Imitating art

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Susan Nowak steps back in time to sample a taste of 16th-century Flemish living. A huge pair of bloomers and other bits of laundry flap from a...

Susan Nowak steps back in time to sample a taste of 16th-century Flemish living.

A huge pair of bloomers and other bits of laundry flap from a washing line across a rambling, rustic dining hall. Flames belch from a massive open cooking fire as perspiring chefs in peasant garb toil over tripes and trotters.

Yes, it's a theme pub - but not as we know it. Next time you disembark in Calais or Dunkirk, make a detour to Brueghel's to experience a marriage between artisan fare and beer that is both fun and feast - and a brilliant exposition of how to make beer cuisine a hugely successful operation.

Close to the Belgian border, Taverne Le Brueghel in the sleepy village of Bergues mixes traditional Flemish and French flavours. Just a 10-minute drive off the main A16/N1 motorway, it's our stop-off to get us in the mood for visiting Bruges.

Dating from 1597, it is this district's oldest building. A ravishingly pretty flower-decked exterior opens on to a scene straight from a canvas of 16th-century grandmaster Pieter Brueghel - hefty beams, flagstones, stone pitchers and long wooden tables with benches shared by a sundry mix.

The menu, disguised as a newspaper with Breughel news on the front page is, as the French have it, "formidable".

Entirely consisting of regional cuisine, it features many parts of the beast that English tourists might prefer not to think about. But as a tribute to its standard of cooking, this restaurant is also frequented by both French and Belgians visitors.

Those feeling brave can dig fruitfully into a calf's head, grilled cockerel with garlic, cold terrine of rabbit, pork, chicken and veal in aspic, ox cheek and tail, pig's tripe, trotter and ear or a plate of local charcuterie with thick slices of sourdough-style bread.

To wash down all these dainties, the Breughel offers a wide range of beers, both draught and bottled, from golden bière blonde to the wickedly strong Trappists, probably brewed by monks when Breugel wielded his brush. Starting with pig's trotter pie, I expected to pick bits of meat from gristle and sinew. Instead, all the flesh had been stripped from the bones and mixed into a herby, peppery filling topped with shortcrust (made properly with lard).

The dish was delivered on a wooden slab by a wench in traditional dress. And French wheatbeer Blanche Namur, with its own delicate spice, set it off a treat.

I have to admit that we played it safe with our main courses. We'll have entrails with gingerbread sauce next time. I had lamb shank cooked, not à la mode Anglaise with red wine and rosemary, but with flageolet beans in a simple savoury broth of brasseur bière ambrée (local amber beer).

Fran chose hearty Flemish carbonnade of beef simmered to succulence in darker Belgian beer, and we shared a bottle of Berguen ale - a perfect start to our French leave.

*Le Brueghel, by the canal at 1 Rue du Marché aux Fromages, Bergues (on the D916); tel (from UK) 0033 328 681919.

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