Ghent may be known for its dramatic Gothic skyline, but behind its Medieval heart lies a young and dynamic culinary scene that boasts some of the finest, most vibrant food in Belgium. Here, comforting Flemish specialities share the spotlight with exciting global cuisines that keep even the keenest of foodies on their toes.
There’s more to the East Flanders capital than its famously impressive architecture. If you venture beyond Ghent’s centuries-old castles and cathedrals, you’ll find that the city is home to an ever-evolving food scene. The city’s culinary offering is characterised by a close-knit community of restaurateurs with an eye towards sustainability – “one big neighbourhood”, as Kim Devisschere and Nele Victoor, the chef and partner from the popular Ghent restaurant Roots, describe it. Whether you plan to get your fill of Flemish delicacies at well-loved bistros or catch up with the latest food trends at hip eateries, Ghent’s best restaurants encapsulate the spirit of a city known to cherish the old and embrace the new.
Enjoy traditional fare at Du Progres
Brasserie, Restaurant, Belgian, $$$
Looking to sample a bona fide Flemish meal in Ghent? Du Progres has you covered with its offering of beloved classics that hold a special place in the hearts of many residents. Within in a lofty space decked out in subdued black-and-gold accents, this long-standing family-run brasserie has been cooking up traditional dishes such as Belgian steaks, stoverij (beef stew), gentse waterzooi (Ghent stew) and pork cheek stew with Westmalle beer and Tierenteyn mustard for over three generations. The food here is so reliably good that it’s known among Ghent residents as een vaste waarde (trusty go-to). Take note, however, that despite its uninterrupted opening hours, Du Progres’s long-enduring popularity and prime location smack bang in the middle of Korenmarkt means that reservations are a must.
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Having moved a few doors down from its previous location on Papegaaistraat, Gust now occupies a larger and brighter space more befitting its status as Ghent’s best brunch spot. In-the-know customers flock here on the weekend for Gust’s epic all-you-can-eat brunch spread (€28 or £24 per person), featuring home-made jams, Italian charcuterie, hummus, vegetarian quiche and even American-style pancakes. If brunch is not your thing, its all-day breakfast alone is worth a visit (try the naan with spinach pesto, mint, roasted broccolini and burrata).
Located a mere hop, skip and jump away from Shopping Gent Zuid, Lokaal is a cosy tea room that moonlights as an even cosier eatery championing seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. Along with their affable team, owners Arno, Jelmer and Bliki whip up vibrant vegetarian and vegan menus that change weekly based on what’s fresh and available at the organic farms from surrounding communities. With its full commitment to environmental sustainability, Lokaal is another solid example as to why Ghent still retains its status as ‘Europe’s Veggie Capital’.
While Belgium’s fast-food national pride and joy is frietjes (fries), the country’s restaurant scene is increasingly flirting with the flavours of Asian street snacks. Here in Ghent, couple Manor Grunewald and Lisa De Brouwere have transformed their love of dumplings into the city’s first dumpling bar, Steamy Windows, which is located just off Graffiti Street. Starting from €4.80 (£4.10), these bite-size delights come with a variety of fillings, such as pork, chicken, prawn and beef as well as vegan and vegetarian options. Its side-dish menu, while small, offers healthy treats, including seaweed salad and steamed bok choy served with fermented black bean sauce. It’s the perfect restaurant to enjoy a mid-afternoon snack.
Rustic eatery Il Mezzogiorno serves excellent Sicilian food | Courtesy of Il Mezzogiorno
Judging from its unassuming facade, you might not expect this Italian restaurant to have the power to transport you to the coast of Sicily. But such is the charm that defines the atmosphere of Il Mezzogiorno – a rustic eatery tucked away on the edge of the city centre – that you could well be in a quaint Sicilian trattoria. In the open kitchen, owner and chef Michele Triolo and his team zero in on what makes Sicilian cuisine so special – a marriage between fresh seasonal ingredients and the island’s diverse culinary influences. And while seafood is where they excel (try the couscous alla trapanese with fish and seafood), the best of terra (land) and orto (vegetables) is also showcased on the menu, complete with an extensive list of natural wines to match.
Chef Kim Devisschere and his partner Nele Victoor are firm believers in no-frills, democratically priced gourmet dining. Their ethos has translated into Roots, a snug bistro hidden away in one of the cobblestone alleys in Ghent’s charismatic Patershol neighbourhood. As the name implies, the restaurant is all about Devisschere’s West Flemish origin, combined with the use of strictly local, seasonal ingredients that dictate what’s on the fixed-price menu – €29 (£24.70) for a three-course lunch or €59 (£50.30) for a six-course dinner, which comes with the choice of dessert or cheese. Thanks to Devisschere’s creative, inspired cooking, dishes here come bursting with colour, texture and flavours from unexpected ingredients, such as pigeon liver, skate and smoked eel.
Aroy Aroy pairs regional Thai food with Belgian tipples
While most Thai restaurants in Ghent rely on typical crowd-pleasers such as tom yum soup and pad thai, Aroy Aroy digs deeper into the country’s well-loved cuisine, showcasing its full regional spectrum with a Belgian twist from local craft beers and natural wines. Founded by the Blanckaert brothers, this former pop-up has been doubling down on its original concept since finding a permanent address on Lange Steenstraat in early 2018. Its fixed menu, which starts from €45 (£38.30), is a thrilling smorgasbord of Thai regional specialities, such as southern-style dry curry and crispy duck laab (northeastern-style spicy salad).
Opened in 2007, Amatsu has been serving up tasty Japanese food with a consistency that easily justifies its reputation as the best Japanese restaurant in Ghent. You can hardly go wrong with an assortment of the chef’s choice sushi and sashimi here, although a degustation menu for €65 (£55.40) is also available for a more substantial and varied meal. Whichever you choose, make sure to leave some room for the green tea crème brûlée. Despite its proximity to the always buzzing Korenmarkt, the restaurant feels cosy and intimate, thanks to its low-lit interior. Grab a table out on the back terrace if weather permits.
Located diagonally across from Gent-Sint-Pieters station, this tropical-themed joint specialises in 100 percent Irish beef burgers that come with a friendly price tag. A handful of varieties are on offer, from the classic Paul’s Boutique to the fiery Sex Pistol (for an extra €3.50 (£3), you can even level up with black angus beef). Apart from beef and chicken, Paul’s Boutique also caters to non-meat eaters with a fish option and six different vegetarian burgers. Complete the experience with a side of hand-cut fries and a bottle of Gentse Strop.
Indian restaurant Rasoi rolls out the city’s best all-you-can-eat meal
It’s hard to stand out on the restaurant-dotted Vlaanderenstraat, but this family-run eatery pulls it off with its authentic, full-flavoured Indian food. Set in a large dining room complete with a sizeable back terrace, Rasoi offers an all-you-can-eat deal that doesn’t skimp on quality. For €10.50 (£8.95) at lunch and €14.50 (£12.40) for dinner and at weekends, you can indulge in Punjabi classics including samosas, butter chicken, palak paneer, vegetable biryani, dal tarka and freshly baked tandoori chicken. A choice of chutneys and a small salad bar are also available.