If you’re new to the city, then you’ll want to check out the restaurants in Ghent. Getting your lips around some of the words on the menu might be easier said than done. And – like anywhere in the world – there are some do’s and don’t’s to be aware of before you sit down.
Typical Dishes on the Menu at Restaurants in Ghent
‘Belgian’ food takes a fair amount of influence from both French and Dutch cuisine. But it’s not just about steak and mussels, as most travel guides might lead you to believe. Here are some of the other things you might expect to see on a menu in Ghent:
- Typical starters can include cheese or prawn croquettes, or Gentse kop – a local speciality made from pig’s head.
- For mains you’ll probably come across things like stoverij (beef slowly stewed in beer), vol-au-vent (chicken in a creamy sauce with puff pastry), Gentse waterzooi (a creamy chicken or fish broth that’s actually from the city) or balletjes (meatballs) in tomato sauce.
- Witloof (endive) – often baked in the oven – and asperges (asparagus, typically white rather than green) are common accompaniments, but most heavier dishes come with a side salad.
- A typical dessert menu might feature moelleux (a hot chocolate pudding with a molten centre) as well as a range of ice cream-related desserts (often preceded by the French ‘coupe’ on the menu).
If you’re getting a side of frieten (fries), expect a large bowl to arrive for the whole table at restaurants in Ghent, rather than individual portions on your plate. Sometimes you might have to ask for mayonnaise if you’ve already opted for a ‘saucy’ dish. But best of all, even if you haven’t finished the bowl (but they’ve gone a bit cold), most restaurants in Ghent will bring you free refills. While we’re on the topic of frieten, avoid using the term French fries. If you do, be prepared for a history lesson from your Belgian friends: ‘French fries’ was actually coined by American soldiers stationed in Belgium during the First World War (when the official language was French).
Dining Practicalities at Restaurants in Ghent
- Dining in Belgium can be a long affair compared to other countries. Don’t be surprised if you’re only asking for the bill at 10 or 11pm.
- Many restaurants in Ghent are closed in the afternoons. This is to save costs and let one chef work the lunch and dinner in the same day, so don’t leave lunch until too late!
- Even in Ghent, you should still consider booking a few days in advance for weekend dining. Eating out with friends and family is almost considered a sport here.
- As a lot of restaurants in Ghent are family run, don’t expect them to open all year round. Many restaurants take a week or two off both after the Gentse Feesten in the summer, and after New Year.
- Some smaller restaurants in Ghent don’t accept cards, so always have cash on you. Conversely, some of Ghent’s newest (read: trendiest) restaurants won’t accept cash.
- While lots of restaurants in Ghent will bring you the chip and PIN machine to your table now, they’re still not very keen on taking a transaction per person as is now customary in other European countries. Look out for ‘één rekening per tafel’ (one bill per table) on some of the bigger, busier restaurants’ websites/menus.
- Tipping isn’t required in Ghent. It’s nice to round up if you’ve been especially impressed, but the common 10-15% rule does not apply here. In fact, if you are in a big group, it can sometimes be considered a bit showy to casually drop an extra 50 euros on the table.
Good to Know About Restaurants in Ghent
- It’s custom on a Friday or Saturday night to have an aperitif first. Often restaurants offer a ‘house aperitif’.
- Set menus are very popular in the traditional restaurants in Ghent (as opposed to international dining). They tend to be updated every month with whatever is in season, and include 3 or 4 courses. Often you can also add accompanying wines where you get to try a different wine per course.
- Asking for tap/iced water isn’t really the done thing. Unfortunately you’ll need to pay for bottled water in most restaurants in Ghent. And it can be pricey – around 7 euros for a large bottle.
- A lot of the fine dining restaurants will start you off with an amuse-bouche – there is no extra charge for this small appetizer.
- ‘A volonté’ is a common phrase – it means ‘all you can eat’, and yes – it can get competitive. Ribs and Sunday brunches tend to be à volonté, but you’ll see it for other things too.
- Don’t ever snap your fingers to get the attention of a waiter or waitress. They consider it extremely rude, and will be extremely rude back…
- Ghent also has one of the highest amount of vegetarian restaurants (per population size) in Europe. You can find out all about veggie and vegan dining in our dedicated post.
- If you’re into your fine dining then on the Resto.be website you can search for a list of Michelin-star restaurants in East Flanders.
- For more information on dining out in Ghent, take a look at Vist Gent’s Eat & Drink section.
Restaurants in Ghent to Impress
We’ve all been there – friends and family are coming to visit (…again) and you need to find somewhere impressive (but traditional) to take them for dinner. Somewhere that will say all of this on a plate: I know how to avoid Ghent’s tourist traps, I know what the most typical dishes are (and can pronounce them) and I’m not just eating at Pizza Hut every night. If you’re stuck for somewhere to impress your guests, or just fancy a delicious meal out, try one of our recommended restaurants below.
Even though it’s just a couple of doors down from one of the most touristy bars in Ghent (Dulle Griet, on Vrijdagmarkt square), Keizershof draws in the locals with crispy cheese and prawn croquettes, perfectly cooked steak, and chocolatey moelleux that oozes with precision. Their small menu focuses on good-quality classics. And they also often have new craft beers which means you can keep up to date with the Belgian brewing scene too.
If you’re standing on Sint Baafsplein staring up at the cathedral tower, you would be forgiven for missing this restaurant. De Foyer is tucked away on the first floor of the National Theatre Gent. Inside it’s all dark wood panelling and waiters in waistcoats. In the summer you can sit on the terrace and people-watch. Every month or so they change their set menu. The delicious all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch is a crowd pleaser.
De Gekroonde Hoofden
Ok, this can be a little touristy sometimes (it’s right next to the castle). But if you want ribs it’s definitely the locals’ choice. De Gekroonde Hoofden offers all-you-can-eat ribs done either natuur (plain) or with one of three sauces – honey, herby or sweet and sour. Every time you get a new rack you can change your sauce too. If they’re fully booked, try one of Ghent’s three Amadeus ribs restaurants as an alternative.
Toi et Moi
Wendy and Sven are your hosts at Toi et Moi, set in a traditional townhouse near St Michaelskerk. With only Sven in the kitchen and Wendy managing front of house, it’s a small place where you’ll be made to feel like a private guest. The dishes are a picture on a plate and each month they change their set menu, which includes a starter, soup, main course and dessert.
Situated directly on the square outside Gent Sint Pieters train station, Cafe Parti is the place to launch your friends into the Ghent dining scene as soon as they arrive. Restaurants next to a main train station can be a bit hit and miss, but this is always a reliable choice. There’s a lovely courtyard terrace for outdoor dining during the summer, and their Sunday brunch on special occasions like Easter, Mothers’/Fathers’ Day is a popular affair, so make sure to book.
Contrary to its location on the slightly frantic road between Zuid and Sint Annaplein, Faim Fatale is a relaxed spot for an evening of fine dining. You can choose from the à la carte menu but the ‘surprise menu’ is much more fun. From scallops to eel to game – whatever is currently in season is beautifully presented. For an extra charge each course comes with a different glass of top-quality wine.
International Restaurants in Ghent
When I first arrived in Ghent (from London where you can pick a country and there’ll be a restaurant for it), I had a sudden fear that my international dining days were behind me. I got by with a little help from some friends and discovered that Ghent also has a great range of international restaurants. Phew, another reason to stay. Generally speaking there are 3 good roads to try if you want to see what takes your fancy: Oudburg in Patershol (lots of sushi), Vlaanderenstraat (a bit of a mix) and Sleepstraat (mainly Turkish). For something more specific, try out one of the options below:
With stiff competition from Ghent’s many menus offering steak, you’d think an Argentinian steak restaurant might buckle under the pressure. Far from it. Down a pretty side street off the Korenmarkt, there’s a little corner of South America to be discovered. Argenvino’s steaks are grilled on a charcoal josper grill using Argentinian coal and are brought to your table still sizzling. Sides are roasted potatoes or fresh pasta, plus vegetables. Makes a nice change from the standard frietjes and mayonnaise accompaniment. If you’re not sure what to pick, go for the mixed grill. It includes Argentine rib-eye, tira de asado ribs, chorizo and provoleta cheese.
Royal Indian Restaurant
Just across the road from Argenvino, the Royal Indian Restaurant is the spot to get excellent curry in the historic city centre. The owner is vegetarian, which helps explain why the vegetarian (also vegan) selection is as good as – if not better – than the range of meat dishes, so this is a great place to go with friends of all food persuasions. They make their own paneer cheese which is absolutely delicious, as are the enormous, hot, crispy garlic naan breads. Generous portions for the price mean that nobody goes home hungry.
Zorba de Griek
You’ll find Zorba de Griek slightly outside of Ghent city centre, very close to the UZ hospital. Fear not, the number 4 tram stops around the corner and it’s still within biking distance. And it’s worth going the extra mile for this neighbourhood-favourite. Don’t expect Doric columns or mini Parthenon statues here, because the focus is purely on tasty Greek classics. As it should be.
Take the smoky aubergine melitzanosalata dip to share and follow up with the moussaka, which is better than I’ve tasted even in Greece. A grandma’s secret recipe is the key. If you need a Greek place in the city centre then try Athena on Vlaanderenstraat. Flames fly here as something grappa-like is theatrically poured over grilled but deliciously-pink-in-the-middle lamb cutlets.
Let’s get to the Italian. Every city has (probably too many) Italian restaurants, including Ghent. So it’s important to know which to pick. Il Fornaccio is tucked away on a side street in the University Quarter and is run by Rosa and Francesco, a really friendly, young couple from Puglia in the south of Italy. They seem to have a talent for making everyone feel welcome whilst simultaneously putting great dishes on the table and chatting away to the local Italians that come here for their fix. And all without breaking a sweat.
The stone ‘Fornaccio’ oven is manned by Francesco, who produces the real-deal: thin and crispy pizzas. The kind you can pick up without losing all your toppings, and aren’t so bready you have to leave the crusts. Regular changing specials often get creative with truffle shavings and all kinds of seafood. Just leave space for the homemade tiramisu.
The yellow sign outside Gado Gado is essential because otherwise you might walk straight past. This Indonesian restaurant has a pretty location on a quiet cobbled street in Ghent’s historic Patershol district. Head chef Siska conjures up authentic dishes from her native Java while Philippe looks after everyone out front. If you’re new to Indonesian cuisine and you’re in a group then opt for one of the rice tables (rijsttafel) to sample several dishes in one go. Be sure to reserve at the weekend and when the summertime Patershol festival is on.
Indian Curry House
I couldn’t be British and not have two curry restaurants in this list, so here’s another top tip if you’re after Indian. In case you’re in any doubt, the Indian Curry House serves, well, Indian curry. Why mess around with a clever name when you’d rather focus on the food? And happily they have. With more of a contemporary-cafe feel, this isn’t necessarily the spot for a quiet romantic dinner, but certainly a delicious one. I worry when curry restaurants use little chilli signs, implying that anything without one will be bland and look like it came out of a jar. So I was delighted to see none of that here. Although it might seem a little frantic at times, everything is set right by the owner who can’t seem to stop smiling.
It struck me a bit odd that there are a lot of Japanese restaurants in Ghent, and hardly any Chinese. With not a clue what the reason might be, I decided to just get on and try them out. After a while in Ghent you might think Japanese cuisine is nothing more than cold rice on large wooden boats. I was pleased to be proved wrong at Amatsu which has a good range of non-sushi/sashimi dishes too.
The a la carte menu has some teriyaki and tempura-style dishes, but the set menus mean you get to try out more. Upwards of €30, they’re worth saving for a special meal out, but for that you do get 2 starters, a main, typical Japanese sides and a dessert. If you really want to push the boat out (and possibly off the table), couple each of your courses with a glass of sake.
Other Favourite Restaurants in Ghent
Here are some of our other favourite, non-touristy restaurants in Ghent:
Do you have any favourite restaurants in Ghent that you would recommend? Or have you experienced anything different about eating out in Ghent compared to other countries you’ve lived in? Let us know in the comments section below so we can share them here.