourmet food.
The meal began with three little dishes: truffle soup, fried mushroom dumplings and stuffed champignons. The truffle soup was delicious, and as expected with truffle, the smell was divine. The dumplings were nice, but probably my least favourite part of the meal – indeed tasty, but rather simple.
However, the stuffed champignons were spectacular, on many levels. First of all, they arrived sprinkled in some sort of dried fish flakes, which fluttered like butterflies in the heat for several minutes. Marianne and I were so freaked out about it that we had to ask the waitress if part of the food was alive. She just giggled at us. Having overcome our fear, we dug in and were shocked by the taste explosion. Tangy ginger, umami-fishy flakes, rich meaty stuffing and mellow mushroom mixing wildly. Perhaps that sounds weird, and it was, but it was also absolutely delicious.
For starters we had a salad of watermelon, tomato and mushroom (pictured at the top of the post). It was very refreshing as the sweet and sour flavours came together with the dense mushrooms rather unexpectedly. But it was very tasteful, and we scooped everything off the plate rather quickly. We also has mushroom gnocchi, which was mellow and autumnal, tasting of porcini (although, as can be seen from the picture, it was some other sort of mushroom – I’d never tried it before). It wasn’t as sensational as the salad, and the gnocchi were a bit too soft, but it was still nice.
For mains there were two choices: duck with girolles and a salmon dish. As salmon is more staple than chicken in Sweden, we both opted for the duck, especially as it was accompanied by our favourite mushroom. The duck was perfectly pink inside, and the girolles packed with flavour. While it looks like a rather small main, it was just the perfect size at this point.
Since none of us are dessert people, we opted for the cheese with cherries instead of mushroom-infused sweet stuff (which would perhaps be the most intriguing part of the menu). The truffle pecorino was very strong, and tangy to the point where it almost hurt our mouths. It was again something of a taste sensation, and a perfect finish to the meal.
These unexpected taste trips coupled with high-quality house wine, friendly service and nice atmosphere meant it was a lovely food experience, perhaps the best I’ve had in Brussels so far. The bill, which came at 71 euros, felt perfectly reasonable given the high quality of the food. I will definitely be going here again. Nine meatballs out of ten.
On a recent visit to Berlin, I came across Oderquelle, a well-recommended diamond for German cuisine in Berlin. Having gone through poor kebab and sushi experiences all weekend, I was desperate for some sturdy German cooking and did my research before going out. As they single-handedly re-gained my faith in worthwhile eating I figured the initial East Berlin guide would have to be amended – with a strong review for Oderquelle (if meatballs were awarded this would be an 8.5/10), and a few warnings issued for the well-recommended but terribly dry places I also happened to come across.
Oderquelle has a seasonal menu that changes daily and they don’t post anything about their food on their website, so you have to go on the day and see if anything takes your fancy. I’m sure it will. We had starters of smoky broccoli soup and handmade cumin cheese with chopped onion and parsley vinaigrette. At 3 euros these were a bargain, because they were huge portions for a starter – I was told this is the German size. The handmade cheese came with some bread and butter at the side and tasted very similar to Swedish cumin cheese eaten at Crayfish fests coming up now in August – so I was over the moon. And also rather filled up by the first course together with the generously sized southern wheat beer.
For mains, my veggie friend Tim had risotto stuffed peppers with goats cheese, Mr Meatball had veal with fried potatoes and béarnaise, and I had duck with apple and red cabbage sauerkraut and spätzle. It was all delicious, and again, very generously sized. My duck was braised to perfection and broke off beautifully with the sweet and sour red and apple sauerkraut. While I find spätzle (a homemade kind of German pasta) a little bland, it worked wonders with the strong sauerkraut and red wine sauce.
Oderquelle is close to Mauerpark and sees a rather lively nightlife pass by even on a quiet night – so we had to put up with a lone guitarist busking a screechy version of Radiohead’s Creep for twenty minutes before Romani accordion players pushed him away and started serenading individual guests at the restaurant. If you can deal with all this, Oderquelle is definitely the place to go in East Berlin for traditional German cooking in some fresh new clothes. The service was lovely and we ended up forking out only 25 euros each for the massive starters, mains and two large jugs of German beer.
If you, after eating, fancy to play some games whilst drinking more of that cheap German beer, a place around the corner (to the right as you face Mauerpark) without sign has a pool table, darts, ping pong table, playstation and other fun things to have a go at with beers starting a 1.50. Like a mix between a youth club and drinking hall for grown ups, its also worth a visit.
Avoid: The German restaurant November in Prenzlauer Berg – expensive and shabby, the kebab places close to Mauerpark (of course, there may be some good ones but in that case we missed them), and the Japanese restaurant Tabito in Friedrichshain (they supply fun toys to play with, but the Sushi wasn’t worth the price tag, and atmosphere was too sticky with a chef dressed in a “Will buy drinks for sex” t-shirt. Eww.)