Tuesday, 7 June 2022

LOVELY JUBBLY


Metro, our urbanite hipster metrosexual friend from London, came on the Eurostar to Brussels to escape the madness of the Platinum Jubilee weekend

He was staying at the Zoom Hotel in trendy Ixelles, which is described as "cosy industrial style".  His room was big and he loved the district.  He pays for stuff by just waving his phone vaguely in the direction of the waiter, and hops from e-scooter to Uber with ease. He has All The Apps.

On a warm post-pandemic Thursday evening, most watering holes I passed on my way to Ixelles were rammed - place Lux, place Jourdan - but St Boniface was relatively calm and there were still free tables on the huge terrasse of Le Clan Des Belges opposite the church.  Across the street is the St Boniface restaurant, which had popped up more than once when I was searching for cassoulet.  It is run by a lovely young Belgo-Portuguese couple - Vincent cooks, Ana does front of house - and is modelled on a typical "bouchon" Lyonnais, with its red checked tablecloths and old fashioned French posters on the walls.  There are as many tables outside as inside but it was starting to cloud over so we sat inside.  Ana welcomed us warmly, and took our order.  Gorbals and I ordered the cassoulet, which did not disappoint.  It is listed as the real Castelnaudary cassoulet, and came sizzling from the oven, loaded with sausage, duck leg and pork.  Metro ordered the rognons et ris de veau (calf's kidneys and sweetbreads).  We had two half-litre carafes of the house wine - one Beaujolais, one Cotes-du-Rhône.  We reluctantly passed on starters in hopes of leaving room for dessert, but couldn't even manage that.  A very pleasant evening and we left with the firm intention of returning to sample more of their menu in the future.  That's a keeper.


May be an image of food

 

 

A late snifter is hard to find on a Thursday when there's not a platinum jubilee in town, and after a coffee at l'Ultime Atome we ended up in l'Archipel, one of the many African bars on the edges of Matongé.  It was quiet, just a couple of tables where Congolese patrons were engaged in quiet conversation.  The barman was tall dark and handsome.  The music on the sound system was ... Abba.  I asked if he had any Fela Kuti.  He feigned ignorance with a fairly non apologetic smile.  My gaydar started beeping.  Either that, or this is what Africans listen to when there are no white people around. 

Two lowlifes stumbled in.  Think Jesse Pinkman's mates from early "Breaking Bad".  Our muscular barman went to serve them and soon persuaded them they were in the wrong bar.  They left, but soon returned.  After a second conversation with the barman, we heard him raise his voice in a quite forceful "Non!" and escorted them off the premises.  Gay perhaps, but no pushover.

Saturday I took Metro to see the new revamp of the old customs halls at Tour & Taxis, a renovation project which London would give its eye teeth for.  The food court in the Gare Maritime is super high tech, no cash, all contact-free Covid-safe payment. You do the rounds of the food outlets then order on the app, or at the central bar, and give your first name and mobile number.  So far so Starbucks.  You then find a seat, and you get a text when your order is ready.  Not exactly service with a smile, but it's fast and efficient.  We had smashed baby potatoes with bacon and sauce, a new one on me.  Not stoemp and not baked potato, it's boiled new potatoes roughly smashed then fried and served with toppings.  All the rage in that London apparently.  A lot's changed in the past two and a half years ...

It was a hot and sunny afternoon so on the way back we stopped at Parc Josaphat for a refreshment at La Guinguette Populeir.  I love a pub in a park, me.

On Saturday night Metro screeched up on a trottinette (e-scooter to you) at the terrasse of the revamped Grand Café, next to the Bourse, which is once again en travaux, as if the concrete wasteland all around is not bad enough.  By the way, the paving used for the whole of the piétonnier (pedestrianized zone) which now comprises the Brussels Ramblas is not Belgian bluestone.  It is from Kilkenny!  We saw the pallets of slabs when it was being laid.  So I always make a point of riverdancing down the boulevard Anspach.



 

After an apérol spritz or two, the plan was to head for St Géry in search of live music bars but it was getting late and we ended up in nearby Sainte Catherine, where restaurants were either full or closing.  Le Pré Salé on rue de Flandre was out of mussels but everything else was on the menu. It may look like a urinal on the inside with its white tiles, but the food and the welcome were excellent. The walls are hung with photos of Belgian celebs - Johnny Hallyday, Justine Henin, Annie Cordy, Frédéric Francois,  Benoit Poelvoorde, and other luminaries you may never have heard of.  Arno is not yet in their pantheon, despite living in the quartier, maybe in the same street, until his sad demise only a month ago, and I suggested to the young gel that they might like to honour him, which she duly noted.




May be an image of food


This time Gorbals and I had the kidneys in mustard sauce and Metro had a very pink filet mignon, with a carafe of house red and dainty bowls of fries on the side.  All very delicious.  The atmosphere was jolly and they ramped up the music towards the end of the night, Whitney Houston and Britney Spears, what's not to like?

Le Monk is an echt Brusseleir bar. Metro and I ordered cocktails.  I wanted something sweet and sticky.  The barman suggested an Apple Pie Martini, made with a mysterious Spanish concoction called Licor 43, apple juice, cinnamon and whipped egg white.  It was quite delicious, and in future I will have a sticky instead of dessert. Metro was a bit disappointed with his whisky sour however.


May be an image of 1 person and drink



Metro is a 24-hour party person, so we repaired to Le Cirio for last orders, a good old fashioned Brussels stalwart with its waiters in long aprons.  And that's where we found ourselves held hostage to Belgian skies, which opened around midnight and caused us to be trapped in the bar.  It was a deluge of biblical proportions.  As a result we just missed the last metro.  Luckily the rain stopped and a passing taxi did likewise so we got home and, remarkably, dry.  And I spent Sunday watching the Platinum Jubilee on playback.


Zoom Hotel, rue de la Concorde 59
Le Clan Des Belges, 20 rue de la Paix
Le Saint Boniface, 9 rue St Boniface
L'Archipel, 29 rue de la Paix

Gare Maritime, Tour&Taxis
La Guinguette Populeir, Parc Josaphat

Le Grand Café, 78 boulevard Anspach
Le Pré Salé, 20 rue de Flandre
Le Monk, 42 rue Sainte-Catherine
Le Cirio, 18 rue de la Bourse



Saturday, 12 December 2020

MINCE & TATTIES

 

Lancashire potato hash | Daisies & Pie

The good Reverend Richard Coles mentioned on Saturday Live this morning a dish called Lancashire Tater Ash, which was new to me.  For my non-anglophone readers, "tater" is local dialect for "potato", and "ash" is local pronunciation of "hash", from the French "hachis", meaning chopped or minced.  It turns out to be nothing more complicated than mince & tatties, a very simple dish and a quick meal that can be thrown together with potatoes, onion and minced meat, ingredients I often have lying around, and meat stock.  Additional diced carrots, peas and celery can enhance the texture and vitamin content. It is traditionally served with red cabbage on the side. 

Rearranging the layers in a hotpot, where the sliced potatoes are laid on top of the meat mix and baked in the oven, makes an attractive dish to serve the family or an informal dinner party.

Minced Lamb Hot Pot - SuperValu


Basic mince & tatties is a popular dish in Scotland, where the vegetables (apart from tatties) are optional.   Tasty, although not always appetizing.   It can be shooshed up with the addition of Worcestershire sauce while frying the meat, or more exotic spices such as cumin or turmeric if you are adventurous,   Beer or stout, or red wine mixed with meat stock also gives extra oomph to the taste of the meat.  The stock may need to be thickened with cornstarch or (ssshh) Bisto to hold it all together.


Mince And Tatties Recipe | HungryForever Food Blog | Recipe | Mince and  tatties recipe, Healthy drinks recipes, Scottish recipes




Curry spices, or a jar of instant curry sauce if you're lazy, will transform the mince into an aloo keema

Keema Aloo (Ground Beef and Potatoes)

 

 

Classic Shepherd's, or Cottage Pie is a way of preparing minced lamb (or beef) and mashed potato for several people and would not look out of place at an informal dinner party, depending on how you present it.  

The Best Classic Shepherd's Pie - The Wholesome Dish


In Belgium minced beef is called "steak américain" and is very lean, as often eaten raw in a tartare.  A veal/pork mix is commonly used for the Belgian variation of spaghetti bolognese.  Leftover bolognese sauce is a good base for most mince based dishes.  I usually put mushrooms and tomato passata in my bolo which can also be added to any of the above dishes. Any and all variations of mince & tatties, be it minced beef, lamb or poultry, with potatoes sliced or mashed, integrated or layered, enhanced with diced vegetables and condiments, make fine comfort food on cold winter days.  I often find myself with sprouting potatoes in the vegetable basket that need using up, and usually keep a pack of minced meat and frozen peas in the freezer.  It's not haute cuisine, but it beats sending out for a pizza.

Non English speakers (and Americans) should be warned that the "mincemeat" sold around Christmas time is Not Meat.  It is mixed spiced dried fruit (sultanas, currants, raisins, citrus peel, and SUET) used in sweet mince pies and Christmas pudding.   Far be it from me to curb innovation in the kitchen, but I imagine it's not great with potatoes and gravy.

 

 





Saturday, 17 October 2020

MAXIME COLIN, KRAAINEM

My ambition upon retirement from Spart Towers was to become a Lady who Lunches.  The fates have conspired against me.  Firstly they gave me a second in command who hates posh restaurants and gourmet food.  Secondly, they gave me diabetes.  And thirdly, corona virus has resulted in a series of lockdowns of the restaurant sector.  I have managed to get out for the occasional socially-distanced meal with a select small group of friends maybe three times in the last six months.  For a food writer, it is hardly encouraging.  

My aristocratic friend the Dowager Duchess of Merthyr Tydfil, Myfanwy to her friends, recommended a gourmet restaurant out her way, where they offered a business lunch for 40 euros, which seemed just about within our budgets.

  

Chateau Jourdain


Maxime Colin

Maxime Colin (no not the Birmingham City French international) is tucked away in a leafy part of Kraainem, on the eastern outskirts of Brussels, technically in Flanders, but then I could walk to Flanders from my house.  The restaurant is situated by a lake in the grounds of the Chateau Jourdain, a long-abandoned country house now used as an events venue.   An idyllic setting on a warm summer day.  Unfortunately the day we chose to go was grey, cold and wet.  But hey.  This was all about food and taking our pearls out for an airing.

The restaurant has been there since 2016 and can boast three chef's hats and a 15/20 in the Gault & Millau guide and one plate ("good cooking") in the 2020 Michelin Belgium.  Maxime Colin was 
named Young Chef of the Year in the 2016 Gault & Millau in his previous role as no.2 at the prestigious Villa Lorraine.  



Not him

We had booked ahead, of course, and despite the coronavirus there were a good half dozen tables occupied, and we were received with suitable deference and a dollop of hand sanitizer at the door.  A bit of bowing and scraping is what you pay for in these places.  I had judiciously stashed my rucksack in the car and brought a neat little handbag to carry my pills and personalized toothpicks.  They did not give us stools for our bags, as I have seen in some restaurants, but we had a nice round table in a window corner.  


We must have been served by about six different staff:  the manager, the cloakroom girl, the wine waiter, the hors d'oeuvre waiter, and possibly a different waiter for each course, although as they were all masked up it was hard to tell.  They all seemed very young, and their English a little shaky, which is rather surprising in Brussels and even more so in Flanders.  They were mightily relieved when we switched to French.  


The Duchess ordered bubbles to wet our whistles.  As you do.  While we sipped our champagne the manager explained the menu.  Unfortunately, either due to the mask or his poor English, it was a bit rushed and I didn't catch it all.  Somewhere in the dish of the day was mussels, I think, which ruled it out for me.  The alternatives were not numerous - always a good sign - so I chose beef followed by fish, and Myfanwy did the opposite, fish and then meat.  All the wines on the list were by the bottle, but after some eyelash fluttering we managed to negotiate two glasses of a pleasant white wine, which the sommelier took longer to describe than it took us to drink. 




A word of warning:  if you want the 40 euro business lunch menu, make sure that's what you're ordering from. 


While we waited, we were brought not one, but two fancy amuse-bouches!  To tickle our taste buds, a trio of (1) butternut squash soup in a test tube, a walnut and caviare in buttermilk, and a "croustillant" of slow roasted lamb.  Followed by a variation on the old Belgian classic shrimp-stuffed tomato, involving north sea grey shrimp in a seafood sauce topped with a disc of tomato gelee.






The starters arrived, with much flourishing and detailed explanation of what untold delicacies we were about to put in our mouths.    

Our starters for ten:  Raw Daurade royale (bream) marinated in citrus vinegar with slivers of radish, and Wafer thin slices of 40-day aged Holstein beef tataki with blackberries and minutely diced carrots







Main courses: Lamb cutlets "Broutard" with artichoke and preserved tomatoes, and a dab of black garlic puree and Red mullet (rouget barbet) with crisp baked scales topped with puree of piquillo peppers and courgette flower in tempura served on hot stones
 




And finally, dessert:   Baba aux fraises with pistachios, creme diplomate drizzled in strawberry liqueur, and Stilton with a fig and caramelized shallot marmalade.  Made for a foodporn website.






A wee coffee and it was time for the bill, which came as a bit of a shock.  We had not had the business lunch at all, but had accidentally opted for the 66 euro 3-course menu, which, with the champagne and wine had landed us a bill for about 100 euros each.  We sighed philosophically and I made a mental note to dig out my "100 turnip recipes" book.   Still, you can't live it large and plead poverty can you.  I couldn't help feeling, on reflection, that the management were not going out of their way to offer us the most reasonable deal, from the menu to the wine, and resolved to take a tattier handbag in future.  But in the current circumstances, I suppose it is understandable.  

It was absolutely delicious, every mouthful.  A treat for the eyes and the tastebuds.  The slightly obsequious service was a little OTT for me, although the Duchess seemed to find it all perfectly normal.  This is how the other half of Merthyr Tydfil lives.  




Reviews:   
Le Soir, March 2016










Monday, 7 September 2020

LOCKDOWN LIFE


Restaurant La Terrasse à Etterbeek - Menu, avis, prix et réservation


Avenue of the Celts


Corona Virus has been yet another nail in the coffin for this food blogger.  First diabetes - there goes the dessert course - now this.  Half the restaurants in Brussels have closed.    On the other hand, I don't get out much and I didn't before.  I have been out maybe three times with a small select group of friends since lockdown, under carefully orchestrated social distancing conditions, and a couple of times to friends' gardens.   I have done no entertaining. 

Being a keen cook, I have not made great use of takeaways apart from the local pizzeria, and for that I apologise to local businesses.  But the young lad upstairs does.  When I see an Uber bike pull up in front of the house, I just point upwards to indicate which bell to ring. 

I do venture out occasionally for a bit of exercise and try to vary my route.  On my perambulations I find much has changed.  New buildings have sprung up, the construction industry carrying on as if nothing has changed.  Some restaurants have closed down, but some new ones have opened in areas where I haven't been for a while.  I visit them vicariously, making mental notes for better times.  

Avenue des Celtes, between Merode and place St Pierre, is becoming quite the mini Latin quarter.  Flanked at the top by twin classic Belgian institutions La Terrasse and Carpe Diem, it now boasts 2 Lebanese takeaways and a slightly more upmarket Lebanese eat-in B.Saj,  Vietnamese pho shop Hanoi Station which also does authentic banh mi sandwiches to eat in or take away, Capoue Italian ice cream, and Greek restaurant Ellinikon.  I sometimes pop into Smak the Polski sklep for some kabanosy, those long thin salami type sausages that are delicious with dill pickles, and try to practice my Polish on the cashier.  "Dzien dobry!"  I greet her cheerfully, to which she will snarl:  "Pośpiesz się, nie mam całego dnia", whereupon I will reluctantly revert to French.  There is also a Polish tea room Mademoiselle Meringue serving Polish cakes like real cheesecake.  The organic grocery The B
arn is on the place St Pierre, and a few minutes walk away in rue des Boers is French boulangerie-patisserie Gateau.  The baker is French and makes the best baguette in Brussels in my book.  You have to get there early mind, there is often a queue, especially on weekends, and he is usually sold out by 11 a.m.  He is one of the few patissiers, along with Fleur de Pain at place Flagey, to make real chocolate eclairs with chocolate cream filling and also sometimes has chouquettes, those lighter than air sugary puff things, and fougasse bread.  (Etymologists note fougasse - foccaccia - from the same root).


===================

Eat falafel, help a refugee

Syrian food is very similar to Greek, Turkish, Egyptian, Israeli, Lebanese and generally all Eastern Mediterranean cuisine.  Flatbreads, minced lamb, salads, yoghurt, chick peas, falafel.  But each country has their own take on the dishes, with their own blends of spices, often jealously guarded.  To be fair, it would take a local to distinguish between Lebanese and Syrian food, which is why they often feature on the same menu.  Syrian street food is simple, easy to eat standing up, and nutritious, and a welcome alternative to the dubious benefits of the Doner kebab or gyros.  Veggies and vegans can also enjoy a falafel, chick pea fritters in a flatbread.  

Syrian refugees don't let the grass grow under their feet.  Most of them are well educated professionals, and so it is no surprise that the first chain of Syrian/Lebanese restaurants is already established in Brussels, under the label My Tannour.  Modern, affordable meze and wraps served in clean, light and airy premises, with of course takeaway and delivery on offer at the present time. 

There are branches in Ixelles and St Gilles, and an outlet at Wolf food market downtown.  


98 rue de la brasserie, 1050 ixelles

36 avenue Adolphe Demeur, 1060 Saint-Gilles





Reviews

https://be.gaultmillau.com/restaurant/my-tannour


Monday, 17 February 2020

BEER AND DUMPLINGS

Update  24 May 2020:  In view of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, please do not take offence at what follows.  It was dated 17 February.  We didn't know that the vile virus was already among us.  Nobody did.  It was not, obviously the middle of the corona virus panic.  It was the beginning.   COVID did do its worst.  It is a relic from a recent past when we were carefree and social.  God knows how many people caught the virus that night in Brussels alone.    Forgive us, for we knew not what we did. 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *




Woodbine Kitty, Gorbals and I are kindred spirits.  Rebels, natural risk takers, we'll take you all down with us.  In the middle of the Corona virus panic, we decided we wanted to try out a newish Chinese restaurant.  I know. We just don't care.   COVID, do your worst.


It was Valentine's Day, and it so happened that I had just received a Valentine from the Belgian authorities that very day.  I had been registered as a Belgian.  This required a vote of thanks to the Kingdom, which involved sampling several glasses of Belgium's finest. After a swift half in the Brewdog, we braved Storm Dennis as far as  the Grand'Place where we ducked  into Leroy's (Le Roy d'Espagne).  The waiters wear funny aprons, there is a roaring fire in the middle of the room, bars on the windows and puppets and pig bladders hanging from the ceiling.  So far, so Belgian.  A couple of toasts to Phil and Mattie* and we were ready to pursue our odyssey.

I can't remember when I last saw downtown Brussels so packed.  There was this light show going on, which we had intended to visit and then missed most of, and the weather was unseasonably warm despite Storm Dennis blowing up, which may explain partly why the city centre was so packed.  Grand'Place was heaving.

In the Archipel bar we fell into conversation with some wacky young Flemings who were all wearing each other's hats.   When they  learned I was newly one of them, they all stood up and shook my hand and wished me Welkom in Belgium, after which we all sang Happy Birthday to You in Flemish. After 15 years in the birthplace of surrealism, this seemed perfectly normal behaviour to me.

By the time we hit Dam Sum, we were rather windswept and interesting with healthy appetites to boot. Dam Sum looks huge from the outside, but doesn't go back very far so is the opposite of the Tardis.   It was packed with kwailos, and the waiting staff were uber trendy beautiful young things of all ethnicities.  Our waitress was a delightful maiden from South Korea with perfect teeth and a California accent.  




Kitty wanted to kick off with dim sum and cocktails. Well why not.  Gorbals had never had a cocktail in his life and gave his Yantai serious examination (see above) before knocking it back in one go.   I had a Hong Kong Pink, gin and pomegranate syrup and guava juice.  The 3 types of dim sum (about 8 euros for 3 pieces) were good, hand made in a pristine open kitchen where bamboo steamers were on the go.


Beef noodle soup
For mains Gorbals had a classic wonton soup, I had a beef noodle soup, and Kitty had something fried with noodles she'd been coveting on someone else's plate since we'd come in.  The beef noodle soup was good, plenty of vegetables and meat (eyes left) but the broth was lacking in something oriental, not a patch on Thaimo my lunchtime hole-in-the-wall. We would have liked a glass of wine at this point, but the waiter said they were technically closed as of 11 p.m. and couldn't serve us anything else, even though it was only 10:50.  This struck us as very uncommercial, but may explain why the restaurant is squeezed into a shopfront under a hotel.  

Unable to order anything else, we paid and ventured out into the arms of Dennis who blew us clean across the square to a bar, where we had a last snifter before taking the metro home. On the tube we fell into conversation with two older couples who had clearly been on a very enjoyable night out and were wearing each other's hats.  Must be a Belgian St Valentine's tradition.


* Their majesties King Philippe of the Belgian, and Queen Mathilde



Dam Sum
Quai du Bois a Bruler 51
Sainte-Catherine
and 
Parvis de la Trinite 11
Ixelles

Some more of my favourite oriental eateries:


YAKI (Viet-Thai)
Rue du Pont de la Carpe 1
Rue du Midi 52 and

Rue des Poissonniers 6b
Best Thai noodle soup I have ever tasted.



Thaimo (Thai)
Rue du Pont Neuf 35
between Adolphe Max and Jacqumain
Hole in the wall. Top notch noodle soup.
Not spicy - but they will add fire if you want.
Open lunchtimes and early evening.
Cash only.



Boulevard de la Botanique
and
Rue de la Paix 27
Pho-starter-drink combo for 14 euros, decent enough
Pho and pretty popular with Asian people so must be
doing something right.


Rue de Treves 38
opposite European Parliament
touchscreen ordering, big shared tables
full of overexcited stagiaires

"Little Saigon" can be found in the university district known, inexplicably, as "Petite Suisse".   Chaussée de Boondael alone boasts about 10 Vietnamese restaurants:
320  Hanoi Square
325  Pho Diem Xuan
326 Chez Fleur (Viet)
328  Chao (Viet)
332  La Pagode d’Or (Viet)
347  Apocalypse (Viet)
360  Exodus (Viet)
436  L’Orchidee Blanche(Viet)

470  Makisu (Japanese)

Monday, 27 January 2020

MY, GRANDMA, WHAT BIG TEETH YOU HAVE

WOLF
Brussels food market, 50 rue du Fossé aux Loups


I waited a few weeks until the novelty had worn off a little before venturing into WOLF, the new trendy foodie market in downtown Brussels.    It is situated in the Wolvengracht meaning Wolf's Canal, which has been mistranslated into French as rue du Fossé aux Loups.  It has nothing to do with wolves, but refers to the owner of the land who was called Wolf.   To make it even more fun, I went with a German colleague called Wolfgang.  Just call me Polly Glott.   

The open-air foodie markets in St Gilles and Chasseurs Ardennais and elsewhere are becoming hugely popular, especially with the expats, but they're not much fun in the cold grey drizzle of a Brussels January.    A team of trendy entrepreneurs in the food industry has taken over a beautiful old art deco bank building which had been standing empty for years, gutted it and made it into a pleasant space to eat and drink and stay out of the rain.  It covers 2000 m2 and seats 800. 



I have mixed feelings about these foodie markets.  One the one hand they're a cheap way of sampling food from different countries and a good way for some established restaurants to advertise their wares.  This is how the Time Out market in Lisbon, the benchmark for the concept, started out.  On the other hand, if the food is not quality, they can end up being just a trendy food court.  WOLF houses a pizzeria, a tapas bar, a fish & seafood bar serving mostly oysters and posh stuff, a red-in-tooth-and-claw meat counter run by Dierendonck the butchers, a couple of oriental kitchens including Hanoi Station Vietnamese, an African kitchen run by the people from Toukoul, a couple of burger joints including Les Filles, a poke bar, poke being a Hawaiian concept of eating a mixed salad out of a bowl (how original),  an Indian kitchen, a waffle bar, a Greek taverna, a juice bar and a chocolate & dessert atelier. 




HoReCa, as the HOspitality-REstaurant-CAtering trade is known in Belgium, is my bete noire in this country.   Although the quality of food is high, the Belgian idea of service reminds me of the UK in the 1970s.  It's slow, sloppy, sullen and surly.  Their idea of food hygiene is the stuff of nightmares.  Despite the European Commission's obsession with regulation, hygienic gloves do not appear to be obligatory, as you never see anyone wearing them.  Hair, jewellery, clothing do not seem to be regulated for health and safety.  At the new City2 downstairs food mall, I remarked to the young man who was preparing my lunch for me that his mass of unkempt frizzy hair might be better tied back or in a bandanna when working with food.  He breezily told me he'd run a number of takeaways and he'd never had a complaint from an inspector.   I decided to hush ma mowf.   I know how these things can go in Belgium. The customer is NEVER right. 

The massive island bar in the middle was manned by neatly bearded hipster barmen and surrounded by tables and chairs in the popular "recouped from old schools" style.  Around the edges are 17 food outlets, ranging from tapas to sushi to phô to fish, and a microbrewery for good measure.  In a corner is what was to become an organic food market, open on Saturdays.   Wolf and I decided to go for oriental wraps from Knees to Chin, he queued for the food while I went to the bar for drinks.   A large samovar of iced tea looked tempting, so I ordered two.  They came to EIGHT euros, which is daylight robbery.  The wraps were quite pleasant and suitable for a brief lunch break, although a little light on the meat filling and rather bland. 

The atmosphere on a Friday lunchtime is hectic.  There were queues for all the food counters.   The longest queue was for the Syrian kitchen.   It was very noisy, and most of the tables were taken, so we ended up perching at a counter at the back of an oriental kitchen where a lady was mixing a big salad.  We noticed she was wearing only one hygienic glove.  At one point she wiped her nose with her gloved hand and carried on turning the salad.  

I would return to Wolf in the evening, for a pre- or post-cinema drink, I imagine it is less pressured.   I don't think I'd bother for lunch again.  I would like to have seen some of the more innovative Belgian and European cuisine represented such as Balls & Glory, Poule et Poulette, Noordzee or Bia Mara but maybe I'm more of a food mall gal.  I'm much happier at Lunch Garden. 

For info, these are the outlets currently operating at WOLF.



HANOI STATION * vietnamese
IDEA * greek
LES SUPER FILLES DU TRAM * burgers
KNEES TO CHIN * asian
TOUKOUL TOGO * ethiopian
BOLLYFOOD STORIES * indian
DIERENDONCK * meat
MY TANNOUR * syrian-lebanese
LE COMPTOIR DU CRABE * fish & shells
LA TABLE DU MARCHE * organic & local
LA PIOLA * pizza & pasta
GAUFRES & WAFFLES * sweet & salty
LES FILLES * urban bowls
TAPERO * tapas & bread
POKE CLUB * sushi
VINCENT DENIS * desserts
JUS * juices
Le Wolf, 50 Rue Fossée aux Loups, à 1000 Bruxelles, www.wolf;brussels
Ouvert 7 jours / 7, de 8h à 23h. Toute l'année sauf le 25 décembre.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

MUSSELS IN BRUSSELS

Mussels.  Possibly the most Belgian dish there is.  Fished straight from Zeeland, 70 kilometers away from Brussels and just over the Netherlands border, they are beloved by both French and Belgians, served in their shells in the pot they were cooked in, with a side dish of chips and presented in a hundred different formulations, from the simple and classic marinière to cream sauce, white wine or even curry.  Unlike oysters, they are never eaten raw.  

I can't eat them.

I have tried, several times.  Nine times out of ten I have had a violent reaction.  One involved a spectacular projectile vomit from the top of the grand staircase at Geneva railway station.  I also had a bad reaction to clams in Boston, where the clams couldn't be fresher.  As a result I can only conclude that I have an intolerance to molluscs and will therefore never eat an oyster.

It's a damn shame, especially as I am now diabetic and mussels are perfect for people who should stay away from sugar and fat.  


I am not intolerant to all seafood.  I can eat crustaceans.  Crab, prawns, crayfish, lobster.  Or, as my ex husband used to say, "Yeah you can bloody eat the expensive stuff."  (A clue to why he is an ex is in that quote).

To be a food writer in Brussels who cannot eat mussels is like being a deaf music critic.  I can appreciate the aroma, the presentation, and the ecstasy on the faces of people eating them, but I can never again savour the flavour, the texture or the fiddling about with specialized cutlery.  


C'est la vie. 

They are not cheap.  20 to 30 euros a helping of about a kilo of mussels (in their shells, in reality you're probably eating about 250g of food).  

I can however give you a list of the places in Brussels where those who do partake might enjoy a steaming hotpot of the treacherous little bearded bivalves.  If your dining companion is intolerant to mussels, most restaurants offer crustaceans, fish and even meat dishes. 

The mussel season runs from July to April, so really you shouldn't eat them in May and June, but you won't find them in Belgian restaurants in the summer months anyway. 

Quai aux Briques alongside Saint Catherine's church is Mecca for mussels lovers.  The most popular recipes are moules mariniere, or cooked in white wine, cream or beer.  The traditional beverage to accompany them is white wine or a good old Belgian beer. 


Le Rugbyman I    quai aux Briques 4
Le New Rugbyman II   quai aux Briques 12   Specializes in lobster so a good place to invite me, but mussels on the menu
Mussel Mongers   quai aux Briques 8    A new addition to Mussels Corner boasts 99 recipes
Chez Léon   rue des Bouchers 18   The original, they own the popular French franchise but this is the real deal:  labyrinthine corner restaurant, speedy service
Le Pré Salé   rue de Flandre 20
La Marée  rue de Flandre 99
Le Chou de Bruxelles  rue de Florence 26, Ixelles
Aux Vieux Bruxelles  rue Saint Boniface 35, Ixelles
In 't Spinnekopke, place du Jardin aux Fleurs 1  Historic Brussels "estaminet"  or popular restaurant.  Gets very packed. 
Le Zinneke  place de la Patrie 26, Schaerbeek   Off the beaten track, near parc Josaphat 
Le Marmiton   Galerie de la Reine 38, downtown