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'Stoemp'ing out in disgust!
Bierodrome London Kingsway (London)
Member Name: dee778
Bierodrome London Kingsway (London)
Date: 30/12/12, updated on 30/12/12 (83 review reads)
Advantages: The beer
Disadvantages: The prices, the food, the dirt
Both my parents were Belgian and I was brought up with frequent, extended visits to Belgian and immersed in the Belgian culture. With this in mind, I have always been very reluctant to visit a restaurant called Belgo - which claims to bring a taste of the best things Belgian to the UK. This week I decided to act on the many recommendations and paid my first visit to a Belgo restaurant - a big mistake in almost every respect and one of the most unpleasant eating experiences I have had for a long time.
Belgo is a chain of 5 restaurants all in the London area which aim to serve Belgian food and beer. Originally started by French Canadians, the chain was recently bought by the owners of Café Rouge and Bella Italia - which, I suspect , led to a decline in standards and originality.
The Kingsway Belgo was originally an old bank; with a bar area one side and a restaurant area on the other, it is originally decorated and designed, with a lovely wooden vaulted ceiling, large modern light fittings and furniture and a sophisticated bar in the middle which enables the customer to look in to the kitchen.
Beneath the restaurant, the old safe area forms a viewing area in the basement where the large selection of keg beers can be seen leading up to the bar.
At first sight the menu contained very little that was traditionally Belgian. Obviously the moules were highlighted and as this is what I had set out to eat, I could not complain. A kilo of moules with frites costs £12.25 and comes with a choice of four sauces: traditionelle (white wine, celery, garlic and onion); classic (traditionelle with a shot of cream); Provencale (tomato, herb and garlic) and Thai (Lemongrass, chilli, ginger, Kaffir lime, coconut and coriander). I found the inclusion of Thai completely destroyed any nod to Belgian authenticity and did not like to see it on the menu. However Belgo takes this one step further by also offering a garam masala curry and a lobster with champagne curry, neither of which look very appealing to me.
The only other nod to Belgian cuisine that I could see was the Waterzooi - fish stew, which came in two varieties for £11.95. One was a cream and wine sauce and one a tomato sauce.
Other menu options seem to be picked at random from around the world; burgers, rotisserie chicken; linguine, rib eye steak; fish and chips.
To give that "authentic Belgian flavour" the English bread was called 'Brood' and the mash potato was called "Stoemp Mash".
Belgo was much stronger when it came to the drinks on offer. I love Belgian beer and there was a very good selection. A nice choice of the trappist Chimay beers cost just over £5 a bottle; another of my favourites, Duval, was on offer for £5.35 a bottle and Belgian pils was on tap for a more reasonably priced £3.85 a pint.
The better known Hoegaarden. Stella and Leffe sit side by side with a really impressive array of trappist and fruit beers. All of the beers arrive traditionally in individually and unusually shaped glasses. The selection is without doubt worth a visit just to enjoy a drink without food.
When we arrived the restaurant was fairly quiet as it was early Saturday evening. Despite this it took a little while for somebody to seat us.
The food and drinks menu arrived very quickly; I chose a Floris Honey beer which I love as a pre-food drink so that I can enjoy the pure honey taste. One son had a Bush Scaldis (the strongest beer in Belgium apparantly) which he found overwhelmingly sweet. The Bush Scaldis is a golden barley beer. My other son had a De Konnick for £4.45; a top fermented velvety beer which he enjoyed. The De Konnick and the Floris did arrive in beautiful beer glasses.
We moved straight into the main course; my older son and I went straight for the Moules which we love. The bowl was huge and the mussels were nice and hot, if a little on the chewy side. We both gave the Moules 7/10 - but agreed that the only 10/10 we have experienced is in a French or Belgian seaside town.
My younger son chose half a rotisserie chicken with ginger and chilli for £10-.95. This was nice enough but we all agreed that it was just chicken with a bottled sweet chilli sauce poured on top- something we make frequently at home.
We all had the "famous double cooked Belgian chips" and found that they were really nothing special at all. A little on the undercooked side, they tasted strongly of stale fat. We were all disappointed. Small cups of mayonnaise or ketchup were offered but not replenished quickly enough for us - the waitress was already distracted by the next table of customers by this time.
The desserts were the final straw for all of us. I ordered an orange chocolate mousse; both boys ordered Belgian waffle for £5.50. This was meant to arrive with warm chocolate sauce, which chocolate shavings and vanilla ice cream. We waited so long for the desserts to arrive that I lost my appetite and cancelled my dessert. There seemed to be something shady going on in the kitchen, with furtive looks and muttered conversations being cast in our general direction.
When the waffles arrived they were dry, stone cold and with no chocolate sauce. I tasted one and had to spit it out immediately. It was not sweet, not moist, but tasted strongly of old fat. Because they were so cold the ice cream did not melt, but sat greasily on top. It was truly disgusting. I sent them both back and got my money refunded, but we all left feeling more than a little sick.
The entire bill (for 3 drinks and 3 main courses) came to £56.13.
~~The service, the toilets, cleanliness in general~~
The service was OK, but not great. Our young waitress just coped when it was quiet but became noticeable less smiley and more tense as the restaurant started to fill up. The main course and drinks arrived very quickly but there was a very long wait for the desserts, perhaps as a result of the increase in trade.
The general feel of the whole restaurant was fairly grubby. The table was sticky and the floor covered in crumbs. Although there were token beer mats stuck in the menu holder, the waitress made no move to use them. I imagine they were there to try to re-create the Belgian beer experience, but a Belgian waiter would have slapped the beer mats down before placing the glasses on the table.
Going downstairs to the basement to access the toilet area was decidedly off-putting. As no finger bowls or wipes had been provided to clean our sticky hands, a trek downstairs was essential - and by the nasty, sticky state of the painted bannisters I could see that many diners had been there before me for the same reason.
The toilets themselves actually made me feel a bit ill. One was entirely blocked with excrement - every cubicle had wet lumps of toilet tissue on the floor and one had a used tampon applicator lying there. The sinks were not clean and the whole place felt like it needed a good deep clean.
A notice on the wall told me to inform the manager if the toilets needed servicing. This I did immediately, to be told that they were checked every hour to keep them fresh. This was 6.30pm on a Saturday night, and it was not busy at all. I can confidently say that the toilets had not been checked or cleaned since that morning at the earliest.
As we paid our bill a trainee manager asked us if we had enjoyed our visit. We just laughed. To his credit, he did seem very concerned and said that he valued our feedback and would speak to his manager. I think he may have taken even more off the bill, but as we had found the food OK we did not push this.
As a final straw, I failed to notice that 12.5% service charge had been added to the bill. I paid by credit card and when prompted, said NO to the question "do you wish to leave a tip". It would seem that if I had said yes, I would have paid another 10% to the 12.5% already included on my bill. This seems to me a system designed to trick the unwary customer who may have enjoyed one too many Belgian beers. I was cross enough to have missed the 12.5% which had already been included. If I had ended up paying a 22% tip I would have been furious!
~~Would I return?~~
I will never ever return to the Kingsway Belgo, but I have since read in reviews that Belgo Centraal in Covent Garden is far better. I will give Belgo another try - but perhaps cautiously, going in to sample their fantastic beers before committing myself to any food!
Summary: Dirty restaurant, average food, disgusting dessert