During my recent trip to Belgium, I attended a wonderful beer pairing dinner held at the Michelin recommended Het Land aan De Overkant restaurant, in Heverlee.  The esteemed head chef, Wim Dejohnge and his team had channelled their culinary mastermind into creating a custom beer pairing menu for our group, hosted in the restaurant’s private dining room.  They were even lovely enough to create a whole set of separate vegan dishes for me, which was incredibly thoughtful of them to do.  I went in with an open mind – Belgium is a country that knows its beer after all!

The evening kicked off with a refreshing glass of Heverlee Beer (which I’ve written more about here), not your typical aperitif by any means but it certainly did whet one’s appetite.  The Heverlee beer was paired with a lovely colourful artichoke, pumpkin and pickled vegetable appetiser.

Radicchio and crisp.  The next dish was light, crisp and zingy, a perfect palette cleanser.

Red Cabbage and Blueberries.  This salad course was beautifully presented and was served with a savoury sorbet.  It had the perfect balance of sweet and sour.

Oude Kriek Van Schaerbeeks Krieken.  This course was paired with a deep berry beer.  I know that many beer lovers scoff at the idea of fruit flavoured beers, however, I rather like them.  Particularly this one, which complemented the course beautifully.  The thumbs up for this beer were unanimous around our table of seasoned beer drinkers (at least more seasoned than me!).

Spinach & Seasonal Veg with a Miso and Black Sesame Sauce & Westmalle Tappist Teripel Beer.  The flavourful miso and spinach course was paired with an incredibly mighty beer, 9.5% in strength, which is pretty much double the alcohol content of most beers that are available in the UK.  It’s advisable to drink this one with caution!

Oud Bruin & Mok Ale.  The next course was paired with a selection of two beers.  One of which is brewed using coffee grounds (Mok Ale) and the other is brewed using oak leaves (Out Bruin).  Both had rich and complex flavours.

Wild Mushroom, Artichoke and Black Sesame.  This dish was knockout – it was by far my favourite of them all.  The mushroom was incredibly tender and flavourful.  The heavenly combination of toasted pine nuts and black sesame was a match made in heaven.

Vanilla and Smoked Pear.  The first of the dessert courses was this stunningly presented plate of deliciousness.  The smokiness helped to balance out the sweetness of the pear.  Oh and that almond milk and vanilla sorbet was divine!

Blackberry Panna Cotta with Peach and Caramel.  This dessert had a wonderful contrast of soft and crisp textures. This vegan-friendly panna cotta was made with almond milk – it was utterly delicious.

The last in the series of sweets was for me, a nice bit of fruit and some delicious aromatic coffee with almond milk.

Joined by Alan McGarrie from Heverlee Beer marketing, Emma Mykytyn from Foodie Explorers blog, Matthew Pike from Buckets and Spades blog, Sean Murphy from the Scotsman, and Helen McArdle from the Herald / Evening Times.

It was an incredibly enjoyable dinner and I would like to say a massive thank you to the amazing team of chefs at Het Land aan De Overkant for going to all the trouble of designing a veganised version of the menu for me.  I’ll definitely be returning!

After dinner, it was time to head out in Leuven to the ‘longest bar in the world’ to grab one last pint of Heverlee.  It transpired that the ‘longest bar’ title isn’t strictly accurate.  It’s not one specific bar, just a load of beer cafes (around 40) in a row that share the same seating area, which line the city’s Oude Markt Square.  Still, it’s a must when in Leuven!

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