Eating @ ... Belgian Beer Cafe Torenhof
There’s an element of New York cool to our very own Belgian Beer Café Torenhof – specifically, it recalls the Big Apple’s penchant for tucking killer watering holes and dining hot spots in unusual and unassuming locales. You can’t help but be reminded of this as you enter Christchurch’s hallowed ground of fine Belgian ales and European cuisine mastery via The Colombo’s car park. If there’s an additional sense of déjà vu once you’re inside the reinstated Belgian Beer Café Torenhof’s 1920s-hip time capsule, too, it’s on account of the entire fit-out (sans a few broken glasses) being relocated from their old central city venue and repurposed into its current digs following the quakes.
The establishment expresses its anachronistic Belgian ‘brown bar’ bent via the familiar dark wood panelling and bevelled edge mirrors, sturdy dark-wood furniture, leather booth seating, deco lighting and vintage maps, paintings, and retro Belgian beer paraphernalia decorating the walls – alongside some curious measuring gadgets. (There’s a story there, but it’s best heard from the team over a beer!) At its heart the traditional marble-topped bar (which would have kept smallgoods cool back in the day) completes the timewarp. Tag-teaming cosy pub aesthetic and Tardis-like capaciousness, this sepia-daubed institution is immediately welcoming and – note to movie scouts – could easily pass as an ancient, much-loved Brussels neighbourhood local.
We hit the bar, and a round of perfectly poured, and cut, Stella Artois is produced exactly to the decades old ‘ritual’/tradition by the deft and dapper barkeep. As the menu indicates, the iconic and most famous of the Belgian brews has been knocking around since 1926 and is the proud owner of the world’s oldest logo (gotta love some pub trivia without the performance anxiety!).
Our super-friendly waitress talks us through the menu, suggesting some of the more choice offerings while accompanied by the background buzz of the excited chatter and clinking glassware and cutlery of likeminded individuals pre-welcoming the weekend on a Thursday night.
We get the party started with the bodacious trifecta of Belgian croquettes in beef, spicy sausage, and mushroom with Dijon mustard. Each is crispy golden on the outside and light, fluffy tastiness within. The same is also true of the contents of the addictive, signature giant cone of fries, served with creamy mayo for dunking, which ensures the cone is swiftly emptied between sips. Knocking it out the park is the Hoegaarden-laced chicken liver and smoky bacon pate; a revelation in its rich and creamy goodness. It coats the mouth like a fine foie gras with delicate notes of bacon, sage, and the earthy wheatiness of the beer; when slathered (with a heavy-hand!) on the crisp bread, and paired with the spicy sweetness of an intense fig chutney, it immediately becomes a table favourite, resulting in bargaining tactics coming into play over the last serve.
Before the mains arrive we order in more drinks and, while there are handy beer matches and ‘golden rules’ to matching beer with food on the menu, we throw caution to the wind and order off-piste – firstly top Trappist drop Chimay Bleue and secondly a Raspberry Black Velvet, from the brand new beer cocktails menu. It’s a (literally!) heady concoction that features Leffe Brune topping bubbles and muddled fresh raspberries – rich and chocolatey, with the raspberries bring the Brune’s fruitiness to the fore in a sip-indudcing sweet and bitter balance.
Both choices work perfectly with the gourmet line-up of flaky Flemish fish sauteed in a stunning symphony of walnut and lime butter, the peppery meaty hit of Belgian-style sausages with a buttery mash and sage jus, and piquant harissa-marinated chicken breast with baked artichokes and tangy lemon yoghurt.
It’s a test case in big flavours, big serves and exceptional value – we’re already starting to the hit the wall, but it appears willpower is weak at the table when it comes to saying no to authentic delicacies like Belgian chocolate brûlée with its tap-worthy shell, silken bitter-sweet chocolate custard, nutty praline and red berries to cut through the rich chocolate, and Brusselse baked waffles. The latter’s crisp waffles smothered with burnt caramel and grilled bananas is a dizzying high to end to our three-hour Belgian escape in the central city, and we stagger out vowing we’ll be back!
Belgian Beer Café Torehof
20 Durham Street
03 377 1007