Olivier Jacobs

It might have been university that lured Olivier Jacobs to the Belgian port city of Ghent, but it was the city’s bars that kept him there. In 2012, the former fine arts student-turned-bartender opened Jigger’s, one of Ghent’s first – and finest – cocktail bars. Since then, he’s spread his wings and opened more venues, brews his own craft beer and recently bought his own farm. A proud ambassador for his city, Jacobs is just the person to tell us about Ghent’s finest food and drink.

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Welcome to Ghent

Ghent’s dining and drinking scene is a sweet combination of the old and the young. The efforts of the young really paid off and exploded over the last decade. It all started thanks to Ollie Ceulenaere, Jason Blanckaert and Kobe Desramaults, three young chefs that were known as the “Flemish Foodies”. The chefs all came from the same town, have a shared passion and worked in Michelin-starred environments. When they opened their own restaurants in Ghent, it encouraged a wave of young chefs to do the same and it freshened up the whole scene. 

Modern Thai Food Paired With Craft Beers and Natural Wines

Jason Blanckaert started with a restaurant called Jef which he’s changed to a Thai restaurant called Aroy Aroy. He runs it with his brother Michael who used to live in Thailand and also has a restaurant background. Their restaurant serves modern Thai food and pairs it with craft beers and natural wines.

A Restaurant Championing Local Ingredients

Ollie Ceulenaere has a restaurant called Publiek. He works very closely with farmers and all the ingredients he uses are super local. His cooking style is modern but it has something really classical about it: he takes very pure ingredients and perfectly highlights their flavours. There are excellent natural wine labels on the list that pair nicely with the food. 

The Chef (and Restaurant) That Helped Put Ghent on the Food Map

Kobe Desramaults’s parents used to have a restaurant in the countryside called In De Wulf. It was an hour’s drive from Ghent and really in the fields. Kobe lifted it to a two Michelin-starred restaurant, closed it and opened a neighbourhood pizza restaurant and bakery called De Superette in Ghent. It makes great sourdough bread, pastries and woodfired pizza. Kobe then went on to open the famous Chambre Séparée which has closed. It was meant to be a temporary project because the building it was in was being demolished. He’s now working in Italy at Stazione Vucciria, a restaurant on the coast of Palermo. The Michelin stars that In De Wulf earned brought people from everywhere to Ghent. The staff that worked with the Flemish Foodies started to open their own businesses and spread the philosophy that these three chefs championed: cooking with well-sourced local ingredients, cooking seasonally, and giving the drinks offering extra thought. Of course, each one of them also added their own touch.  

An Intimate Restaurant That Caters to Dietary Requirements

One of them is Kim Devisschere who was Ollie Ceulenaere’s sous chef for a very long time. He opened his own place called Roots, a small 30-seat restaurant which shares the same style and philosophy as Ollie’s. Kim and his wife have serious dietary conditions. He listens very closely to the needs of his guests, which is really nice if you’re vegetarian, vegan or have any intolerances. He’s super understanding of these things and creates something for everyone. He also cooks very consciously and seasonally and, like Ollie, he’s a master in highlighting the produce he sources. You’re going to have a specific vegetable or fish or whatever the ingredient is and it’s going to be an explosion of flavours. 

Wine and Charcuterie in a Neighbourhood Square 

Tom Pauwelyn, the former sous chef of Jason Blanckaert as well as Kobe Desramaults, recently opened his own place outside the city centre and named it Elders, which in our dialect means “somewhere else”. He’s a very promising young chef. The restaurant is on a little square in a little neighbourhood. It’s in the same vein as what the guys from Roots are doing: very seasonal, local food that nicely highlights the products. It serves really nice meats and local charcuterie and sommelier Romy Deconinck does a really great job with the wine menu. You can go there just for drinks and a nibble or to eat a la carte, or you can reserve ahead to have the set menu. 

Ghent’s (Unofficial) Bartender University 

I also got a lot of inspiration from these chefs, especially Ollie. In my early days I talked to him about his philosophy of working with local products and it definitely rubbed off on me. My career started at a place next to the opera called Cafe Theatre. It was that “grand cafe” in the city centre that was very lively. It was next to the courthouse, so you always had lawyers and courthouse people come in. You would also get shoppers and nightlife people that were doing their thing in the city centre. The city has changed since. The courthouse moved and the area became pedestrian making it more difficult to reach by car, so the area’s nightlife lost its buzz. The cafe also got a new owner and lost its regulars. But Cafe Theatre created a lot of good bartenders who went on to open some great spots. In the city centre alone, there are more than six decent places to have a cocktail. When we started Jigger’s 10 years ago, we were the only cocktail bar in the city. When I worked at Cafe Theatre, there was a one-month break every summer where it closed and I found myself without an income. During that break period, there’s a 10-day festival in Ghent so I used to open a speakeasy in my back garden to cater to that. After the third year of doing it, it kind of exploded. I thought that it was time to open my own place and opened a speakeasy-style basement bar. Five years in, we added another bar at ground floor to make it more open for people and capture passers-by. We bought a farm last year that’s 40 minutes by car from Ghent and we’re growing a lot of our own produce. The idea is to keep growing things and to get to a point where we grow and make our own fruit wines. 

More Cocktail Bars Not To Be Missed

Bartender Ruben Patoor used to also work at Cafe Theatre. He recently opened a nice cocktail bar called Fugazi. There’s a tiki bar on our street called The Drifter that’s a little gem everyone should visit. It holds a collection of around 400 rums and highlights them in different drinks. Tom Neijens, the owner, is very passionate about what he does. Except for the rum, everything is made in-house, including the coconut milk. Further down the street is Uncle Babe’s. It’s more like an American restaurant than a bar but it has the biggest collection of Bourbon and the city’s most amazing American-style burgers.

Elegant Hotel Bars

For something a little more fancy, there’s The Cobbler, the hotel bar at 1898 The Post which has amazing views over the city centre. There’s also a good bar at a much newer hotel called Yalo with a really beautiful courtyard inside. The food there is great and the bartender used to work at Uncle Babe’s. 

The Classic Local Bars of Ghent

Then we have the classic local bars of Ghent which mostly serve exceptional Belgian beer. It’s really where you’ll experience the local culture. Now that I have two kids and wake up at seven every morning, I don’t go to as many bars as I used to, but Minor Swing is one of my favourites. It’s a nice little jazz cafe that’s just around the corner from us and is named after the song by Django Reinhardt. One of the oldest pubs in Ghent is Café Den Turk. It’s been there since 1228. 

Brunch, Beer and Bushes

I opened a restaurant called Ganzerik with my first bartender Ben Bruyneel, but I recently sold my share to him so I could run the farm project. It’s a nice place that’s a little bit outside the city centre. It’s very beer-focused but has cocktails on tap. It has a nice terrace out in the front and is just next to a nature reserve so it’s a nice play to go for an aperitif and a walk before dinner. Otherwise, you can enjoy some beers and take a stroll around there after brunch.

A Refreshing, Light Beer for the Industry

I have a beer brand called Pony’s. It all started with this popup I used to run with Jesse Den Dulk and Robin Vande Lanotte from [ramen bar] Golden Gai and Ben who I opened Ganzerik with. That pop-up was called Pony’s and we brewed a beer for it. It was a light, hoppy blonde beer that was brewed for people in the industry that wanted a light, refreshing and tasty beer after work. It was so good that we decided to put it on the market and it’s still going. You can drink it all over Ghent.

Craft Beer, High-Quality Coffee and a Vegetarian Buffet: All in the One Space

Way is one of my go-tos for coffee. I drop off my kids at school which happens to be near the shop in the city centre and is usually where I’ll have my morning coffee. There’s another shop in the Dok-Noord industrial area which is where its roasting operation is. Way has recently opened a third place in the city centre that’s more of a plant-based bake house. Charlene De Buysere is the owner and is extremely passionate about coffee. Her and her team are very driven by what they do and serve really nice food too. Go there for brunch and a coffee on weekends. It’s nice to check out Dok in general. There’s a place there called Amour that does brunch on Sundays and a great lunch buffet that’s almost all vegetarian – they have like one meat dish every day. It’s a real bargain at €16.50 for all you can eat. The food is a bit Ottolenghi-inspired and I go there at least three times a month. The Dok Brewing Co is also there and brews really nice beers served alongside good American-style barbecue. 

Cafes That Kickstarted Ghent’s Coffee Scene 

I frequent Simon Says – the coffee shop on my street – almost daily, usually for my last cappuccino or americano of the day. If I want to take my time, I go to Het Moment which was opened by barista Valentine Wanders. The name means “enjoy the moment” and it’s really that. I can have coffee and a nice lunch too. One other coffee shop worth mentioning is Café Labath. Charlene from Way and Valentine from Het Moment used to work there. Together with Simon Says, Labath was one of the first to kick off the coffee scene in Ghent. 

Restaurants With Great Wine and Cocktail Programs

Some of the guys that worked at Jigger’s opened two Japanese-inspired restaurants. One is a ramen place called Golden Gai which is named after Tokyo’s small bars district; and the other is an izakaya called Astro Boy. They both have really nice cocktail programs and also serve natural wines and craft beers with their food. There’s also Alberte which has a super nice interior. The owner is a wine freak so if you want to have good wines that’s the place to go. The fish dishes are really nice and the menu changes regularly. Before he opened Elders, chef Tom Pauwelyn used to work at Alberte. Amigo is another share plates place. The guys that run it are super nice and the food is predominantly seasonal Mexican with some eastern Mediterranean hints. They serve nice cocktails, natural wines and Belgian beers too.

The Best Italian Food in Ghent

There are a lot of nice Italian restaurants in Ghent. My wife is from Ghent and one of the places we’ve been going to for a very long time is Shazanna. Anna Maria, the owner, is Italian through and through. The later you stay, the louder the music gets and it can be really fun. Anna Maria will join you at the table with a bottle of Averna or limoncello. Villa Bardon is another good one. It’s down the street from our home which is perfect because when the kids are in bed, we sneak there for a little pasta and a Negroni. We usually go on Sunday evenings and we became really good friends with the owners. Ferri opened more recently and we go there quite often as well. It’s a really good Italian vegetarian restaurant. It’s all share plates and the wine selection is super good.

A Natural Wine Bar and Shop Run With Passion

One place I have to highlight for natural wine lovers is Edel Rot. It’s a wine bar and shop with a lot of nice bottles. Stijn Schreel and Saraï Cachet, the couple behind it, are super passionate about their wines. They grow some of their own vines and also make vermouth and cider.

The Ghent Restaurants To Watch

Souvenir is a restaurant that’s been on my wish-list for years. I visited it when it was still on the seaside, but it moved to Ghent in 2017. It received a Michelin star in 2020 and a green star in 2021 but I haven’t managed to make it back yet. Vilhjalmur Sigurdarson – chef and Kobe Desramaults’s former sous chef – is from Iceland and runs the restaurant with his wife Joke Michiel. Another one to watch is Commotie, another husband-and-wife-run restaurant. Young chef Thomas Gheylinck and Lara De Vlieger opened it last year [2021] after doing a few pop-ups and it’s totally worth a visit. He cooks a lot with foraged and homegrown ingredients. It’s nice to sit around the bar and watch the chefs cook on an open fire.

Our guides are fact-checked and updated regularly. Read more here. 

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