Published on July 25th, 2020 | by James Drew0
Keeping a restaurant safe in new, coronavirus world
We live in a totally new world, one brought about by the worst health pandemic anyone can remember, writes Martin Banks.
It’s caused havoc across the board, not least in the restaurant trade where, even though they are now able to open, owners now have to operate in a whole new way.
Few, though, surely can claim to be adhering to the new rules as diligently as Johan De Baets, who owns a popular eating place at the centre of Gent.
No half measures for Johan is his motto!
On entry to Du Progres, everyone must wipe their hands with a disinfectant at the entrance.
All the staff even wear, not only masks, but gloves, not least so as to protect themselves from any possible side effects of constantly now having to wash their hands.
There is a one way system in the restaurant and the tables have been reduced in number so as to comply with social distancing demands. Johan has even erected large screens between every table as a precaution for his customers.
Ordering food has taken on a whole dimension. The menus that we are all familiar with are gone, replaced by a new system which involves choosing from the happily-still-extensive selection of dishes via your smartphone. For those without a smartphone that’s no problem. You are given an i-pad and can order from that.
As an extra precaution, even the bread is served in its very own bag to ensure that it’s not exposed to the virus.
All this is particularly impressive when you consider the rather hit-and-miss efforts made by a lot of restaurants in Belgium in terms of doing their bit to reduce, as much as is possible, the spread of the coronavirus.
Johan also has an eye on the environment in all this: a lot of restos have replaced the traditional menu with a plastic or paper one which they then dispose of. But Johan realises this is not necessarily good for the environment, hence ordering via the social media option.
Of course, the recent sudden rise again in cases in Belgium has led to the introduction of strict new measures, not least on restaurants, including the mandatory wearing of masks apart from when you are sat at the table.
The fact that he has already taken such steps, and a lot more as well, is entirely typical of Johan whose family have been meeting the culinary needs of locals – and the many tourists who flock to this charming city – for many, many years.
He and his very hard working and welcoming team, including the informative Stijn, Dirk, Laye, Nicola,Fien and Keline, deserve plaudits for all such efforts, not least at such a trying time.
The great news is that, despite all such measures having to be taken, the food here is every bit as good as ever.
The choice of starters includes croquette and scampi with mains options ranging from Flemish stew and tartare – good Belgian faves – to vol au vent and a selection of steaks. Du Progres is, arguably, best known for its mouth-watering steaks and the tournedos (served with salad, fries and homemade sauce) is hard to resist. One of sauces for Johan’s trademark steaks is called “James Bond” and there’s much speculation about who’ll be the next 007 after Daniel Craig.
There is also pasta, some gluton-free dishes, lovely salads, veggie options and a kids menu.
The prices, considering the top quality, are amazingly reasonable, with the house Bolognese pasta starting from just €13 and smoked salmon from a mere €14. They do not come much more reasonable than that!
Ideally located in the city’s main square, this place is great for anything from a relaxing drink overlooking the ever-bustling Korenmarkt or a full-blown meal.
It’s been run for over 20 years by Johan, the third generation of the family De Baets. Johan is a very friendly Fleming, who says the emphasis if very much on providing good, honest fayre.
Gent itself was once a busy medieval port city and the second biggest city in northern Europe. With its picturesque medieval buildings and quaint cobbled streets, today it’s anything but a boring relic. It’s a creative hub, teeming with rebellious and innovative energy, named by Lonely Planet as “Europe’s best-kept secret.”
Du Progres is one of the most authentic restaurants in Ghent, serving very good value for money cuisine where children are also made very welcome.
As Johan says, “what you see is what you get” – and, be assured, you won’t be disappointed.