Sunday, 26 April 2015

Au Bon Bol (rue Paul Devaux)

One afternoon a couple of Sundays ago I was in a street near Sainte-Catherine when my attention was caught: in the window of a small Asian restaurant, a woman was making noodles, twisting and twisting great lumps of dough until they became long, stretchy strands. Her action was mesmerising and we stood watching for a while, regretting that it wasn't yet dinner time. So when I returned to the area, with an appetite, Au Bon Bol seemed an obvious choice.
(photo from here)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Café de la Maison du Peuple (parvis de Saint-Gilles)

The original maisons du peuple were built at the end of the nineteenth century as centres for the working classes of Brussels to meet, learn and relax, but most of them have since been demolished or at least repurposed (more history here). One of those still standing, on the parvis de Saint-Gilles, is now the all-day cafe and bar of the same name. Its busy schedule of concerts and other cultural events and the large numbers of people working (or, at least, Facebooking) on laptops that it hosts suggest it continues to serve as a multi-functional venue - in a 2010s sort of way. 
A glance round at decor and customers alike will reveal that the hipster quotient here is quite high, but that doesn't stop (should it?) the atmosphere being friendly and the service efficient, even on a lively and warm evening when staff had to deal with a busy interior and a packed terrace outside (to make their lives easier no doubt, you order at the bar). You won't get a three-course meal, but in addition to basic breakfasts and weekend brunches there's a reasonably wide selection of light meals, as well as several desserts (even though I didn't try it on this occasion, I do like a place that doesn't forget about pudding).
Two of us considered a croque monsieur but eschewed it for the slightly more unusual croque biquette (6E), where ham and cheese were replaced by goat's cheese and courgettes, and an optional drizzle of honey. This clearly echoed the flavours of the Moroccan pancakes found at the Gare du Midi market and elsewhere and was just as successful - the goat's cheese, perhaps a little bland on its own, was richly enlivened by the honey. I was also impressed by the bread, fresh, clearly of very high quality (rather than out of a plastic bag), and very hearty - the the sandwiches were filling enough to make dessert not only unnecessary but impossible.
Speaking of bread, I was impressed that a deliciously crusty but light baguette arrived at the other end of the table to accompany some courgette and goat's cheese quiche (6E) and a bowl of courgette soup (4E) - no stale remnants here. The quiche was very rich in flavour, and didn't stint on vegetables; its flakey pastry base also won praise. The soup, on the other hand, was nothing more exciting than liquidised courgettes, but at least it didn't claim to be anything else.
As I said, this isn't a place for elaborate meals or lengthy menus (the abundance of courgette dishes suggests a kitchen that prefers not to spread itself too thinly, although of course there's absolutely nothing wrong with making the most of seasonal produce), but what we ate was a lot more than carbs to soak up cocktails - it was fresh, tasty and carefully executed cuisine.

Café du Maison du Peuple
39 parvis de Saint-Gilles


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Ergon (rue du Parnasse)

Greek finances are never really out of the news at the moment, but there's not a lot that your average Belgium-based food blogger can do about them, apart from drink a brand of (very good) beer from Santorini sold to reduce the Greek national debt. The relationship of Ergon, a small chain of restaurant-delicatessens, to its parent country's economic situation is less clear, but if one of the aims of its newish Brussels branch is to bolster Greece's reputation in a city that has recently hosted some tense negotiations, in most respects it's not doing too badly.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Café des épices (place Jourdan)

Apologies for the slight lack of service - I went viral (and not in a social media sense), and that aside I had a series of unexciting meals that wouldn't make especially interesting blogging. Still, let's now get back on track with the Café des épices in the place Jourdan, a generally lively spot that marks the end of the Eurobubble wilderness zone and the beginning of Etterbeek.

I have to admit that I was a little confused by the concept: the name surely suggests middle eastern cuisine, and the menu outside duly included several tagines as well as some more European-style classics. The rather smart interior, though, has nothing of the souk about it, but mixes hints of 'classic bistro' with a bit of post-industrial chic. The full menu, moreover, turned out to be enormous. Pasta, fish, Belgian classics, omelettes, salads, would be a good place for a large group with diverse tastes.
There are only so many endives a person can eat, so we stuck to the more international sections of that lengthy menu. That said, my omelette (10E) had that distinctive contrast between a gently crispy outside and an almost creamy interior that French omelettes tend to have - this is a good thing, in case that's not clear, although the dish was let down by a filling of thin, poor-quality ham. The chips were pretty good, not at all greasy or flabby, although I'm sure the presence of Maison Antoine a few metres away focuses the chef's mind. A burger (a bit more expensive at around 18E, I think), meanwhile, was impressively hefty - the picture doesn't do justice to just how much meat was between those two slices of cheese, but it was high-quality, well-seasoned, cooked perfectly medium rare stuff. Looking at that picture, though, I'm reminded that the spongey bun was a bit disappointing by comparison.
Desserts were similar - accomplished but not amazing. I'm making it my mission to try every Dame Blanche I can (let it not be said that I'm all about complicated flavour combinations). The version here (7E) was fine, and certainly didn't skimp on the whipped cream, but the chocolate sauce, in a slightly less than ideal quantity, arrived ready poured on the ice cream, which for me sort of misses the point of this dessert. Oh well. The Photographer's pannacotta (6E), despite coming in a ramekin rather than standing proudly on a plate, was enjoyed without any such reservations, and the fruit coulis accompanying it was clearly homemade.
So, this establishment won't be getting a Michelin star in the near future, but within this price range I think the Café des épices does its brand of French and French-ish cuisine pretty well. I don't think you'd be wowed, but I doubt you'd be disappointed.

Café des épices*
place Jourdan 21
1040 Brussels


*n.b. the website is currently not working