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


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