Mushroom orgy at Café des Spores, Brussels

Tomato, watermelon and mushroom salad

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.

Truffle soup

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.

Ginger and mince stuffed champignons

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.

Mushroom gnocchi

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.

Duck with girolles

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.

Truffle pecorino

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.

Le café des spores

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.

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The Meatball’s mini-guide to east Berlin

Being the eastern outpost for the London part of the blog, I happily remain easterly when visiting Berlin (although it’s sort of all down to my friend Tim living in Prenzlauer berg…). Berlin is my most favourite city perhaps ever, because it has everything you could have wanted from East London but is bite-sized, lively but not intense, feels strangely Scandinavian yet wears its history like scabby scars. And if you’re into history or are just a little bit emo, that has a strange appeal as well. The eastern parts of town have an abundance of amazing food and nice places to drink, and is cheaper than the majority of the European capitals. So, here are the meatball’s favourite haunts if you want to go exploring.

Eating. My favourite restaurant in Berlin is actually Russian, and is called Gorki Park. The interior looks a bit like the cover of Regina Spektor’s Soviet Kitch record, with tacky decorations and loads of old family photos framed on the walls. Settle down here after a tiring day out on town with Russian strawberry drinks or cold Moscow drafts, and order in blinis, stroganoff with potato cakes and the mixed dumpling selection (wareniki) with sour cream. Their blinis (pictured above) are large like pancakes and come with fat red caviar roe. It is delish.

If you want something more German, Cafe Hilde serves a lovely Flammkuchen with smoked salmon, lemon bits and spring onion. It’s cheap and cheerful, in a lovely café that looks like your grandmother’s living room. Lots of things in east Berlin do. When I was at Hilde they were playing The Whitest Boy Alive, so they possibly also have very good music taste. Update: (10th August 2012) neo-German restaurant Oderquelle by Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg serves absolutely superb authentic, new takes on german food without robbing you – a good option for a nice evening out – more about that place here.

The Vietnamese scene is apparently strong in Berlin and I have been told there are plenty of good places to recommend. I was particularly treated at Si An, who impressed with their cheap and  excellent cocktails (just check out the beauty below), a strong yellow curry and particularly nice summer rolls with a Tamarind-y sauce (not sure if that was in them but it tasted along those lines.

Lots in Berlin is about chilling, and people seem very good at it. If you need somewhere with decent coffee and a plug so you can do work, then Oberholtz is a good place to go – my friend Elke goes all the time instead of going to uni to study. Really wish there was a place like that in London. A general nice thing about Berlin café culture is that you don’t have much pressure to earn your keep by continously buying more cakes and more coffee – everyone just sits about, reading or working.

There is also beautiful French Café Fleury (although beware of the French/bitchy service), which is just next to Gorki Park mentioned above. If the weather is sunny and you just want to enjoy something soothing on a bench/pavement around Kreuzberg, I would recommend the hazelnut ice cream from local ice producers Eismanufaktur. They have a friendly bar in Kreuzberg. Eating their ice cream makes you this happy:

Going towards the evening, there are ridiculously many bars and clubs to explore for drinking and dancing. Since Berlin is so friendly going ahead and exploring can be a lot less painful than in other places (although places like Berghain remain rather selective in their admissions policy…). Fitcher’s Vogel, with its own little facebook page, put on good night AND show football. The ambience is lovely, bar staff is very friendly and the bar is, Berlin style, decorated with a mix of tit for tat furniture and odd bits. This includes miniature buddhas in the walls, religious drawings and Gramophones in the windows.

For some old school dancing, there is always Clärchen’s Ballhaus, the oldest ball room in Berlin (since before World War one). They have a gipsy-restaurant (sadly didn’t get the chance to eat there) and you can dance all sorts of dances in the evening. Old school as in really, actually old school, not Hammer Time. Finally, if German is the word then Tomsky is a cheap, gay-friendly, smoky and loud neighbourhood bar to enjoy.

Since summer is here (and as opposed to London, it really HAS come to Berlin) then picnics with a bicycle might be the best way to enjoy the city whilst eating. German supermarkets have excellent bakery, cured meats, cheeses and quark fillings to go mental with. Not to speak of all those cakes and sweet pastries with a sweet German white wine… and there are bike rental places all over the place. Berlin is small, so with a bike you can quickly make your way to the the deserted-airport-made-public-park Tempelhof, or go listen to people embarrassing themselves at public karaoke in Mauerpark. If you fancy going a bit into the wild you can also take your bike with you on the S-bahn and head to Teufelsberg, the CIA’s now abandoned listening station in the forest outside Berlin (since it was all about listening to and intercepting what people in East Berlin were up to before the wall came down, it’s being allowed it’s entry here. It is also where Tim is standing at the top of this entry). Spooky and eerie but with beautiful views over the city, and health and safety gone out of the broken windows, it might be one of the coolest places in Berlin.