Fortunately, though, we’re on a “walking dinner” tour of Ghent, so there’s still time to work our appetites back up. It’s a smart way to explore the ancient Belgian city, known for its foodie flair.
We’ve already sampled a range of tapas nibbles — fat, juicy olives and delectably salty anchovies — and had a few of the city’s main sights pointed out. We’ve seen the spot where counterfeiters were boiled alive, and checked out the imposing Gravensteen — the 12th century castle of the counts of Flanders, now home to a torture museum. Now we’re in the theatre’s De Foyer restaurant enjoying an appetiser of salmon steak in butter sauce.
There’s a lively hum of activity among the diners, and the grand entrance halls are thronged with young Ghentians out for an evening’s entertainment. It’s this general hustle and bustle that marks Ghent out from Belgium’s other medieval cities.
While it bears all the hallmarks of its illustrious past — in the Middle Ages, Ghent was second only to Paris as a centre of commerce — there’s a sense that the city is still very much alive. The gabled buildings rise above bars, shops, restaurants and cafés and the large student population help keep Ghent feeling young, a place to eat, drink and be merry.
“Belgians enjoy going out,” Katrien agrees as we head to the next venue, ’t Buikse Vol, for our main course. “Here in Ghent we’ll eat out or go drinking a couple of nights every week — there’s always something going on.”
And when food is this good, that’s no surprise. Thoughts of dessert disappear as we tuck into sublime baked duck accompanied by a tower of vegetable lasagne, quivering in a delectably cheesy sauce.
Afterwards, waddling along the waterfront promenade of the Graslei, we pause to admire the floodlit 14th century buildings with their distinctive stepped gables. From St Michael’s Bridge, the view of the city’s skyline of three towers — St Nicholas Church, the belfry and St Bavo Cathedral — opens up.
Pleasantly full of good food and fine wine, I wonder what better things life has to offer. Dessert, it would appear. As Katrien ushers us into the cellar chocolaterie of Atelier Plus, the scent of the brown stuff is heavy on the air. A table is set with four morsel-sized treats apiece.
You can say what you like about Belgium — there’s nothing dull about the chocolate.
» Claire Goodall travelled with P&O Ferries (0871-664 6464; www.poferries.com) and Tourism Flanders-Brussels (020-7307 7738; www.visitflanders.co.uk). Return Dover-Calais crossings start from £29. Walking dinner tours of Ghent start from €55, see www.vizit.be.
Have a nose
Check out the famous sweet shop Temmerman and pick up a handful of Ghent noses — a cone-shaped, raspberry-flavoured sugar extravaganza.
Hot and spicy
Pick up a pot of Ghent’s speciality mustard from Tierenteyn, by the 15th century market building. The recipe, brought to the city by a Dijon-born Frenchman, delivers quite a kick.
Pick and mix your own box of praline heaven at deluxe chocolaterie Van Hoorbeke. The shop has a glass floor, through which you can watch the masters at work.
Belgium’s other best-loved export can be enjoyed in bars across Ghent. Try the locally brewed Augustijn Abbey Ale, or branch out and give fiery jenever (gin) a go.