By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

According to Wikipedia, it is sometimes said that Belgian food is served in the quantity of German cuisine but with the quality of French food. A certain Belgian friend of mine makes the claim that Belgian food even surpasses that of France!

Now that is a claim I have yet to verify as I have only been to Brussels twice and France on many, many occasions and enjoyed French cuisine in all its regional manifestations. This mild ‘Francophilia’ has left me with hankerings for certain dishes which are hard to find in this part of the world. Well prepared ones that is.

One of these is the Moules-frites or mussels cooked or steamed with white wine, onions and celery served with fries. The recipe has often been referred to as Belgium’s national dish but is also popular in neighbouring France where it is often listed as Moule Mariniere.

I have always enjoyed mussels and when they are done just right with some crusty bread to dip in the juices, crispy French Fries on the side, I find myself in culinary heaven.

Which was what happened when I had dinner in NorthSea Genuinely Belgian restaurant recently. This restaurant located opposite the Excelsior Hotel, near Greentown, which has changed hands and is under new management, has stayed true to its Belgian origins and new proprietor Chin Kim Yoon, an Ipohite and former Sam Tet boy who has returned to the fold, tells me that he spent a whole month learning all the recipes which the former Belgian owner shared during the handover and on tasting the food, I found that he had indeed learnt his lessons well.

The Mussels arrived in the pot in which they were cooked so that all the umami juices are retained for slurping up or dipping in. We usually use the shells as spoons and the tucking in with hands and the slurping of the juice all lent to the enjoyment of the dish. The mussels which were the green lipped variety from New Zealand, were juicy and cooked just right although I did make the suggestion to Chin that they would have been even more yummilicious if Chilean mussels were substituted. Can be ordered as a starter or as main course. RM49 for half kilo and RM90 for 1kg. Served with crispy French Fries.

We were a group of four and decided we’d have different starters for variety. Belgian-style Scallops were herby, garlicky and done just right (slightly undercooked) and the butter sauce great for mopping up with bread – RM25;  while the Ostend Shrimp croquettes (a breadcrumbed fried roll using potatoes, egg and shrimp) were generously sized and juicily oozy in the mouth – RM25. Mushroom soup followed which was umami and thick enough without being gloopy – RM15.

For the main course we had the Pan Fried Salmon on a bed of mashed carrot potatoes which was done to perfection: the skin crisped while the flesh was still pink and the cream sauce was creamy without being cloying. Throw in some fresh parsley, thyme, bay leaf and onions and you have a dish that is fulfilling and tasty – RM39.

Next we shared the Chicken Chop with a blue cheese sauce, served with onion fries. The chicken was tender and still slightly charred on the edges which gave it a nice little crunch and the blue cheese sauce was creamy without the blue cheese being overbearing, instead, lifting the chop out of its common status into a fresh perspective – RM39.

The Homemade Belgian Pork Meatball was the icing on the cake for this meal. The four of us were so taken by the humongous meatballs that we tucked in despite being satiated to the gills. The meatballs, coated with a mildly sweet sauce cooked with raisins, was juicy, umami and delectable all rolled (literally) into one. One meatball is more than I can handle in one meal so my suggestion is to order two (minimum order) and share. Served with boiled potatoes and a side salad. RM29 for 2 and RM39 for 3.

Other dishes worthy of mention include their Clam Chowder (not on the menu so do ask if they have it for the day) which is creamy and brimming with seafood and mussels – RM49; NorthSea Duck Breast with boiled potatoes and a Balsamic vinegar dip – RM39.

For drinks, NorthSea specialises in (what else?) Belgian Beer. For a comparatively small country, Belgium produces a very large number of beers in a range of different styles – in fact, it has more distinct types of beer per capita than anywhere else in the world. The beers offered at NorthSea are not your run-of-the-mill variety but very specially imported ones ranging in price from the Crafted Belgian Beer and Ales at RM39 per bottle, to the Fruity Belgian Beers at RM35 to the regular Belgian Beers at RM25. This is probably the only place in all of Ipoh to offer some of these beers.

For dessert we had what Belgium is famous for and that is their waffles which come in over a dozen regional varieties. Here at NorthSea, we had the Waffles with ice cream – RM25, and the Belgian Chocolate Cream, a scoop of Belgian chocolate ice cream with whiskey topped with whipped cream and a Belgian biscuit – RM15.

NorthSea is certainly worth a return visit but if beer is not your thing, bring your own wine and pay RM40 for corkage.

NorthSea Genuinely Belgian
44 Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil, 30450 Ipoh.
Tel.:  011 1191 5940
Chin:  016 220 2227
Business hours:  6pm-10.30pm. Closed Tuesdays.