Keeping it real … Real Ale
Organising work Christmas dinners can be a nightmare! Making sure everyone is catered for, rounding up money and deciding where to go is all enough to give anyone a headache. Last year I organised the unofficial Christmas party at Bodeans restaurant (which in the end at last minute I couldn’t make!) so this year I thought I would look for somewhere different. I then get an email from the Belgian beer and cuisine restaurant company Belgo, one of the usual group mailing that I am subscribed to but this one was inviting mailing members to come sample their Christmas menu. I saw this as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, as I wanted to check out the newly opened Soho restaurant and it could possibly help me in my quest to provide an option for the Christmas party.
The new Soho Belgo only opened 8 weeks ago but already it is looking like a well organised venue. Located in the heart of Soho on Old Compton Street the new Belgo restaurant feels and looks more authentically Belgian than the near-by larger restaurant in Covent Garden. Exposed brick walls covered in traditional Belgian beer adverts provide the back drop for the warm and comfy eatery. A large shiny metallic bar with all the different Belgian beer glasses hanging upside down above the bar tenders head greets you as you walk in. Next to it you can see the chicken rotisserie in action.
Downstairs there are more seating areas, narrow staircases lead to classic looking wooden seats and tables surrounded by happy chatting customers. Also downstairs there are two long tunnel like caves for party bookings, bright lights spread across the roof off the caves highlighting many Belgique photos. These areas look quite fun although I wouldn’t fancy sitting right at the end while needing a pee!
My friend and I was greeted by the manager as we came down the stairs, he was very polite and instantly asked us what we wanted to drink. The beer menu is fairly similar across all the Belgo venues, it is a good range of the big Belgian family brewers.
If I was to be picky and be slightly more of a beer snob then I think it would be nice to see a few of the smaller named Belgian beers feature on the menu, maybe a beer of the month promotion to attract some more beer enthusiasts. This of course is a comment for Belgo in general and not the Soho branch (although I did notice a couple of beers in the fridges that wasn’t on the menu as I left).
The manager welcomed the whole group at the start of the event and introduced the 30 or so people there to the Christmas menu. We started by sampling all the starters, for me these were all really good. Cheese croquettes are a thing of Belgian beauty (Prawn croquettes are even better), my friend loved the prawns with dipping sauce, I really enjoyed the lobster soup but the chicken pâté with Delirium beer jelly was without doubt my favourite option.
Between food sampling a waiter dressed in full Delirium monk fancy dress served us samples of different beers including the full Delirium range and Westmalle Dubbel.
The main courses were brought out on huge platters in stages. There was loads to go around the excited group of attendees. The sirloin steak was cooked perfectly medium rare, just how I like steak to be. There was enough sausages wrapped in bacon to feed the whole of the restaurant! The lobster was really good, very soft and fresh tasting. The chicken from the rotisserie was a crowd pleaser although I felt the other dishes were better. Being a Belgian restaurant it would be crazy to think they wouldn’t include mussels to the festive menu and of course Belgo do mussels well. The mussels are fresh from the Shetland Islands and come in many different sauces. We tried the classic Belgian sauce, one in a rich tomato sauce and my personal favourites the incredible mussels in a Thai sauce.
By the time dessert came around I was feeling pretty full to be honest but I still found the energy to try some of the chocolate Fondant, which although I found very very rich (I’m more of a cheese and cracker dessert guy!) it would have been a chocolate lovers heaven! Over all I felt the menu was a great range of different dishes. I am a big fan of seeing different choices on a Christmas menu around the festive period so it is nice to see Belgo bringing something different other than roast turkey! Along with all the vegan and veggie options I think it is a well balanced and varied menu of good quality.
The staff on the night were great, the manager was a perfect host and clearly knew about Belgian Trappist beer history. The star of the evening though was Alexandra, I felt that not only was she a good waitress but she also knew her Belgian beer and also spoke about them with passion and enthusiasm . They did a great job of making sure the party was looked after alongside their usual duties in running the whole busy restaurant.
As with all Belgo restaurants I think it can be a great place to take people who are new to Belgian beer and it is an easy guide to help your new friends try all the new strengths and flavours Belgium has to offer. Through the knowledgeable and friendly staff at the Soho branch I can see that it is a fun evening out for a group of people consisting of different levels of beer geek, from people who don’t like beer to open minded newbies as well as people who are hardcore Belgian beer fans. Although it might not be what a big group of beer experts are looking for in a beer and food pairing meal it is a perfect venue for work parties looking for something different and fun. I for one will be putting Belgo Soho through to the public vote for our Christmas night out.
Soho! Soho! Soho! Moules! Frites! Bier!
*Disclaimer: All the beer and food was complimentary of Soho Belgos, I was emailed about going through being a part of their mailing list and it was no link to this blog. Although the night was complimentary I freely chose to write this review as I felt it the food and evening deserved a blog post