On improving local staple dishes one rating at a time, by Boulets Liégois

People are increasingly turning away from expert opinions and institutional ratings, looking more towards crowd-sourced reviews. And understandably so – there’s arguably more to learn and trust from everyday folks giving their honest and authentic ratings on what they know and love. Boulets Liégeois, a die-hard collective of four anonymous individuals, are taking note of this foodie phenomenon and doing their bit to ensure that their beloved boulets are being done justice around the country. And with effective outcomes, too. No chichi, just frank and objective takes.

Visuals by Laura Van Snick (c).

We’re a bunch of four people living in Liège, aged 31 to 53, and despite our very various different backgrounds, we all have something in common: we’re diehard fans of “Boulets Liégeois” (also known as “Boulets sauce Lapin”) which is a local dish of meatballs doused in a sauce made of Sirop de Liège — Belgian jelly-like spread of evaporated apple or pear juices — and cooked with raisins, onions, prunes and cloves. Like most things in Belgium, it is typically served with fries. And, like any other regional recipe, there are as many variations to the dish as there are people cooking it. Somehow we observed that its quality could surprisingly vary from one restaurant to another so we decided to embark on a quest to rate every restaurant that had the local delicacy on their menu and compile our tastings on a dedicated Facebook group. All reviews are posted on our Facebook page with a very specific rating grid and some pictures in order to help our followers make a general idea for themselves. On one hand it was a way for us to establish a somewhat objective rating system but on the other hand we also realised it could help people, tourists for instance, not be conned by overzealous restaurant owners or overpriced menus. Our motto is to go everywhere, unlike other food critics (although we don’t actually consider ourselves as such) who might only test certain restaurants owned by friends or friends of friends. Sometimes we find the place by ourselves or sometimes people recommend it to us and, if you add them all up, we’ve already tried and tested more than 120 addresses, a number we feel gives us the legitimacy to agree on a fair rate when tasting new variations of the dish.

There are as many variations to the dish as there are people cooking it.

The fact that we don’t know anyone in the industry and the efforts we make to keep our identities on the down low help us remain objective and make unbiased observations. Sometimes we post on our Facebook page while we’re still eating in the restaurant, which often leads to awkward situations, like the time we heard the chef screaming in the kitchen because he was reading the (not so positive) review we had just posted online a few minutes before. When evaluating what’s on our plate, we’re on the lookout for homemade dishes, based on fresh and quality produce and, last but not least, that show a special effort on the plating. We rate every different aspect of both the dish and its sides – from the actual meatballs to the sauce, fries, mayonnaise and other accompaniments – whilst the place’s interiors as well as the quality of service also influence the final score we hand out. Fact is, we know that some of the restaurants we’ve reviewed actually stopped making customers pay for the extra fries ordered in the middle of the dinner or that others improved the recipe of their meatballs, so we know we’re contributing to the betterment of Boulets being served in the country. Generally we do our best to express our opinion in a cheeky but constructive way and we find it rewarding to see chefs welcome criticism and open to change – in the end, they see it as being in their best interest.