City wanderings - and a pilgrimage to some of the best eating and drinking spots in Brussels. Or maybe not eating or drinking - ah, oh well.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Old Hack

The Fish and Chips look good.  In fact lots of dishes on adjacent tables look good as I survey the scene and eating punters in The Old Hack, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my meal.  There are plenty of suited business types around, but the decor is surprisingly spartan, even for someone who is used to seeing gastro pubs taking over from ye oldie-worldy interiors stuffed full with memorabilia and bric-a-brac.  A simple mousy-coloured curtain conceals the door, and a mural of the Daily Mail sub-editors table from 1947 is the only thing that keeps the blackboard menu company. 

However, several days later and memories of my lunch in The Old Hack still refuse to fade.  In the meantime I have slowly withdrawn from gossipy lunches with colleagues and drinks with friends, instead grappling with work, translations and seemingly interminable study.  Yes, I have become a rather unsociable being!  I began my weekend presenting a group project on skype to an (imaginary?) audience.  After several minutes of ramblings and a dodgy internet connection, I had the unsettling feeling that I was talking to myself, and my computer and I came to the tacit agreement that this should not go on.  I am craving interaction with people, rather than computer screens and virtual communities - or guinea pigs or tortoises, who I see on a weekly basis.  Of course, eating and drinking would be optional.  But oh for a job where a computer is no longer necessary!  Sometimes I feel like I was born several decades too late....

The scent of my meal wafts towards me as it proceeds through the maze of tables, held aloft proudly by our host.  I can see steam, and smell honey.  In moments of escapism I can still conjure up an image of that jambonneau advancing towards me, and my nose almost twitches at that distinctive honey smell.  Jambonneau does not normally smell of honey: it does in The Old Hack.  I have ordered a mini version, with a pumpkin and potato mash, which comes with a pot of sweet mustard.  Hmm, mustard.  I'm not convinced of the merits of mustard, but I like this one.  Even though, with the delicious flavour, it's not strictly necessary.  The mash reminds me of all that is good about British (yes, British) autumnal cooking - potato mash combined with parsnip, swede, carrot or pumpkin - all adding to a delicious comforting and filling combination.  I have written before about my love of this stodgy, flavoursome staple - luckily I live in a country where this can be indulged with carbonnades and stoemp galore!

While I am lost somewhere close to my culinary version of Heaven, my friend is attacking her spicy green curry with chicken and shrimps, presented with crackers and coconut shavings.  It is copious and tasty, as I can attest, but I am wedded to my colourful plate of jambonneau.  

The owner of our guest house in the Ardennes told me that there used to be many British and Irish pubs around the Schuman area in Brussels.  There are still a few dotted about, but inside The Old Hack I do not feel in Britain or Ireland.  This must be a european version of a Irish pub, and a very tasty one at that.  Book in advance, I say. 

Hack…"a writer or journalist producing dull, unoriginal work" (Source: OED online)

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