If You Need One Reason to Visit Tongeren, Bistro BIS is it (Belgium)
Tongeren’s been around for a while, and when I say ‘a while’ I mean several thousand years: in 15CE the city was known as Aduatuca Tungrorum. It is Belgium’s oldest city. It is home to sumptuous Roman architecture from the 4th century. It boasts lovely enclosed béguinages. It cradles a gothic tower by the name Basilica of Our Lady (a matron that should not be missed) in its bosom. Oh, it also has one of the most sublime restaurants east of Brussels. The kind of place worth seeking out. Spending a night.
There’s an immediate intimacy walking through the doors of BIS, it’s a sort of homecoming if you will. Wooden reclaimed tables, cork walls and gingham linen set the stage and are the backdrop to several contemporary art pieces and the bony remains of a cow on the wall, all of these elements forming part of the whole. Each one adding to the subtle down-home-turned-gaucho atmosphere that is a touch rock and roll and yet feels like you’ve walked into someone’s farmstead in eager anticipation of an evening filled with culinary creativity.
The sort of evening that will not disappoint.
Open Friday to Sunday, BIS seems to only have two seatings available with the idea being that patrons arrive for their reservation and can stay until the last drop of wine has been ingested. The menu features nine to ten seasonal dishes so one can either go à la carte or partake in a three course menu for the thrilling price of €35. (Note: four courses is a measly €49.)
Locally sourced and sustainable, the food is an interesting mish-mash of Mediterranean, European and new-world influences. Items have included coeur de canard with red beets, lamb with aubergine and panisse, homemade tortellini with ricotta and spinach, and a chocolate, coffee and cardamom confection.
An endnote worth throwing elbows for.
My famished friends and I ordered four multi-course menus. Almost all of us had two starters. A few of us had a wine pairing with our meal. One member of the table went for the duck heart, and, yours truly, asked for her dishes to be lactose free.
Now to get to the good stuff: the meal was formidable. Between conversations we were treated to on-point service and the undulation of background music that served as a killer soundtrack for our discourse. There was the gin-soaked apero laced with fiery notes of ginger. There was a full-bodied red wine I can still taste on my lips. There was the gingham-lined bread basked
I we attacked like rabid dogs; the bread so insufferably good we I had no shame in asking for more.
When the courses started coming we took our time appraising and deconstructing. We would admire the execution of every dish and compare notes on the flavours, and for the most part, almost everything was a hit: the intricacies of the simplest ingredients savoured. Each mouthful bringing us closer to the point of euphoric satiation.
So while it’s off the beaten track (seriously, did you know about the town of Tongeren before you read this post?) it is certainly worth the extra quarter tank of gas. An hour east of the Belgian capital, it’s a half day trip to take during your average weekend; you know, to see Our Lady and old Roman ruins, and to eat the sort of meal that will make you believe all is–momentarily–right in the world.
At the sort of place that will make your trip to Tongeren worth the while.
Hemelingen Straat 23
3700 Tongeren, Belgium
Open Friday to Sunday from 18:30 – 22:00
**This Intolerant suggests making a reservation ahead of time.