Blogger Toni De Coninck from June recounts
Toni De Coninck is a writer and journalist and, since 2015, editor-in-chief of the online travel and food magazine ‘June’. He writes about all things pleasurable in life, especially travel and gastronomy. June.be focuses on culinary tourism. Not necessarily with a capital c but always with a Q for Quality and an E for Enjoyment. He features the things you and I eat and drink when we venture out and about or on a trip or abroad. And every now and again he’ll include a star, but also the hop shoots in Poperinge, the wurst (sausage) on Alexanderplatz and the gelato (ice cream) in Firenze. June always gives the right tips and writes the most delicious stories. And there is always space for a museum, a shop, a hotel, a park, a bike ride or a great walk. We don’t travel to eat I’ll have you know. Mind you...
Toni is married and the father of two spunky teenagers.
Winter at the coast: Middelkerke
REPORT - 26.11.2018
The Belgian Coast is great whatever the season but especially so during winter as it’s wonderfully quiet and shellfish are at their very best! june. visited Middelkerke, Westende and Sint-Idesbald..
Middelkerke is the town of my youth. From ginormous pancakes, cuisse-tax rides and cocktails in Tamtam. I must have been close on twenty then, time I came clean I reckon. I still remember, as a I child sitting on a Maya the Bee towel, counting the strips of sand until the water took over for good: first there was the dry part, where the sand would disappear between your fingers as if it was sucked to the soil by some invisible force. Then the wrinkly bit, which I used to compare to my hands when I had stayed in the bath for too long. And finally, the strip which I imagined to be quicksand, those few seawater-soaked metres, that ever so briefly, for a few nanoseconds, seemed to suck in your feet. In those days, we used to stay in the water for ages, unconcerned by the ever chilly water. Jumping and yelling, every now and again making sure that we didn’t accidentally step on a slippery jellyfish.
'The same happens me with scents, the perfume of a stunningly beautiful woman'
It’s strange how memories fade and suddenly resurface again, as if someone switched on the light in a retrospective space in the cortex. The same happens me with scents, the perfume of a stunningly beautiful woman, but also the smell of cardboard that tends to hang in old houses. Sounds! I know exactly how far from the sea you start hearing the surf when the tide is in. In Westende, you’ll get it midway Wulpenlaan. Suddenly it is there, tentatively at first, before turning into a roaring force in no time at all. I absolutely adore the Belgian Coast during the winter months! As we, well-wrapped up, make our way from Westende-Bad to the well of Middelkerke, where we used to hire our go-karts once upon a time, we can count the number of visitors on about three hands. Dogs? About ten perhaps. Small terriers, tail-wagging Labradors, a sheepdog or two.
In the sculpture park, on the boundary between the two seaside resorts, ‘Caterpillar 5 bis’ and ‘I can hear it’ were joined by Nick Ervincks’s ‘Olnetop’ a number of years ago. In my book, it’s the structure that epitomizes my obsession with sea sounds. Ervinck froze the movement of the splashing water and sculpted the surf in yellow polyester. The sculpture towers eight metres above the dunes and, in this blazing dynamic, only tolerates the company of the waving beach grass and the odd few broom flowers, that hardy flora that stubbornly tries to defy the weather well into November and December. This year, Simon Dybbroe Moller created a semi-sunken helm near beach club De Kwinte in Westende, the Navigator. It’s a nostalgic monument. Anyone who had access to the Internet in the 90s will certainly recognise the Netscape logo, the browser that was soon run over by the Microsoft express train.
'Thirteen euro fifty, dear people, but please keep it to yourself'
We had lunch in Den Toogoloog, the pub that must be one of the best-kept secrets by the North Sea. Den Toogoloog serves hundreds of beers, from every province and region. We don’t know any pub that has such an extensive list of Trappist beers. All the Belgian, the Dutch, even Tre Fontane from Italy. Here you will find Jus de Mer on draught, that fantastic blonde triple that is brewed a few streets away. Served in a deep snifter, with a creamy head that leaves a subtle trace in the corners of your mouth as you drink it. We feasted on West-Vlaamse hutspot (hotchpotch) which was so delicious that someone should instantly give Den Toogoloog an award for this culinary heritage. The flavours of the cabbages, potatoes and carrots cleverly fused, and tucked in between the vegetables pieces of ham, slices of bacon and a sausage we devour with a world-class mustard, the Wostyn mustard from Torhout. ‘Thirteen euro fifty, dear people, but please keep it to yourself, for there isn’t a better one.' Middelkerke has plenty more beer expertise in store: Karin and Dirk, the former owners of Den Toogoloog, now run B&B Lupuline and take you around the local beer landscape in their retro bus.
Many regret the fact that the belle époque homes with a view of the sea had to make way for apartment blocks which, other than the unfortunate result of a country with only 67 km of coastline, was simply the logical consequence of the democratisation of tourism. A coastline like the Dutch Zeeland one would be unaffordable here, houses would cost a million euro and a meal would be twice the price we’re paying today. I have often wondered what the best solution might have been: keeping the Belgian coast open and beautiful, reserved for a certain elite, or choosing a solution that wasn’t all that obvious either. High-rise. Here and there you will still find a few remnants, stuck between high-rise and their beauty and elegance is difficult to imagine. In Westende, the local tourist office is located in one such gem, Villa Les Zéphyrs. In 1922, the Ghent Muyshondt family, a doctor’s family, built this home according to the drawings of Architect Oscar Van de Voorde. The stained-glass windows, the bathroom with sunken terrazzo bath, the basement kitchen and the art nouveau furnishings in the dining room and smoking room are quite spectacular. Bauhaus founder Henry Van de Velde took care of the panelling, sideboards and chimney breast!
Did you know that Middelkerke has quite a few small boutique hotels? Villa Hotel Westende is one of them. A throwback to the English gentlemen’s clubs, some shades of black and red and a jacuzzi on the terrace we thought it would be best to leave for another day. And did you know that Sint-Idesbald, a mere ten kilometres down the road, is known as ‘the golden triangle’ of coastal gastronomy? With the famous Carcasse of Master Butcher Hendrik Dierendonck as epicentre? We treated ourselves to veal tartare and calf’s brains on toast with capers and a titillating piece of Simmental de Bavière with some coarse salt and four side dishes: cauliflower with Lardo, red onion confit, beetroot with Comté and a jacket potato with chervil mayonnaise. In Middelkerke itself, new kid on the block VLASS is another incredible place to eat. The Belgian Coast is a wonderful and particularly delicious destination. And that a fortiori applies during wintertime. It’s when shellfish are at their very best. And pancakes, don’t they taste great in every season?
- We stayed at Villa Hotel Westende, Charles de Broquevillelaan 17, Tel.: +32 (0)497/53.32.01
- Lunch: Bierspeciaalzaak Den Toogoloog, Kerkstraat 7, tel. 059/42.66.02
- Diner: Carcasse, H. Christiaenlaan 5, Sint-Idesbald, tel. 058/51.72.49. Carcasse is an Epicurean West ambassador.
- Three other top restaurants in the area: VLASS, Julia en Willem Hiele.
- Visit brewery Jus de Mer, Westendelaan 142a.
- Extra tip: Make sure to check the webcam with live images to see what the weather has in store.
The photographs of Restaurant Carcasse and Villa Les Zéphyrs were kindly supplied by Jan Darthet. General information:
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