What better way to get a taste of European diversity than by digging into the old continent’s many food delicacies? From Croation, British, Polish and Bulgarian food to Greek, Maltese, Portuguese and Austrian dishes, we’ve toured the country in search of home-cooked European flavours.
Photographer Miles Fischler (c)
Best for Croatian: Restaurant Zagreb
You may recognise a familiar face when walking into this cosy Croatian hub: run by Belgo-Croatian actor Vincent Banić (famous for his role in the Flemish soap opera Familie), Restaurant Zagreb was first founded by his father close to three decades ago. Despite a complete refurbishment, the younger Banić still serves the same food he and his siblings were fed growing up, and is linked to their fond memories of their native coastal region. The interior is warm and inviting, with stone arches connecting all the separate tables and booths – just like in a real southern family home – with pictures of the Banić family in Croatia lighting up the room. The restaurant promises a new side of the more traditional Mediterranean cuisine everyone is used to, and it sure delivers. One taste of their delicious food and it’s obvious that their passion for good food has been passed down from generation to generation. Just like in the sunny south, this eatery encourages group dining with large portions, and grill sets make it easy to share the love. The minimalised menu ensures freshness and perfection in every course whether you’re ordering the meat lover’s favourite, ćevapčići, or the fresh fried calamari. For a truly traditional experience, order the Zwaard van Dioklecijan, a carnivorous feast dramatically speared on a knife which is driven into the table. The restaurant also has an extensive wine menu, including local Croatian grapes, to help you wash your food down. A true taste of Croatia in Antwerp’s historic port district.
Best for British: Sail & Anchor
Whilst walking through the maze of impressive art nouveau houses in Antwerp’s Berchem, you’ll stumble across a beautiful baby blue facade, the doorway to an unparalleled culinary adventure. Sail & Anchor is the creation of Brasschaat-born Marijke Van Haecke and Lancashire native Michael Yates, whose dream it was to bring a creative yet authentic version of British dining to Belgium. Both have experience working with Michelin-star chefs, including Sergio Herman in Antwerp – with whom they now share a vegetable patch in PAKT – and Martin Wishart in Edinburgh, something which is reflected in their food presentation and warm yet professional service. Combining their years of training and their mutual passion for cooking and hosting, they serve modernised British food, proving that the cuisine doesn’t always have to resemble hangover pub grub. Their fixed dinner menu Taste of Sail & Anchor changes daily, depending on what local farmers have on offer, as all the used products are fresh and regionally sourced. All of its courses focus on showcasing the bold flavours of the island nation through a variety of innovative techniques so that every ingredient can be fully appreciated. For a more classic British experience, visit Sail & Anchor on a Sunday for their traditional special roast dinner, tasting the best local meats and the freshest vegetables. Set in a cosy homely décor, the entire visit is unique, from Michael personally explaining the concept behind every dish, to the extensive advice Marijke offers when it comes to pairing drinks with food whilst welcoming you like you’re a long-lost friend.
Best for Polish: Le Pavot
A true lesson in not judging a book by its cover: discreetly hidden behind a sober façade in the rather bland streets of Braine-l’Alleud lies restaurant Le Pavot, owned by two Polish natives. With their skills, understanding of and passion for food presentation, they offer a completely different perspective on Polish cuisine – which is often wrongly considered to be rather meaty and rich in carbs, presented in an old-fashioned style of “what you see is what you get”. The restaurant, which was first opened a decade ago and relocated to their current address in Braine l’Alleud two years ago, proves that traditional dishes can almost look too good to eat and burst with flavour at the same time. Instead of your more well-known Eastern European dishes, the French gourmand set menus are inspired by Polish tastes and are sure to surprise your palette and challenge any preconceived perceptions. The gastronomy menu is a work of culinary art, and the dishes themselves look like they would fit in a Michelin-star restaurant in an upcoming metropole. The interior is just as pleasing to the eye as the food served there. Whereas the food is colourful, intricate and carefully thought through, the design is modern, minimalistic and laid-back with its exposed brick walls, making for a cosy and intimate setting. Make sure to reserve well in advance, as this hotspot is well known in the Wallonian community.
Best for Bulgarian: Mehanna Chevermeto
As the geographical buffer zone between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Bulgaria is known to have one of the most interesting cuisines in the Balkans, thanks to the combination of rich, traditional heritage and incoming nuances culminated. Decorated with traditional Slavic décor, this family-run restaurant in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode serves all the Bulgarian favourites. Being in Mehana Chevermeto is like being in the heart of Eastern Europe, with homemade comforting food that will make your taste buds tingle, hosts who love to brim their table with their culinary specialities all, living up to the reputation of Bulgarian hospitality. The country’s cuisine is mostly famous for adding white cheese and homemade honey to every course and dish. Its famous fried bread, which drips with delicious oil, may seem like it could ruin your cholesterol levels with one bite, but the cuisine perfectly balances this overload of carbs and dairy. Everything about the restaurant is authentic, from the original designs on the plates to its customers – you know you’re in the right place when it’s frequented by natives. Try the homemade gyuveche, a stew with eggs and Bulgarian white cheese served in a clay pot. Both meat and vegetarian options are available, so there’s no reason to miss out on the amazing tastes of this little treasure trove. To make the dish a little lighter, order the Snezhanka or “Snow White” salad, made with strained yoghurt, cucumber, walnuts and garlic. With its big portions and affordable prices, there’s a reason people keep coming back for more.
Best for Greek: Le Delphes
Le Delphes transports the customer to Europe’s sunny southeast corner, with its delicious food and welcoming service. Most of Charleroi’s locals have become regulars at this traditional restaurant, which is widely renowned to serve some of the best food in the region. When entering the eatery, the owner – a native Hellene and whose father first opened the restaurant’s doors decades ago – welcomes in and serves you drinks with a smile from the bar. His French wife, who delved into Greek cuisine herself, is now a professional in preparing traditional dishes with a contemporary twist. The menu boasts a wide range of fresh, melt-in-your-mouth fish dishes to be accompanied with their flavoursome mezzes, all simple yet elegant – tasting the way only homemade food can. The interior is true to the Mediterranean style, with ornate stone statues and ceramic vases all around. In line with tradition, everything at Le Delphes is served with a big smile from the owner alongside some small talk to make you feel welcome and at home.
Best for Maltese: Villa Bardon
The small archipelago between Sicily and the northern coastline of Africa has become increasingly popular with tourists over the past decade – and so has its food. Its cuisine reflects its geographical position and political past, resulting in an interesting combination of Spanish, Sicilian and English influences. At Villa Bardon, you may even discover some local influences as the chef, Martin, is Belgian-born. After meeting Maltese native and his future wife Anna on the sun-kissed island, they moved to Ghent, bringing along the wonderful traditional cuisine with them. Soon after, this charming family-owned restaurant was opened. Martin ensures that only the best food is prepared every day and lets his imagination run wild to create mixed platters of octopus, homemade sausages, charcuterie and other influences. Constantly modifying his dishes, he only uses the freshest produce available. Anna is the perfect southern hostess, taking care of all her clients as if they were family. The restaurant itself is also designed to feel like home, with its cosy and intimate design, Maltese tiles and beautifully finished wooden furniture. To start the night, choose from one of their many wines on offer in the eatery’s wine cellar – Villa Bardon is one of the few places in the country to offer real Maltese wine – to accompany your pulpetti and kappunata. To end the night right, have a sip of their homemade limoncello and arancello, which they make using the freshest fruit imported from Italy. From their carefully selected menu to unbeatable hospitality, everything about this restaurant is personal and intimate.
Best for Portuguese: Portus Cale
The town of Lodinsart, slightly to the north of Charleroi, may not seem like your number one dining out destination, but after discovering Portus Cale it’ll become a go-to. The family-run restaurant, which takes its name from the historical city in northern Portugal – and which incidentally inspired the country’s current name – flaunts a sleek and elegant décor, but the impressive food presentation makes up for any minimalism. You’re greeted by a big plate filled to the brim with fresh fish always complemented by seasonal produce. To really experience the authentic flavours of the country’s cuisine, try the Morue de Fruits aux Mer: cod served with gambas and clams, boasting a delicate balance of savoury and sweet and strengthened by a touch of saffron. The extensive wine list will have you struggling to choose, but the personnel are well-equipped to help you decide what wine perfectly complements your dish. Don’t leave before trying one of the homemade pastéis de nata, or a zesty and refreshing lemon sorbet.
Best for Austrian: Alpenrose
The East Flanders hills surrounding this restaurant may be nothing on the impressive snowy mountain ranges in Austria, but take one step inside and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to one of Europe’s favourite ski resorts. Dining at Alpenrose – which started out as a family-run banquet hall four decades ago, and only transformed into a restaurant halfway through – is the perfect occasion to relive memories of family skiing holidays. The owners return to Austria every year and have since become experts at creating a little resort in their home country. Alpenrose has everything a classic Tirolean chalet should: an entirely wooden décor with sculpted figures dotted around the rooms, all hand-crafted by the owner-come-artist. Just like any typical mountain-top hut, you can also enjoy some sun on their terrace minus the big ski jackets and mountain boots. If you’re in the mood for a small yet filling snack, try their homemade grözl: baked potatoes loaded with stacks of bacon rashers, onions, topped off with a fried egg. Comfort food at its best. For something more substantial, look to their famous meat brochettes paired with fresh sauerkraut. You’ll be so satisfied you’ll be yodelling your way home.