John Brunton rounds up some of the top fine-dining addresses in Belgium’s capital.
Brussels has always been one of Europe’s hidden secrets when it comes to gourmet dining, but this is the year when the lid has been taken off with the immensely successful Brusselicious (brusselicious.be), a 12-month celebration of gastronomy. Events are scheduled right up to December, ranging from a week-long chocolate festival at the beginning of November to the Tram Experience, where each night diners rumble through the streets in carriages fitted out as salons serving dishes prepared by Michelin-starred chefs.
Away from the festival, the city boasts a host of creative restaurants that are forging a very individual identity for Belgian cuisine. Here is a selection, ranging from the best-known gastronomic addresses to the latest gourmet hot spots.
COMME CHEZ SOI
Locals and visiting gastronomes reserve way in advance for a table in Comme Chez Soi’s elegant art nouveau dining room, five minutes’ walk from the Grand Place. Opened in 1926 as a “home-cooking” eatery and still run by the same family, it was legendary chef Pierre Wynants who transformed it into an haute-cuisine temple. The kitchen is now headed by his son-in-law, Lionel Rigolet, whose sumptuous dishes include plump Zeeland mussels with a lemon tea jelly, and veal kidney and crispy sweetbreads with mustard à l’ancienne, asparagus and chorizo.
- Open Tues-Sat for lunch and dinner (Wed dinner only). Three-course weekday lunch menu €55, five-course tasting menu €133
- Place Rouppe; tel +32 2512 2921; commechezsoi.be
BRASSERIE DE LA PAIX
Close to the Eurostar terminal, the venerable Brasserie de la Paix is opposite what was once the city’s abbatoir, today a seething North African market. Businessmen and foodies arrive by taxi to savour the cuisine of the most talked-about chef in town, David Martin. He has preserved the venue’s old-time ambiance while his cuisine successfully retains local favourites such as deep-fried croquettes, here filled with creamy potatoes and foie gras instead of the traditional Ostend shrimps. Other surprises include a classic tender poulet de Bresse slow-cooked in hay. The ultimate weekday lunch rendezvous, reservations must be made well in advance.
- Open Mon-Fri for lunch and Fri for dinner until 9pm. Seven-course tasting menu €85
- Rue Ropsy-Chaudron; tel +32 2523 0958; lapaix1892.com
LE CHALET DE LA FORET
This grandiose restaurant impresses both for its location – a magical mansion in the heart of the Cambre forest, 15 minutes’ drive from the centre – and the daring cuisine of Pascal Devalkeneer, who has recently been awarded a second Michelin star. His recipes follow the seasons and are deceptively simple, making expert use of the finest Belgian products – a delicate mackerel fillet wonderfully flavoured with a tangy leaf of wild sorrel, a fresh herb risotto with local “petit-gris” snails and frog legs, or an artichoke heart surrounded by tender morsels of braised veal cheeks, topped off with slices of black truffles. Book well in advance.
- Open Mon-Fri for lunch and dinner, private events possible Sat-Sun. Lunch menu €45, four-course menu €79
- Drève de Lorraine; tel +32 2374 5416; lechaletdelaforet.be
Lola is a Brussels institution, timelessly fashionable and serving innovative cuisine that is unaffected by passing culinary trends. The smart, airy dining room is minimalist in design and always buzzing – more New York than Brussels – with a “peep show”-style window letting diners peek in at the chefs performing their skills. The dishes are light and original, from a daring foie gras carpaccio accompanied by a warm lentil salad, to duck roasted in mango, and a classic steak tartare. It’s great for Saturday or Sunday lunch as it looks out over the lively weekend Grand Sablon antiques market.
- Open daily for lunch and dinner. No set menus, two-course meal €48
- Place du Grand Sablon; tel+32 2514 2460; restolola.be
Christophe Hardiquest is the rising star of Belgian cuisine, and he has made a huge jump by moving his comfy Bon Bon restaurant from the quiet Uccle district last year to luxurious new premises on the prestigious Avenue de Tervueren, an exclusive neighbourhood not far from the Parc du Cinquantenaire. He has continued his highly individual concept of an atelier de cuisine, with diners looking out on a long, minimalist counter manned by a brigade of passionate young chefs, inventing recipes right in front of them, all under Hardiquest’s watchful eye. Dishes change regularly but on a recent tasting the mouth-watering selection ranged from a sea scallop carpaccio with oyster gazpacho and pigeon roasted in a crust of sesame seeds paired with a spicy consommé, to a sensational déclinée of eel served in different ways – as a foam “cappuccino”, tempura-fried, and prepared with foie gras and apple.
- Open Mon for dinner, Tues-Fri for lunch and dinner. Three-course lunch menu €50, seven-course menu €145.
- Avenue de Tervueren; tel +32 2346 6615; bon-bon.be
Talented chef Gaetan Colin is one of the most dynamic players on the Brussels gourmet scene, also running the popular Brasserie Jaloa in the heart of the hip Sainte-Catherine neighbourhood. His chic fine-dining restaurant, housed in a 17th-century mansion a few hundred yards from his first address, opened just over a year ago and has already been awarded a Michelin star. The small, exclusive dining room features a changing daily menu that reflects the seasons. At lunch, there is a prix-fixe three-course menu du marché (e45), but in the evening most diners cannot resist the e105 nine-course tasting menu, featuring divine dishes such as baby squids stuffed with scampi and goose liver, and exotic ginger-glazed sweetbreads with a tartare of smoked pears. As with all the restaurants mentioned, wine pairings are offered with the tasting menus – a popular option with diners here.
- Open Tues-Sat for lunch and dinner.
- Quai aux Barques; tel +32 2513 1992; restaurantjaloa.com
Avenue Louise is the stylish Champs-Elysées of Brussels, and alongside the haute-couture boutiques, a grand art nouveau villa has been transformed into a cutting-edge gourmet restaurant. Opened earlier this year, the walls are hung with striking photos of the chef and his staff, a contemporary contrast to the classic turn-of-the-century décor. Young chef Vincent Vervisch has launched a daring concept whereby each dish features either different teas from around the world or the distinctive aroma of cigars. It all sounds pretty strange, but the tastes are both subtle and memorable – try the wild duck roasted with a delicate infusion of Havana cigar, or a locally fished sole served with a shrimp and smoked tea sauce. Desserts are delicious, too, and include a luscious moelleux au chocolat (sponge cake with a hot chocolate centre) paired with Matcha tea ice cream. The two-course set lunch is excellent value at only e16.50.
- Open Mon-Fri, lunch and dinner. Tasting menus €55 -€95.
- Avenue Louise; tel +32 2808 0858; erpure.be
VA DOUX VENT
This cosy dining room and big open kitchen has in the past year been taken over by two exciting young chefs – both of whom previously worked at Yves Mattagne’s Sea Grill, the two-star Michelin restaurant in the city-centre Radisson Blu Royal hotel – along with a former sommelier from Comme Chez Soi. This is their first restaurant and guests immediately sense their enthusiasm and eagerness to surprise. The cuisine has a freshness about it, combining subtle ingredients – dishes include roast pigeon smoked just before serving with malt whiskey, sea bass complemented by an intense shellfish bouillon, and an irresistible creamy cake of mascarpone, smothered with maple syrup and served with a sorbet of tangy kriek beer. Va Doux Vent also has the best wine selection of the new venues mentioned here, with many vintages available by the glass.
- Open Tues-Fri for lunch and dinner, Sat for dinner. Three-course business lunch €35, four-course tasting menu €45.
- Rue des Carmelites; tel +32 2346 6505; vadouxvent.be
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