Tiny Belgium is mistakenly overlooked despite its rich cultural and sporting heritage. Like Canadians, lumped together with Americans, Belgians are parked alongside the French.
Belgium gave the world the fabulous chansonnier Jacques Brel, artist Magritte and cyclist Eddy Merckx, alongside cartoonist/writer Hergé, the creator of Tintin.
The Belgians also gave the world the waffle, the fries and mayo combo and 1,100 beers which Huis – meaning Home in Flemish – homes in on.
Opening its doors this year, the smart, tiny-as-the-country Southsea restaurant-cum-bar makes a remarkable stab with 35 Belgian beers, among them Trappist ones voted the best in the world. A few non-Belgian beers appear, but it’s mostly la petite Belge promotion of draughts, blondes, ambers, dark and white beers with one pilsner allowed. My draught wheat beer was a lovely thirst-quencher. There’s a smattering of European wines as well as Genever, the juniper-flavoured alcohol from which gin evolved.
But it’s not all about the beer. The interior focuses on the style of the 1960s, the smart wooden furniture a cut above the usual as are the grey banquettes, an ultra-smart wooden bar and boxed lighting above.
Beer bottles are caged in a vast industrial metal strong box below a noisy air-con unit crossing swords with music. An old TV set, sound off, screens Belgian street fun by a high-up bookshelf housing an accordion, a copy of Tintin and a few old vinyl covers. You’d expect the last item to be included, the owner being Simon Docker who gave us Pie & Vinyl.
He might train his staff, especially while taking up a table on a busy day on his laptop, to acknowledge who has come in and who’s waiting. The service was, at first, dire. It improved a little, but not much. A little eye contact wouldn’t go amiss, a genuine Belgian-type welcome needed.
Although it says table service, I gave up and went to the bar in desperation while staff studiously ignored my table.
The menu is terrific: the express one (£5.95 from midday to 10pm) also offers some of the dishes available from 6pm. Beef Stoveru, slow-cooked beef casserole with beer in a sourdough cob; flammeküche (pastry pizza with lardons, shallots, cheese and crème fraiche); moules; croquet madame; erwtensoep (split pea and ham hock soup with sourdough). Or come later for the waterzooi (fish stew and soup, £12) or jarret de porc (pork knuckle with veg £13). Lovely stuff.
My beef Stoveru was excellent. Moist, tender, mushroom-rich and beer-hoppy - a fine, filling dish. I scraped some of the terrific Bread Addiction sourdough (from a few doors away) from the sides and bottom of the cob, the crust hardened to create a nest for the stew.
Huis also sources local ice cream which I had with a home-made waffle with orange and chocolate sauce, all components showing skill, quality and commitment from the tiny kitchen.
Add Huis to the list of worthy Belgian exports, the quality of the food highly pleasing thanks to this good sourcing too. Proost, Huis. Cheers! My bill? £13... but no tip.
Huis, 62 Elm Grove, Portsmouth, PO5 1JG (023) 9217 6465 Open 12–12 (later Fri, Sat).
Disabled access: tiny, not for wheelchair use, I suggest.
How to get there: Elm Grove is between Victoria Road South and King Richard I road, sandwiched between Museum Road and Albert Road.