Today I’m thinking back to Brussels as I can’t get over the amount of good food and wine I tucked into over a seven day period. Over the years I’ve become increasingly enamored and interested in Belgian food and am impressed with the refined nature of the kitchen. I can rave for hours about a cone filled with perfectly browned fries, and I stand by the decision to make mussels in white wine one of my favourite food dishes.
If you’ve had really good moules and frites you understand what I’m talking about.
Located at 103 rue de Flandre (just opposite the Maison Martin Margiela flagship store and next to Restaurant Henri) is Royal Brasserie, a contemporary and stylish restaurant that is popular with 20-something hipsters and their Bruxellois parents, as well as tourists and Belgian civil servants. Housed in an old brewery, Royal offers Belgian food with French and Asian accents to produce a wide selection of delectable dishes. The menu alone will make you salivate with traditional favourites (steak tartare, foie gras and pigeon), experimental starters (Thai shrimp ravioli) and regional delicacies (beer boulettes) listed.
The interior is warm and funky, with an open kitchen, large black chalkboards and overhead circular lighting that changes colour every so often. The staff are extremely friendly and courteous, and also quite timely in their service.
One of the few places open on January 2nd, I went with my New Year’s Eve-celebrating friends to have lunch before they returned to Paris. It was the first dining-out experience of 2013 and it was a good one. The menu at Royal is diverse and the wine list is extensive, featuring a multitude of rich and palatable wines by the bottle, carafe and glass. I went with oysters as a starter and cod with sautéed greens as my main, while a bottle of Malbec was chosen to accompany the dishes of my red meat-eating compatriots.
Though our starters arrived relatively quickly and everyone was “mmmming” in pleasure (I would have too, especially over the mushroom toast a friend was devouring), I was raising my eyebrows at my slightly warmed oysters (them being warm wasn’t the problem) and sniffing my plate inconspicuously as I had a sneaking suspicion butter had been drizzled on the oysters. I asked the server when I ordered my main if it had any dairy components to it, and automatically presumed that the oysters would be dairy-free.
Well they weren’t. Shame on me for assuming.
After inquiring with the kitchen the server informed me that there was indeed butter on the oysters, so – with regret – I sent them back and requested the tuna carpaccio instead. It was an unfortunate mix-up that caused a slight delay in the rest of our meal, but all was righted when the chef personally delivered the tuna and threw in a few extra greens for good measure. It was delicious. The tuna, which was sliced into thin strips, was wonderfully fresh and lightly and had a drizzle of lemon and teriyaki sauce on top. It was Asian-inspired and oh-so-good.
The main was equally as delicious, the cod very simple overall, but perfectly baked with a bit of oil and some pepper and chili. It came with sautéed greens and a generous bowl of salad, all of which was filling without being overly heavy. As I looked at the others at my table it was clear that everyone was thoroughly enjoying their food: one had steak and frites, while the other were savoring their plates of Royal steak tartare, which (I have to say) tasted pretty damn good.
We finished our long lunch with coffee and tea and talked about plans for the first few months of 2013. While I can imagine it can get quite noisy in Royal – particularly in the evenings – I enjoyed the atmosphere of the place and was pleased to have found a restaurant where the staff seem to care about the dietary restrictions some of their customers face.
At 42€ a head (there was a bottle of wine remember) I think we got a pretty good deal. Quality food in a great environment with fabulous people.
2013 couldn’t have started out any better.
rue de Flandre 103
Brussels 1000, Belgium
*Closed on Mondays