Monday, 7 March 2016

Antas (chaussée de Wavre)

It is not often that Sunday lunch brings you face to face with existential despair, but then Antas turned out to be exceptional in several ways: exceptionally good food, exceptionally slow service, and exceptionally disturbing menu art (see below: I found the 'screaming mouth' on the right hand side especially striking, though the dead-eyed mask on the left is still haunting me too). A slightly mysterious enterprise in several ways - it's very close to the place Jourdan but the restaurant entrance is well hidden within a takeaway pizza outlet - it's not like anywhere I have visited in Brussels or, indeed, elsewhere.

Regulars the Bonhomme and the Legal Eagle assured me that the menu changes a bit but not hugely from week to week, but there's no paper version. Everyone has to crane their necks at those chalkboards, on which starters segue into main courses into desserts without much warning, although the main courses are the main event here and, for the most part, the main event is pasta. But this isn't your average ragu and puttanesca (still less spaghetti bolognaise) joint. Antas is a Sardinian restaurant and serves a whole range of things you don't normally find in mainland Europe. The prospect of culurgiones, malloreddus and sebada had us frantically Googling (the service was not unfriendly - more on that below - but didn't really invite detailed questioning about the ingredients and their provenance, not least as Italian was clearly preferred to French).
That said, the platter of Sardinian cured meat and cheese (10E) that we shared, after initially munching on some very plain but curiously addictive Sardinian crackers (pane carasau, I think), was satisfying but didn't feel distinctively insular, although the very fatty cured meat with a lingering fennel flavour stood out.The pasta, though, was a different story.
The Bonhomme's fregola - a type of Sardian pasta rather like giant couscous - in a rich tomato sauce with clams (15E) had an impressive depth of flavour, with all three elements complementing rather than competing with each other. I braved the culurgiones with salsiccia and saffron (13E) without really knowing what they were, and was faced with a (less than photogenic) plateful of what looked like a cross between Chinese dumplings and miniature Cornish pasties, drowned in sauce and cheese. The supple pasta exterior contained a wonderful dense, but still light, cheesy, potato-y filling. I can imagine they would work well as a filling snack but serving them with spicy sausage, which had a complex flavour all of its own, made them - somehow - a balanced meal. Next time I would try the artichoke and bottarga (salted, cured roe) variety.
The Legal Eagle, meanwhile, rejoiced in another far-from-average dish, cuttlefish spaghetti (15E), which had a pungent, almost astringent flavour, with anchovies and tomatoes: a superbly executed example of something you wouldn't be that likely to find outside Italy. 
Impressed as I was by the quality so far, I decided to try what appeared to be the only dessert on offer, a Sardinian speciality called a sebada (3.50E), a sort of mini deep-fried calzone filled with ricotta (although in its melted state it was disappointingly similar to mild mozzarella) infused with lemon essence and drizzled with honey. 
This didn't reach the heights of the pasta but it wasn't a bad end to our meal - although by that stage, despite our appreciation of what we'd eaten, we were getting a bit restless. The main flaw of Antas, we found, was the slow service. Now, the room is not big, and the waiters were in evidence throughout. It was a Sunday lunch and we were prepared to be leisurely. But having to ask for more wine, a dessert, the bill two or three times became tedious (and I wasn't impressed that the shards of a wineglass knocked over by a waiter remained strewn over the floor: for all I know they are still there now). Antas felt like dolce far niente incarnate: very good, but prepare to be frustrated, especially if you're not Italian.

Chaussée de Wavre 414
1040 Brussels


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