THE BELGIAN BAR OF A SUNDAY AFTERNOON
The Belgian Bar (actually, it’s officially the Belgian Café) seems to have always been here since I first started infesting the east Kent coast. But I forget about it until, like today, a walk along the seafront carries us inexorably there.
It’s a frankly bizarre place, dim, dingy, grungy; every surface appears to be covered with a light film of grime, every pillar, ceiling and wall with flaking posters for long-forgotten bands. As you walk in a blackboard tells you something like you’ve found the true heart of Ramsgate, peopled by artists, philosphers, poets. They forgot to mention the pissheads.
I don’t know what it’s like at night – never braved it. But of a Sunday afternoon, it’s riotous with punters who, having availed themselves of the heaving carvery, a carnival of greyish meat and pneumatic Yorkshire puddings, have settled in for the rest of the day to get quietly arseholed.
There’s a lone chap tinkling tunelessly at the piano while his young daughter plays with an anomalous bank of computers. Several other lone chaps of varying degrees of whiskeriness gaze into their beerglasses. D goes into a bit of an intimidated fugue and hustles past the long front of the bar where the artists, philosophers and poets are bellowing at each other over foaming pints, to hide in the even dingier back room. It is a large, lugubrious chamber hectically decorated with local amateur ‘art’ and smelling of greasy, vinegary chips. This might be the establishment’s own output or might be wafting through from Peter’s Fish Factory next door; it’s hard to tell.
Sadly, his attempt to hide is thwarted: a bunch of vast squaddies with muscles that look like condoms full of walnuts invade our space, accompanied by a small elderly lady (‘we’ve only just met her,’ one says, ‘but she seems nice.’) ‘We’re doing sit-ups for Afghanistan’, they announce to us. Of course they are. The small elderly lady manages twenty, while one of the squaddies holds down her feet.
I have eaten here, when the chef was the lovely Adrian Mowle (uh-huh), but he left to feed the Queen at the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate and was last seen hightailing it to Australia’s Gold Coast. Not that this seems to trouble the Belgian’s website which still proudly announces ‘our award-winning chef Adrian’.
I’m not in a tearing hurry to sample their latest output if the forlorn fish cabinet and the sticky-paged menu – it looks like a school project that’s been assembled by a particularly sebaceous fourteen-year-old boy – are anything to go by. It all seems a bit, well, delusionally ambitious. And occasionally random – ‘smoked mackerel pate made with butterbeans’ eg; or the seafood plate which promises ‘crevette, crab, oyster, pan-fried scallop, mayo and other chef’s treats’. Other chef’s treats. That is still giving me pause for thought.
But the Belgian beer’s great. And I have enormous affection for the place, even though I now smell of chips. The squaddies said I was beautiful. That might, however, have just been in comparison to their new superannuated chum.
PS: The ‘squaddie and geriatric sit-ups’ pic is my worst ever. But I just wanted to prove it existed.