When I started this blog I thought I'd carry on the way I left off in Oxford, with (almost) every review a neat account of a whole meal, preferably one at which everyone chose differently. But a lot has changed in my life lately...so why not this as well? I'll still post about 'proper' dinners and lunches, but I'm going to be a bit more flexible.
Anyway, if you put together what I ate at Le Dillens and Pastelaria Garcia you'd have a simple but not unsatisfying two-course meal. Let's start with brunch at Le Dillens. I should say first that I'm a bit ambivalent about the notion of brunch. Being fond of breakfast in all its forms I can't not like a meal that promises similar food (i.e. eggs), but there's something unsettlingly indeterminate about brunch: the mixture of sweet and savoury, the way it splits up the morning and lengthens the afternoon. Still, even I'm not that much of a creature of routine, and it was a new friend (and, completely by chance, fellow blogger) who suggested meeting at Le Dillens on a Saturday morning. The Parvis de St Gilles wasn't looking at all bad in the early spring sunshine, but first things first.
Le Dillens, with its stripped-down post-industrial feel, definitely tends towards the hipsterish, although when we were there it was fairly quiet (to be honest, this was a relief: if I'm ambivalent about brunch I'm positively intolerant of having to queue for it). There appeared to be a breakfast menu of individual items, as well as cakes of the brownie and lemon meringue pie variety, but I discarded the boiled egg and pastry options for the brunch menu itself (see above). After last week's pancake triumph I was tempted by the St Gilles version, and the idea of a trendy Belgian 'Full English' was intriguing, but in the end I went for the 'Cocotte' (10E), which was billed as 'oeufs cocotte vindaloo'.
Perhaps it's lucky that I don't get as indignant as some about the alleged difficulty of finding a really hot curry in mainland Europe, as 'vindaloo' turned out to be rather misleading (although the contents of that glass ramekin, being only slightly cooler than the surface of the sun, provided a different kind of heat). I think it referred to the pleasantly spiced minced lamb inside, which actually worked well with all that golden and unctuous egg yolk. Also, I think the advertised courgettes had been replaced with sweet potato. But this was an interesting combination of flavours that, with a bolder kitchen, might have worked even better as a larger dish (à la shakshuka?). As it was, the ham and cheese felt like an afterthought; the bread was crunchy and clearly fresh but I was a little disappointed that the cheese didn't come ready melted onto it (and it's hard to believe those thin slices didn't come out a packet). So, mixed impressions (and the service was fine but not exactly falling over itself to be friendly), but Le Dillens felt like a calm spot for coffee or brunch and I might just return to try the pancakes one day.
Confeitaria Garcia, meanwhile, on the perennially windswept avenue de la Couronne, was the source of much less pseudo-existential angst. This Portuguese cafe (with attached bakery) serves a range of snacks, and, had I been hungrier I would have ordered a bifana, a sandwich of delightfully fatty pork steak between wedges of thick white bread, but I settled for a pastel de nata (1.30E). I sense that these custard tarts are pretty hard to get wrong but this one was taking no chances. There wasn't really a distinction between filling and shell: it was all sweet and creamy and melting, although if it had been warm it would have been even better - my Portuguese friend was particularly disappointed by this. I was less drawn to the guardanapo (a kind of flattened Swiss roll with egg yolk-heavy filling; 1.50E) but the sponge was impressively light and fresh and the person who ordered it was very satisfied.
So, that's one way of spending Saturday in Brussels (I will now break the illusion and tell you that these two outings were on different weekends). Let me know if you think I could do better!
Place Julien Dillens
Avenue de la Couronne 75