We were recently in Brussels for a few days and were thrilled to discover these three establishments –running the gamut from a bit of a splurge to street food – that are sure to satisfy next time you are in the European capital.
rue Charles Hanssens 5, quartier du Sablon, Brussels 1000, Belgium
Orphyse Chaussette is one of those rare finds that you aren’t sure you want to share with anyone else – it has that elusive cozy charm of a restaurant that somehow makes you forget any woes or worries and truly enjoy your dining experience. Nestled in the cobblestone streets of the Sablon district, the space is dimly lit by a crystal chandelier and warmly decorated with wood as well as leather trompe l’oeil murals giving the space a distinctly Old World magic. Proprietor Philippe Renoux presides over the room with a generosity of spirit that is integral to the dining experience: he brings the chalkboard menu bearing that night’s creations tableside and presents it to his diners, kindly answering any questions you may have and thoughtfully suggesting wine pairings, making you feel like a valued guest in his establishment. We trusted our wine selection to Renoux who made an excellent recommendation based on our dinner selections; the restaurant is noted for its cellar of reasonably priced bottles from Renoux’s native South-West of France, the Languedoc region. The menu is also inspired by Renoux’s homeland but somehow it seems to transcend region and style and offers an admirable blend between comfort and refinement, balancing simplicity with elegance. We started with a swordfish tartar accompanied by a lightly dressed salad and a simple slice of toast; the fish was so fresh and bright it demanded only the most subtle and respectful treatment. We followed this with a main of scallops which had that lovely, flavour-building seared surface containing an incredibly moist interior and also sampled the veal shoulder which was also seared and sliced, the juicy flesh cooked to tender medium-rare perfection. Dessert did not fail to impress – the warm chocolate cake, obviously crafted with the highest quality dark chocolate, was incredibly rich but not too saccharine. Every dish was thoughtfully prepared and precisely executed – based on our experience at Orphyse Chaussette, we wouldn’t hesitate to try anything on Renoux’s menu.
Rue de Marché au Poulets 41 1000 Brussels, Belgium
If you’re in the mood for a fun place to have a casual bite, Bia Mara is a fantastic option providing a variety of fish and chips for 10 Euros, or tacos for 8 Euros. While chicken and vegetarian meals are available, Bia Mara’s real strength is fish. Billed as an ‘Urban Seafood Kitchen’, this perfectly describes the hip vibe of their small space with its concrete walls and floor, simple seating, and exposed bulb lighting. Originally from Ireland and having been surrounded by the sea, the owners wanted to bring accessible seafood to Brussels and it was obvious from the very friendly greeting we received that they are truly excited about their endeavour. Choose from haddock, mackerel or pollock all dressed in crispy panko breadcrumbs and expertly deep fried – the fish will come accompanied with fat wedges of hand-cut chips dusted with your choice of homemade salt (seaweed, balsamic and red onion, garlic and chilli) or a lemon and fennel potato salad. Their tacos, while not at all traditional and better described as a wrap, are surprisingly satisfying – the fish version comes stuffed with a generous portion of crisp, deep fried haddock, red coleslaw and salsa fresca. And, fittingly in Belgium, you can wash your meal down with a bottle of Leffe, Hoegaarden or Kriek.
Place Jourdan 1 1040 Etterbeek, Belgium
Frites (or fries – just don’t call them French fries) are a Belgian national obsession with more than 4000 frietkots (frites shops) populating the country. Maison Antoine is said to be one of the best frites operations in Brussels and if the queues are any indication, its reputation is well-deserved. They use the traditional Bintje potato which has more flavour than your average spud and stands up beautifully to double-frying with a texture that is in the middle of the waxy vs. floury spectrum – it is the perfect potato from which to craft this simple but moreish treat. We waited half an hour for this Belgian delicacy and it was well worth it: for a couple of Euros you receive a golden, twice-fried, piping-hot pile of frites, generously sprinkled with salt. Served in a paper cone, they were accompanied by a dipping sauce of our choice. We played it safe with the spicy ketchup and the aioli, both fantastic and flavourful options, but there were at least two dozen on offer meaning this simple snack will never be boring.