In spite of having roughly two dozen places – cafes, restaurants, lounges, diners, you name it – to try in-and-around Brussels, summer came to an end far too quickly. However, before getting on a plane back to Cairo I managed to squeeze in a dinner with some fungi-loving friends at Café des Spores.
On the periphery of the hip and happening commune of Saint-Gilles on Chaussée d’Alsemberg two slow-food restaurants are slowly making their mark. Both have similar concepts and styles, the same chef (French-born Nicolas Scheidt, who was trained by Jamie Oliver at Fifteen in London), yet differing menus. La Buvette is the place I was gagging to go to as mushrooms aren’t really my thing, but since I wasn’t able to get a reservation in time I settled for Café des Spores, which is located directly across the road from La Buvette.
Fact: If I wasn’t mad about mushrooms before, I sure as hell am now.
With a modern and bright interior the central focus of Café des Spores is – naturally – mushrooms. But wait! Everything (and I mean everything) has a touch of shroom in it…even the desserts. The menu changes frequently according to season and types of fungi available, and patrons either order à la carte or go blindly forth via the chef’s recommendations. The servers are bubbly, bilingual and extremely friendly and can flip between Dutch, French and English in the blink of an eye. The chef, for lack of a better adjective, is pretty damn awesome. Not only does he cater to a restaurant filled with patrons (seemingly on his own), but he does it at a workstation situated in the dining area and he’s reasonably flexible if presented with food allergies. A large number of dishes were dairy-free and several could be prepared sans-lactose. For items where dairy was a non-negotiable ingredient, we were given several alternatives to contemplate, though for the sake of keeping my compatriots happy we agreed on a 5-course extravaganza that had a few lactose-laden dishes. Five courses that were supposedly enough to fill three hungry people up.
I laughed. And then I learned.
Fact: Good things come in small packages
We downed some of the house white wine while chatting and watching the chef work his magic. An audible sigh was all we could muster when the first dish arrived at the table: a mushroom fois gras-ish kind of spread that had my counterparts crying into the bread basket. This was followed by a frying pan filled with pork stuffed shitakes that were meaty in texture and pleasantly smoky and succulent in taste. Had the meal ended there I would have already been thoroughly satisfied.
What came next was grilled salmon on a base of spinach and chestnut mushrooms, which was – by far – another favourite of the night due to the fusion of fish, shroom and veg. This was followed up by a stuffed shell pasta with oyster mushrooms, which I steered clear of due to the presence of cheese though it was enjoyed by the others despite being a touch heavy. I think by that point we were already quite full. Dessert and digestives followed suit and the Un-Intolerants I dined with dug into cups of mushroom-style ice cream as I settled for a decaf espresso. For three people to indulge in five courses with wine, water and the like the total bill came in at around 140€. No, it’s not cheap by any stretch, but it was worth it considering the food quality, hipster-lite location and following that Cafe des Spores is gathering. For that ‘once a month’ type of treat, it’s a great place to splurge.
From shitake to morels and oyster to chanterelles, over the course of the evening I learned all about the varieties and qualities of each type of mushroom thanks to my fellow diners (beloved fungi-heads) and the CdS staff. Between the ‘Mushroom 101’ lecture and the food itself (which spoke louder than any words ever could) I had a spore-rific ah-ha moment by the end of the night and finally understood how versatile and delicious these little magic morsels can be.
Fact: Sometimes settling isn’t a bad thing…at all.