Having recently swept up multiple awards and high praise from critics, Brussels has become one of the great unsung culinary capitals of northern Europe.
Its geography has a lot to do with this. Brussels benefits from close ties to the coast and agricultural traditions, but despite having made gastronomic leaps forward in recent years, most restaurants in the city still celebrate Belgium’s excellent national dish: moules et frites (mussels and chips).
COMME CHEZ SOI
Cuisine: Belgium Gastronomy
Style / Ambiance: For generations Comme Chez Soi has been Brussels’s top gastronomic institution, a reputation that is now cemented in the form of two Michelin stars and membership of Les Grandes Tables du Monde.
But the exciting three course and à la carte menus alone have not won Comme Chez Soi such acclaim; equally impressive are the variety of exciting dining locations. The private rooms are ideal for intimate meals and banquets with their charming wood paneling and low-beamed ceilings. Less intimate and far less quiet is ‘the kitchen table’, quite literally a table in the kitchen where diners can admire the chefs at work as if they were on a theater stage. The main dining room is fashioned in the exotic art nouveau style of Victor Horta and is architecturally the most admirable of the three. Despite the awards and architecture, it is history that has assured Comme Chez Soi’s reputation. Since Georges Cuvelier gave the restaurant its name, which literally translates as ‘like home’, it has been passed down through the family and today it is run by Lionel Rigolet, a chef passionate about Belgium gastronomy.
Style / Ambiance: With a passion for fresh produce, Chef Chistophe Hardiquest changes Bon-Bon’s menu daily according to what is available at the local market.
The resulting dishes have been highly-praised and earned the restaurant a star in Michelin’s 2011 Belgium Guide. The dining room in this art nouveau house is small, seating only 40, but separating the kitchen from the dining room is a bar opening into the kitchen at which diners can sit and admire Hardiquest in his element alongside Chef Pâtissier, Nicolas Moreira.
SEA GRILL YVES MATTAGNE
Cuisine: Gastronomic seafood
Style / Ambiance: Where better to forge a career and reputation out of seafood gastronomy than in a country that celebrates shellfish like no other? This year Yves Mattagne has been given two stars in the Michelin Guide and an award from Les Grandes Tables du Monde.
From his intimate and recently refurbished restaurant in the Radisson Hotel, Mattagne offers a changing and fresh seafood menu, but one fixture on the menu remains Mattagne’s dish extraordinaire: Homard à la Presse. This translates, with less delicacy, into ‘lobster press’, a contraption that is essential to this dish and used in only four other restaurants in the world. For lovers of lobster this is a must, not only for the exquisite taste but all the theatrics that go with it. When ordering ‘Homard à la Presse’ the lobster is brought to your table where it is pressed in the elegant silver device, the juices collected are then mixed into a fresh mousse that accompanies the meat. The result of this theatrical flair is an extraordinary dish with flavors you are unlikely to experience anywhere else.
LA TRUFFE NOIRE
Style / Ambiance: La Truffe Noire is a restaurant dedicated to one ingredient – the truffle. After a relentless search to fuse black and white truffles with the finest ingredients in the most inventive menus, La Truffe Noire has finally been awarded a Michelin star for its work.
A range of tasting menus will open your eyes to the astonishing taste of black and white truffles. Try, for example, carpaccio of bleue des près (a rare variety of Belgian beef) with shaved black truffles, or carpaccio of wild salmon à la façon de Liugi with parmesan cheese and summer truffles. The truffle theme continues in the desert menu with delights such as black chocolate truffle in a spun sugar nest with fresh raspberry sauce. Private events at La Truffe Noire are as extravagant as the truffles themselves: a private dining room can accommodate up to 20 guests or the whole restaurant can be reserved for 50. Three types of inclusive menu – Silver, Gold and Platinum – ensure that any event is as memorable and impressive as this magical ingredient.
Style / Ambiance: After opening its doors in May 2010, Alexandre had already been awarded a Michelin star by the time the guide was published in November of the same year.
To have achieved such a prestigious award after only five months bodes well for Alexandre’s future; indeed the restaurant is already well established on Brussels’s culinary map. Chef, founder and the man behind the restaurant’s name, Alexandre Dionisio, cooks according to the greatest principle of gastronomy: fresh and seasonal produce. The menus are built around the availability of fresh produce and are therefore subject to change on a daily basis.
Style / Ambiance: In a nation that celebrates shellfish, oysters do not have the associated extravagance that they do elsewhere.
Instead, dining on oysters is often the norm – many of Brussels’s restaurants have oysters in addition to other shellfish. However, Toucan-sur-Mer is one restaurant that does not take oysters lightly; on their menu you can find more oysters than most know exist, such as Belon No 5 Cadoret, Colchester Naze, Normande Helie and Fine de Claire Barrau. These are preceded with a delightful variety of entrées, also emphasizing shellfish and accompanied by the restaurant’s carefully selected caviar and vodka. Toucan-sur-Mer is not to be missed by seafood lovers.