Food has played an important part in Ghent since medieval times: it was on the quays of the Leie river that ships docked to trade grains and have their corn weighed and graded. Today, the city is filled with farmers’ markets, speciality coffee shops, genever bars (for the traditional spirit drink) and fine-dining restaurants.
Local specialities like stoofvlees (Flemish stew) and stoverij (beef slowly stewed in beer) are staples of Ghent’s traditional restaurants, but if you want something different, head to Volta, where there is not a stoofvlees in sight. Anthony Snoeck, who heads an open kitchen with a weekly changing menu, is known as one of Belgium’s most dynamic chefs.
Volta is located in a former electric power station by leafy Groenevallei Park, about 10 minutes’ walk from Ghent’s historic centre, with a vast, stripped-back dining room that still manages to maintain a cosy feel, and an outdoor terrace for fair-weather days.
A small lunch menu is on offer, but the real deal happens in the evening with a choice of three tasting menus: Volts (€72) for five courses, Watts (€84) for six and Amps (€94) for seven. The final bill for Volts – with wine, water (it isn’t customary to ask for tap water in Belgium) and tip – comes to just over €100 per person. For a cocktail before dinner, arrive early for a drink created by head bartender Keith Cuveele at the High Voltage Bar upstairs.
My tasting menu opened with a creamy vitel toné amuse-bouche, followed by salmon with quinoa, yuzu and miso – a pungent dressing that worked extremely well with the raw fish.
The first starter was chicory with dried picanha beef and hervé cheese – the cured meat glistened with fat and instantly melted in the mouth. If you like strong cheese, then you would love this dish. A second starter of girolles, celery and a soft poached egg (I added a Périgord truffle for €15) was an intense, decadent combination of umami and bitter ingredients. I nearly asked for some bread to scoop up the leftovers.
We moved onto the main course: a rich dish of solomillo sirloin in gravy with a side of mash. It tasted good and was as close as it gets to what Flemish cuisine is about, in my mind at least, but I still looked at fellow diners who ordered from the Watts and Amps menu and envied their course of steamed bun, pork belly and spring onion.
The service was swift at first, but slowed down towards the end of the evening. We sat down at 8pm and by 10pm had finished the main course, yet it took another hour just to get dessert and the bill. When it finally arrived, I had finished my second glass of wine and was feeling peckish again. Described as “chocolate cake, orange, yoghurt, pecan nuts”, what came was a narrow slice of chocolate tart with a thick dollop of yoghurt on top. After waiting so long, it was a disappointment, with thin, hard pastry, though not so much as to spoil the memory of an almost excellent meal.
Giulia Mulè is a food and travel writer based in London who is passionate about sharing food photography on her Instagram feed (@mondomulia) and blog Mondomulia (mondomulia.com). Originally from Rome, Mulè has spent over a decade living in London and travelling the world. In her spare time, she organises brunch meet-ups with @IGBrunchClub and fundraising events with @CreatingForGood – a collective of Instagrammers who share their creative skills to raise money for selected charities.