So it’s my first time in London and luckily we’re staying with some family friends of my fiancée. We got a recommendation to go to Belgo’s in Covent Garden. After a long search (we had no address, simply walked through Covent Garden looking for “Belgo’s”), we ended up asking a security guard who told us there were two locations nearby. The one that happened to be closer wasn’t actually in Covent Garden; it was in Holborn.
Turns out the restaurant is actually called BELGO, and it’s a traditional Belgian restaurant (frites, mussels, beer), but this was more of the gastro-pub sort, with the pub area taking center stage. We walked in (hideously underdressed in our backpacking Under Armour gear…most people were in suits…classy Brits…) and had to wait a few minutes since we didn’t have reservation. It was pretty crowded, but it was a Friday night so most people were at the bar and there were a few “full service” tables in the back. We didn’t mind waiting because there were some loud tunes blaring from the speakers (the term “eurotechnopop” comes to mind).
Once seated, the first thing I went for, of course, was the beer. There was an extensive beer menu with several different styles (White, Amber, Dark, Monastic, etc.), but I elected to ask the server to recommend a beer on tap. The previous night I had asked our server at the pub to bring me a good British beer that I couldn’t get in America, and she brought me a Foster’s. So I was a wee bit leery of leaving my fate in the hands of the server once again. She recommended the Cristal (a beer, not to be confused with the rapper’s champagne of choice) and despite my premonitions I ordered it. On the plus side it was Belgian. One the minus side, it pretty much tasted like Foster’s. 0 for 2, London servers.
My fiancée ordered the Blanche de Bruxelles (she pointed rather than venture a guess at the pronunciation), and it was a solid Belgian White. I’d put it on par with a Hoegaarden or a Shock Top in terms of flavor. On to the food.
BELGO offered several variations of mussels, but I elected to go with the Mussels Marinere which featured a white wine, cream, celery and onion broth. They were expectedly good, but in all honesty I haven't seen that many mussels in one place since I watched Pumping Iron on DVD. I was expecting Arnold to burst out of my bowl in a full deltoid pose at any moment. Despite the tremendous volume, the mussels were good. Although I wish they did provide a little more broth, which was tremendous.
The frites (which came with the mussels) were a huge disappointment. I had gotten some Belgian frites (or frjtes, as one poor tourist feebily attempted to pronounce) in San Francisco about a month ago, and those were light years better than the ones I had at BELGO. They weren’t crispy and almost tasted stale, which could have been overlooked had they accompanied the frites with a dipping sauce of some kind. Ketchup even would have sufficed, but I would have preferred some sort of aioli or mayonnaise (as Jules so kindly informed us of the Western European penchant for putting mayo on fries instead of ketchup). My fiancée offered the hypothesis that they were simply a vessel for soaking up the mussel broth, but the crust on them caused them to fail in that respect as well.
Mid-way through my skyscraper of mussels, I ordered another beer. After an Evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, I couldn’t help but choose a beer called “Satan’s Gold”. It was 8% alcohol, and you could certainly taste every one of the eight percents. It started off nice, like a smooth blonde ale, but the aftertaste made your mouth feel like somebody just forced a shot of whiskey down your throat. Not surprisingly, “Satan’s Gold” got better as I drank it, and I stumbled out the door satisfied.
Overall, I can see why BELGO is appealing. It’s not quite a tourist spot, but still leaves you with a story to tell your comrades at home. Good beer…good fun…bad frites. I won’t go again, but I’m glad I went.