There are a couple of areas in the East of England that resemble Holland landscape-wise. ‘The Fens’ being one, and The Norfolk Broads being the other. In fact the Dutch helped drain and reclaim much land in these regions, evidence of which can still be seen in the shape of long, wide, straight ditches, and windmills both derelict and intact.
Bearing this in mind it’s probably not much of a surprise to find an ersatz brown café in one of the regions principle cites. You enter this establishment through an ecclesiastical style door, arched with a pointy top. Nice touch. Inside the decor is a reasonable interpretation of a Belgian café: Flemish and French posters, hints of Art Deco, brown stained wooden panels and a dark cream emulsion ceiling. It’s a bit of a tenuous link because the brown café concerned, in my adopted home of Norwich, happens to be inspired by cafes in Belgium rather than the Netherlands. But hey, can’t a guy use a bit of poetic licence?
The Belgian Monk is a great place to drink, and eat as it happens. They usually have around 6 to 8 Belgian beers on draught along with umpteen different bottled beers. Food-wise, the speciality of the house is moules et frites, none of you bog-standard moules et frites you understand, but moules et frites in a plethora of variations, including curried mussels...well, this is England after all - curry is our national dish.
The dilemma one is faced with when ordering a beer is narrowing it down to one. I rather like Kriek beer, I’ve tasted quite a number of different ones in my time but I guarantee that you will never have tried any other like the one that The Belgian Monk has on draught, Ter Doolen Kriek. It is pure Maraschino cherries. If you hadn’t been told it was a beer you might not guess. This delicately pink beverage is a perfect aperitif.
From the sublime to the ridiculous; this bar offers a great lager, Sparta Pils. I’m not much of a lager fan, after all it is really a girly drink, and given that “great lager” is an oxymoron, it would have to be quality stuff for me to eulogise about it. Brewed by Van Steenberge, Sparta is an unpasteurised pilsner style beer that has a fruity and flowery taste along with a discernible lack of bitterness. The perfect accompaniment to my mussels and chips. Delicious stuff.
Just when I think it can’t possibly get any better I discover that they have Grimbergen Blond on draught. In my opinion Grimbergen is the best Belgian Blond ale that there is. I realise this will have some Belgian beer aficionados holding their arms up in horror, but I think it is great. The fruitiness coupled with the lack of bitterness does it for me. The creamy body of Grimbergen Blond reminds me of drinking cream of soda as a lad. Trouble is, if you drank it like cream of soda, you would probably fall over. Tricky stuff gravity!
Norwich is a fantastic city for traditional pubs and I feel very fortunate for that, but to also have this gem virtually on my doorstep makes me feel very fortunate.
[Note: The painting of the pub to the upper right is from the Norwich Studio Art Gallery's line of art under the title Norwich Pub Painting Co. I think it is quite good as are the others. I once passed up a oil painting of a favorite bar and have regretted it ever since. Why isn't there more pub art? Also, our man Paul has confessed his thing for Grimbergen before.]