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Your guide for where to eat in Mechelen on a weekend getaway trip from two relatively fussy foodies!
We sat in silenced awe and bliss, shocked at just how tender the perfectly seared duck fillet in front of us was. Plunging the deep red sliced fillet into a pool of delicately spicy gravy sauce, we chased each other’s forks around the plate to savour every last drop.
Spiking the last slice from the layered stack on our sharing plate, Stefan raised his brows and sighed happily ‘This is the best duck I’ve ever had, which is the last thing I expected in Mechelen’.
Our weekend getaway to Mechelen was meant to be many things – filled with history, a leisurely chance to explore more of a European country I’ve barely visited, and a little getaway for Stefan and I to have some local adventures.
We were thrilled to be invited by the tourism board of Mechelen to enjoy the town on our own terms, hitting the sights and exploring with camera in hand.
There’s nothing I love more than packing a carry-on suitcase and flitting off to another country for a weekend. Explaining the joy of this to anyone who didn’t grow up on an oversized island hundreds of kilometres from other countries is near impossible.
But here, living in Vienna, weekenders in Belgium aren’t a fantasy, they are a lovely option that we took full advantage of.
What we weren’t expecting from our trip, was the sheer variety of high-quality food we came across in Mechelen. I’ll admit, hands in the air, before we left, I thought I knew what to expect from Belgian cuisine.
Beer, mussels, frites and er, chocolate. (Chocolate is a food group, right?)
That alone was enough to get excited over – the beer quality and culture in Belgian is well known and deserved, and far be it from me to resist delicious seafood options and chocolate.
Once we got to Mechelen, we found there was so much more to discover than the standard tourist fare.
The selection of restaurants, cafes and bars listed below are the ones we managed to hit up in our short 3 days in town, upon recommendations from some local friends and invitations from the tourism board.
I’ll freely admit when it comes to food, Stefan is by far the more discerning foodie than I am. I mean, when he met me, I was eating Spag bol on the daily and lucky if I found some fancy cheeses to pair with wine.
So when we’re assessing a restaurant, the overall quality of food judgements from him are way more strict than mine. I know what I like, but am more interested in the ambience, design of the place, service and overall experience. Stefan’s meal can be ruined by a mismatch between the menu promise and food delivery. Don’t even get him started on ‘deconstructed’ dishes.
In that way, we’re a pretty good balance between his hipster-hating, high-quality standards, and my indulgence adoring, ambience motivated assessments.
In Mechelen, we found a great mix of both – pleasing my brunch and cute cafe needs, and his high standards of food quality and service.
Not to mention, the best duck fillet of our lives.
Some of the restaurants below we were invited to, others we happened upon ourselves, but all judgements below are entirely our own opinion, mildly influenced by great wine pairings and sugar highs.
Where to Eat in Mechelen, Belgium
Coffee & Brunch
Let’s start with the most important meal of the day, as you all know that’s where my true love lies. Brunch!
Nestled right by the waterside courtyard area of Vismarkt, Sister Bean is a small, cosy adorable spot for coffee, cake or brunch. On weekends they have a brunch buffet setup upstairs, made of entirely homemade dishes and lovingly laid out by the owners.
The decor here is quaint, wooden, handmade and homely feeling. There aren’t a huge amount of tables inside, so it gets busy pretty quickly and can definitely attract the stroller-and-families crowd, which makes it seem even smaller, but somehow bustling like a big family get together in your mum’s kitchen.
The food is focussed on being healthy, so the breakfast menu has yoghurt bowls, overnight oats and banana bread on offer, but if you are in on the weekend the brunch buffet has equally healthy options.
The only thing to note here is that service is very….relaxed.
There is no sense of rush and hurry, and if you manage to snag a spot in the sunshine on the outside terrace tables then you could very easily while away a few hours here sipping coffee and nibbling cake. However, if, like us, you had a limited time in the city and want to get on with exploring, the slowed down service could be annoying.
So overall, worth dropping in for a decent coffee, but exercise caution if trying to schedule your day around visiting here!
This was one we accidentally tripped over as we were up early to catch the morning market and sunrise (yes, we’ve become those hideous 30-something friends of yours who get up early and do activities).
Little more than one long hallway and 3 or so tables to perch on out front, Beans packs a punch in the coffee stakes and ticked all my boxes for quality coffee, snack-sized nibbles and really friendly service.
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The #1 sign we knew we had hit the jackpot? There was a group of local guys sat beside us in the early morning light who looked like they regularly met at the same spot each week, chatting away with the waiter and sneaking treats to their pup!
If the locals are regularly there, you know it’s reliably good.
Located along the main high street of shops and architecture, Beans is a great ‘on the go’ refuel coffee option. There were some good looking breakfast options and to be honest I regretted having eaten already by the time we visited – waffles, breakfast bowls, bagels and overnight oats.
Though we only stopped in, Beans ended up being my favourite coffee & brunch spot, from the quality of coffee, speed of service and menu options
This had all the right cute-hipster-coffee-shop ingredients: ironic Kanye West lyric wall art, home made and vegan cakes, but most deliciously they also had a wide variety of delicious ice creams.
In fact the cafe is primarily a lunch and ice cream/milkshake bar, with some warm food options available into the afternoon.
They have some communal tables out front and inside, and the requisite window bar stools and bench perch. We popped in for a mid-afternoon sugar pick-me-up after a day of traipsing the city. This is definitely the kind of cutesy spot I can imagine visiting as a student between classes, or meeting up with some girlfriends on a weekend.
The service here was super friendly, explaining all the different ice cream types to us and the menu offers some brunch, lunch or snacky items, depending on the season.
I’d definitely return here to try the brunch, and ensure it lived up to the ice cream, because we loved our little treats here!
Restaurants for Dinner, Dates & Drinks
Here’s where the foodie side of things comes into it. While brunch is a fine art all of its own (and I will fight anyone who disagrees and dismisses my millenial rights to find avo on toast) dinner is where you get the truly excellent food options in Mechelen.
Far and away the best restaurant we went to, not only in Mechelen, but perhaps the entire year. Certainly one of our top 5 for Europe – and its only been open a few months!
De Fortunye is a beautiful combination of food sharing, exquisite cuisine, cool atmosphere and lovely, light touch but friendly service. They are open for lunch menus and coffee and cake in the afternoon, including high tea, but we visited for a dinner date on a Saturday night, and it was absolutely perfect for a date night.
Sitting flush to the main walkway of Mechelen, you would be forgiven for thinking it was just another cafe or office space – but once you step inside and down the skinny entrance hall, the space opens out into long rustic and earthy maplewood communal tables. Bare white painted brick walls, low hanging golden lamps and some kitschy wall hangings implore you to ‘Eat. Share. Enjoy’.
Further back, you can peer into the small kitchen of wonders dishing out the creative share plates and menus, and then finally the restaurant opens out into a gorgeous outdoor terrace – equipped for both cosy winter nights and balmy summer evenings. If I was living in town and hosting an event or celebrating a birthday, that’s the spot you want.
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On arrival you’ll get delicious crusty bread and creamy French butter along with your menu. The menu is in Dutch, but for German speakers, you can kind of discern what is on offer. To experience the sharing platters to the fullest, we went for the Chef’s Menu with 4 courses. Stefan loves starters and I’m a dessert girl, so we split the difference between the two.
The food itself sounds weird on paper – ‘Zalm’ was salmon with gin tonic and granny smith crumble, ‘Roodbaars’ a redfish with broccoli & courgette on a wheat beer foam made from local craft brews, and the worlds best duck breast ‘Eend’ came with the local Gouden Carolus dark beer sauce with polenta, papaya and sesame. None of it should have worked, but somehow in the magic hands of chefs Arne and Hellenore it does.
Best of all – the dessert was sublime. Perfectly formed panna cotta drops on a bed of crumbly rich chocolate brownie, paired with excellently peeled citrus fruit tart with sweet blanched custard that we fought to finish. I was…slightly overwhelmed by the delight of it all.
This kind of restaurant experience ticked all of our mutual boxes – it was locally sourced, seasonal, delicious, smartly executed, interesting and made with love and care. So often fancy-ass restaurants can have all the bells and whistles and waiters in bow ties, but the food just doesn’t live up to it.
De Fortunya was a welcoming boutique style environment, where for us, the food lived up to its settings. Price wise, it is definitely higher than we would normally spend for an average dinner – €48 for 4 dishes – but for a special occassion or date night on holiday, the experience more than lived up to the price.
Better yet, the restaurant is a family business, and the founders are only just getting started, with plans to grow their own food supplies.
I honestly think in a few months time this place will be impossible to book, it was that good. Even foodie Stefan who is notoriously hard to please loved it. If you do one thing on your trip to Mechelen, please, make time to visit De Fortunye!
Not to be outdone, our Friday night dinner at De Cirque restaurant was the ideal introduction to local cuisine and considering the cooler weather, we very much enjoyed sitting outside on the terrace here to lap up the lively atmosphere.
We headed to the Vismarkt area of town where plenty of bars, restaurants and cool hangout terraces are, overlooking the Dyle or ‘Dije’ waterway that flows through the city. De Cirque sits with a prime view over the open Vismarket courtyard and overflowing, busy bustle of surrounding restaurants.
The menu here has some great Flemish food options, from Steak with Frites to Bouillabaisse and some more international options for travellers. But being a long-time-lover of chicken dishes, I had to try the local specialty, the Mechelen ‘Krokketten’ – a special breed of chicken famed for its especially tender, light white meat.
Served in a light steamy stew with a side of Frites, it was the perfect introduction to local cuisine, paired with the locally brewed Het Anker beer. The meat itself was similar to a juicy tender regular chicken breast but more hearty than normal. Its said the Kroketten chickens were bred from a blend of cuckoo-farm chicken and imported Oriental chickens in the 1800’s.
Whichever way they got here, they were damn delicious and I sopped up every last bit of my stew with crusty bread. Stefan, meanwhile, went straight in for the seafood here and was not disappointed by the prawns and shellfish.
De Cirque is ideal for kicking off a weekend with a nice meal and a drink as you watch the sun go down over the waterside and enjoy the vibe of Vismarket.
Tapas was definitely an unexpected theme of our time in Mechelen, as its quite a distance from Spain to Belgium, and yet we found ourselves absolutely in love with Pintxos, a tapas bar we stopped by for lunch with a colleague of Stefan’s.
The restaurant itself was gorgeous – an expansive space with staircase leading up to a rooftop terrace, right in the heart of the city. It was like finding a secret cool bar and hangout, with lots of interesting coffee table books, wall hanging plants and eclectic design details that made the whole restaurant feel like your chic-friends living room.
There are a lot of different sections to the restaurant, but as it was sunny, we flocked to the outdoor terrace upstairs for lunch, to lap up the last of the autumn sunshine. It was busy, so service was a touch slower, for drinks and food, but the environment encouraged relaxation so it worked out a nice break in our busy day exploring the city.
Food wise, you select your choice of tapas from the bar downstairs (bit of a pain if you are sitting upstairs) and can mix and match the seafood dishes, sandwiches, and internationally inspired food. The chefs notes say they are ‘Basque country inspired, but fuse foods from seasonal items and popular dishes.
In all honesty. our food was a mixed bag. I scored the best order of the day with my Flemish fish stew, while Stefan’s salad with anchovies was a bit of a letdown – definitely go for the more local dishes is our best advice. Or better still, order as a group, so everyone can have a try of all dishes!
Pintxos is also a great looking wine bar and would be a fantastic spot to kick off a night out, or just settle around a big comfortable table in the luxurious settings and enjoy some good wines and cocktails from the open plan bar.
With its multi-levels, interesting corners and hideaways and deceptively huge space, Pinxtos was a happy surprise of good food, cool atmosphere and tucked just into an alleyway beside Vismarket, so super convenient to pop in while exploring the city.
We ducked in here in the waning hours of Friday night, and loved the casual, fun, crowded pub atmosphere that you can sense immediately in Bar Popular.
Brightly coloured walls, rustic street signs and travel ads from the ’50’s & ’60s on the wall,and a prime location in Vismarket square make this spot ideal for people watching, relaxing or if you want to take your night up a notch you can enjoy a good spread of drink options.
With simple bench seating, wooden tables and bar stools and friendly service, this place felt like our local in just two visits and definitely gave a warm welcome to all visitors.
This is the spot I’d recommend you head to for sipping on the local Het Anker beers and a view across the terrace and canal.
Since we were only in Mechelen for a long weekend, I’m sure there are more foodie gems within the city and would love to return to explore further. For a short trip though, Mechelen defied our expectations and left us with the delicious memory of the best duck fillet and dining experience of the year.
Would you visit Mechelen for the food? Let me know in the comments if this post has you drooling!