Whiling away a Saturday evening at Belgium and Blues, Southampton

I do love a good pub crawl.

But there are times when it’s nice to settle in at a pub or bar for a few hours and relax with some good beers and something to eat.

That’s what Tiff and I did a couple of weeks ago before a rare trip to watch a gig at the Engine Rooms in Southampton.

Our bar of choice was Belgium and Blues on Above Bar Street, not far from the redeveloped Guildhall Square.

New guise

Belgium and Blues was previously Goblets Wine Bar, which was always a pleasant place to visit. It reopened in its new guise late last year.

As the name suggests, it’s a Belgian-inspired bar serving Belgian beer alongside UK craft beer and real ale with a Belgian-themed food menu.

Belgium and Blues was a brief stop on my recent mini crawl of Southampton’s newest craft beer bars. Tonight I was hoping to spend a bit more time there and sample the food.

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Two levels

The bar is on two floors.

Upstairs at street level is an informal brasserie and recently opened gin bar. Here it’s table service only.

Downstairs is the cellar bar. Much larger than the brasserie, this is where you can prop yourself up at the counter, perch on a stall at one of the oak bar tables or find a seat in one of the many booths and alcoves.

The cellar bar definitely has a Belgian feel to it, with bare brickwork, dark leather upholstery, pillars, the odd bit of polished brass. There are spent beer crates depicting famous Belgian beer brands stacked by the bar.

And there’s tonnes of Belgian beer available – not just in bottles but on draught too.

In all, there are 20 taps serving a variety of UK and Belgian beer on keg and cask, plus good-quality cider. There’s a nice range of wines and spirits too. Even now, a few weeks before the launch of the dedicated bar upstairs, there was an impressive selection of gins on display behind the counter.

Impressive selection

We’d booked a table in the upstairs brasserie but we decided to have a few drinks downstairs first. So we took a booth near the stairs and got stuck into the impressive drinks selection.

The Wales v England rugby was on the big screen at the far end of the bar. But unlike some other hostelries we’d passed along the way, the atmosphere was excitable rather than rowdy.

I was tempted to try one of the 40+ Belgian beers on offer. In the end I stayed closer to home with a half of Hackney Brewery “Red Ale” (4.1%) while Tiff warmed up with a red wine.

Having recently developed a liking of saisons after my visit to new local brewery Unity, my next beer was Belgium and Blues’ house saison from another nearby brewery, Vibrant Forest.

The beer, called “Farmhouse” (5%), was refreshing and zesty. I rather enjoyed it. But did find it quite fizzy. This may have been because it was on keg and I’m more used to cask beer.

Meanwhile, Tiff got stuck into some Orchard Pig draught cider.

Snacks

We also ordered the Chimay cheese from the bar’s “Hapjes” (snack) menu along with some pork scratchings and popcorn (Tiff’s choice, not mine).

Chimay is a Belgian cow’s milk cheese, which is sometimes washed with the Trappist beer of the same name. The Chimay at Belgium and Blues is a hard variety with a rind. Naturally, it pairs well with beer. It also goes nicely with dijon mustard, which is how it’s served here.

Belgian favourites

By now, my cousin and another friend had joined us. And as they weren’t having food, we decided to eat our main meals in the bar rather than in the brasserie upstairs.

Although the menu at Belgium and Blues is based around Belgian favourites like moules frites, Flemish stew and onion soup, there’s a variety of options available including an ever-changing specials board.

When I arrived tonight, my intention was to try something unusual. Now though, after a few more drinks including a Siren Craft Brew “Soundwave IPA” (5.6%) and a “Starhopper” (3.5%) from Alechemy Brewing, I was less adventurous.

I ended up picking out the boar hot dog (£8.95), made with wild boar from the New Forest. Tiff went for the Hanger Steak (£15).

My hot dog came in a baguette with Belgian-style fries (naturally), baby salad leaves and a spicy beer and wholegrain mustard relish. It was a perfect accompaniment to my beer.

However, after a mouthful of Tiff’s steak, I was regretting not ordering that instead. With fries and watercress, and cooked medium-rare (anything more and this cut of meat tends to go tough), the steak melted in the mouth and had loads of flavour. Delicious.

By the time we’d finished our meals, there was a buzzy Saturday night atmosphere building in the bar and I’d have quite happily stayed here all night in our little booth.

But, we didn’t want to miss the start of our gig. Hence why we had to forgo a dessert (boo) and make our way up the cellar stairs into the cold night.

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Warm and welcoming

Belgium and Blues is a lovely place to while away a few hours and grab a bite to eat, especially if you like good quality beer or gin. The bar and bigger alcoves are perfect for groups while the quieter nooks and crannies will suit you if you want to chat with a mate or even settle down with a book.

There’s also a good clash of Belgian and local produce and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. And unlike some other places that have jumped on the “craft” beer and gin bandwagons, the staff here know their stuff.

Info: Belgium and Blues is at 184 Above Bar Street, Southampton, SO14 7DW. Phone 023 8022 5411 or email bookings [at] belgiumandblues.co.uk. It’s open 12-11pm Sunday to Thursday and 12pm-12am on Friday and Saturday. There’s occasional live music and DJs in the cellar bar – keep an eye on the Facebook page and website for details.

Tom's rating: