Regina Restaurant in Ypres, Belgium: classic dishes with modern flair [classic article]

In the newly renovated Hotel Regina in Ypres, Belgium, there’s a hip, youthful feeling restaurant in its lobby. That’s not something you’d expect, considering it’s a small town dating from the early Middle Ages and is now most famous for being the epicenter of “Flanders Fields,” WWI’s brutal battlefield. Each and every night at 8 pm, there’s a moving Last Post ceremony honoring the WWI British Commonwealth dead whose graves are unknown at the town gate, Menin Gate. Though the oldest WWI vets made it to ages 110 and one to 111, as of last year they’re all gone.

After that kind of emotional ceremony, it’s great to be able to lighten things up with a nourishing repast. I was very glad to be hosted to be able to experience it! I would describe the dress as business casual.

Their house aperitif is a sparkling rose’. Aperitifs are very common in Belgium, mixed drink cocktails, not at all. Don’t even think about ordering something that requires olives, though many restaurants will put out a complimentary dish of olives for diners.

A springtime amuse bouche was sent out by the chef: pea soup with sesame gratinéed salmon. This was a light amuse with delicate flavors, using just popping into existence seasonal ingredients.

One of Flanders’ regional culinary specialties is called “waterzooi”. That’s a traditional white roux based stew, formerly made with fish but more commonly made with chicken these days. A mirepoix is added, along with potatoes and herbs . . .but not too many. It’s a very mild comfort food dish. It was a favorite of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but locals — 500 years later — still do things to him in effigy, etc., protesting his high taxing ways. At any rate, they kept the waterzooi. I learned that Regina makes theirs with the creamier white roux, while others have a clearer sauce. Theirs had big, thick chicken breasts in it. It’s kind of a cross between a soup and a stew.

While most places in Belgium will serve a bit of dark chocolate with dinner coffee, Regina really makes a theatrical presentation, with cookies, whipped cream, carafes of milk, etc.

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