Kelly Bishop find the food doesn't quite live up to the beer at Belgica
I’m hungry, but not so hungry I could eat a - well thankfully, one of the three minced meats used in a traditional Belgian “bicky” burger is banned in the UK. Too skinny and boney for me anyway.
If you want cheap lager, you’ve got plenty of options in town, so come here knowing you’ll pay a little more for something a lot higher quality.
New bar and dining spot Belgica has er, reined it in a bit for the sensitive English market while offering a menu of largely Flemish food not really found elsewhere Merseyside - oh and siu mai, a legal requirement on at least 50% of Liverpool menus regardless of cuisine.
Ever looking for adventure, on the plate and otherwise, I’m in.
The first thing that hits me is the smell of the fryer which Airwicks the entire bar with eau de stale fat. Unfortunately, it’s also the last prevailing memory as it impregnates itself into my bleach-fried hair and travels home with me via public transport.
So far, more fryer than friar.
The odour tells a true tale, the food here is deep-fried and meaty. Appropriately, this is a tried and tested match for beer. And it’s beer that this place is all about. Largely of the Belgian Trappist and Lambic styles. You’re talking higher alcohol content (7% minimum on average) and, as a few internet grumblers have pointed out since the bar launched in late 2021, it’s on the pricey side.
If you want cheap lager, you’ve got plenty of options in town, so come here knowing you’ll pay a little more for something a lot higher quality. You don’t need to drink it in pints either, my cheap date and I were squiffy after a 330ml bottle of Boon Ode Geuze (£6.50) - the champagne of beer - and a half of the aptly named Delirium (£3.50).
If I came back, it would be for beer and chips.
The decor nods to the theme with everything from stained glass to Smurfs. There are appropriate posters dotted around the walls and it’s got a comfortable pub feel which no doubt works of an evening for those lured in by the sandwich board outside promising live sports, drinks deals and boss vibes.
I haven’t explored Belgian food much, so I was hoping for something authentic by way of an education. I’m not entirely convinced what you get here is the real MerckxCoy but I learned something from studying the menu at least.
I see the words “beer” and “cheese” and that’s enough for me to order this starter. I had envisioned something pretzely and dippy and what I get is a plate of kids' birthday party style cubed cheddar pierced with little Belgian flags on cocktail sticks (£3.50). They’re served with the non-kid-friendly accompaniments of mustard and celery salt for dipping. I’m a fan of both condiments but I'm not sure the cheese needs more salt and the mustard lacks a kick.
There is only one person doing bar and service when we visit on a very quiet lunchtime. Harriet is lovely, full of smiles and does her best to explain the Belgian offering. She recommends a decent beer and does table service even though you are supposed to order at the bar. It would be interesting to see how service differs on a mad busy Saturday but I suspect Harriet is always a delight.
Harriet tells us beer cheese is a Belgian tradition like when they give you crisps in a bar in Spain. I would have hoped for something more stinky. Bittenballen (£7) are a Dutch snack of breadcrumb coated balls filled with a sort of salty meat paste interior. The super crunchy exterior gives way to innards with an uncooked sausage texture. They’re not going to make it into my personal beer snack hierarchy.
It gets us thinking about how normal it is in European bars to get given snacks with your drinks - often free of charge unless you’re on Las Ramblas. Here in the UK, it’s fallen out of favour. Remember the days of bowls of peanuts on the bar at the pub before the whispers went around about blokes not washing their hands? Nobody likes a pissy peanut. Even if that didn’t put you off, Covid has put paid to any notion of communal pub snacking in Britain. RIPeanuts.
Any Spanish holiday comparisons are cruelly quashed when our croquettes (£6) arrive more reminiscent of the McCain potato version than the tapas staple. Far chunkier and more crisply fried than the aforementioned freezer fave, the advertised gouda and ham are far outgunned by the lumpy mashed potato element. They’re, *shrugs*, ok. Both the croquettes and bitterballen come with an “authentic” honey mustard dipping sauce (via a Brakes catering jar, I’d wager) that also doubles as dressing for the iceberg, bagged salad leaf and cherry tomato salad that accompanies every dish. That’s the endive any notions of Belgian authenticity for me.
“It’s basically a Big Mac sauce,” Harriet tells me when I ask her about my burger’s “bicky sauce”. And yeah, I guess it is. Belgians seem to love mixing mayo with BBQ sauce or ketchup, something my partner finds an absolutely disgusting habit of my own. I’m going to tell him it’s classy and continental from now on, which I’m sure will improve his response.
The bicky burger (£10) is fine for the price which includes chips and salad. It’s juicy, well seasoned and craggy in the trending “smashed” style but I wouldn't rush back for it. Double frying the skin-on fries makes them nice and crunchy but I suspect they've come from a freezer bag and are not quite the hallowed continental fries I'd hoped for.
I’m not a big stewed meat fan but my lunch date enjoys her unphotogenic Flemish stew (£13). The meat is tender and falling apart and the chips and salad bolster it. These are hearty portions and don't leave us any room for dessert.
The news of Belgica opening was popular with Liv Con readers and if you’re looking for an extensive choice of proper Belgian beer and some food to keep you steady in the face of the high ABVs, it’s fine. But it just made me want to hop on a plane to experience the real thing.
Belgica, 96 Wood St, Liverpool L1 4DQ
Follow Kelly on Instagram @keliseating
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Beer cheese 4, bitterballen 5, croquettes 5, bicky burger 6.5, stew 7
Harriet is a star
We went on a quiet lunch time but I imagine it's jumping at the weekends