Belgian Beer Cafe 13 Stanley Street In The Colombo car park, Sydenham
The imaginatively titled Belgian Beer Cafe once held prime position in Christchurch’s city centre. There it was all those years back, perched happily on the banks of the Avon, serving Belgian beer, mussels, steaks and frites. I was fond of the old place. It was warm, tossed in character, boldly cosmopolitan, yet, at the same time, somewhat homely. We all know what happened next. More than two years on, the Belgian Beer Cafe is back, rebooted like a tired old Hollywood franchise, eager to once again take centre stage and prove that its charms belong in the brave new world. So, will it bring in the crowds?
Well, in the new Christchurch, the Belgian Beer Cafe doesn’t sit proudly over the world’s slowest moving river. No, it’s almost hidden away in a car park behind a mall in Sydenham.
It’s a little trickier to find and the view isn’t as alluring. More parking though. So, while it may not be as grandiose as the original, it’s still charming, and even more importantly, still rather unique in Christchurch (even if it is a franchise).
The guts of the previous bar – the rich dark wooden tables and chairs, the memorabilia, the stuff with foreign words (Flemish? Walloon?) written on it – has all been saved, given a good polish, and put back out in the world. Together, it makes the bar feel permanent and proper.
Soon after taking my seat, I was greeted by a delightful European waitress, eager to explain the vast range of beers from the most remote reaches of deepest, darkest Belgium.
And even on a week night, it was reassuringly busy. Across the way, blokes with no-nonsense haircuts and jackets fussed over pints, as middleaged and elderly couples huddled close, hatching plans over Hoegarden.
The weekends, one of the staff later told me, were much busier. Then, he said, it was all about ‘‘getting the beer going’’, with live entertainment on Saturdays and Sundays.
I started with a glass of Kriek ($8.80) – a beer that somehow combines the taste of cherries, alcohol, and not feeling like less of a man.
Onto the food. The bar offers up half a kilogram of mussels along with frites ($12.50) for those types who actually enjoy mussels. Staying away from slimy seafood, I plumped for Bitterballen ($15.50), bizarrely soft, deep fried meatballs, with frites served in a very dapper cone. Enjoyable yes, but I was slightly disappointed they’d run out of goat’s cheese and tomato confit.
Food done. Back to the beer. Next up was a bottle of Sloeber (Joker) for the princely sum of $14.50. While not as dramatic as the Kriek, it was a great deal better than stumbling home stressed after work to find only a six-month-old warm light beer in the pantry. But for $14.50, there’s better beer on the menu. That’s pretty much a given, as there’s seemingly a million drinks on this menu.
The star here is the beer. Be warned, it isn’t cheap and they’re strong enough to knock you over.
The Belgian Beer Cafe has more than the most exotic beer menu in town. Again, it’s warm, inviting and striking. It’s a superb reimagining of an old classic; a successful reboot. Hours: Mon-Sat, 11am-late Sun, 10am-late How much: Mussels, $12.50/half kilo, $23.50/1kg, $47/2kg Mains: $17-$33