Brussels is best known for moules-frites (mussels and fries), beer and chocolate. But look beneath the surface and you’ll find a vibrant food scene, providing a real flavour of 21st-century Belgium. Culture Trip offers a taste of what’s on offer.
Belgium, and Brussels in particular, has always excelled at decadent dining. Rich desserts follow indulgent meat dishes, with local cuisine reflecting a strong influence from neighbouring countries France and the Netherlands. But it’s not all moules-frites and carbonnade flamande. Many new establishments have popped up in recent years, particularly restaurants that celebrate the city’s diverse, multicultural communities.
Different diasporas have made the Belgian capital home since the end of World War II and the city’s development as the home of the European Union, with a swathe of young chefs leading the way when it comes to modern dining. Whether it’s hole-in-the-wall spots that celebrate the city’s more recent arrivals from the Middle East or fine-dining restaurants that pay homage to both Asian and Belgian cuisine, you’re not likely to run out of places to try. Here are eight of the most exciting restaurants that have opened in Brussels in recent years.
The 1040 serves Belgian classics with a modern twist | Courtesy of The 1040
The 1040 lies inside the Sofitel Brussels Europe, opposite the Place Jourdan Market and near Parc Léopold. Run by Belgian Jean-Philippe Watteyne and Italian Matteo Vannini, the restaurant focusses on Belgian classics with a unique, modern touch – think hearty, traditional dishes without the heaviness. The veal birds (beef slices with meat juice, stoemp, lime, thyme and carrot) is a knock-out. The moules-frites with celeriac is a tantalising take on the old-school dish, while the desserts alone make a visit to The 1040 worthwhile. Le Merveilleux by Watteyne is a delicious meringue with mascarpone cream and chocolate crisps, while the dame blanche (vanilla ice cream with cardamom-chocolate sauce) is fantastic.
The brainchild of chef Toshiro Fujii (a stalwart of Brussels’s food scene), Fujii fuses French and Japanese cuisine with style. In the tiny restaurant with elegant Japanese decor and a partly open kitchen, visitors can expect to be wowed by five- and seven-course menus featuring dishes such as abalone with rice, beef, cabbage and seaweed. The wine pairing is optional but highly recommended.
Brut sources its ingredients responsibly | Courtesy of Brut
Opened in January 2019, Brut finds inspiration in various world cuisines and uses unique preparation methods, including a smokehouse. As an organic restaurant, it uses local produce and is trying to operate on a zero-waste basis. Expect dishes such as barley and buckwheat risotto with turmeric; organic beef tenderloin; and mille-feuille with creamy chocolate and lemon-verbena chantilly. Emblematic of a symbiotic and growing trend among diners and chefs to seek out great food that doesn’t destroy the world, Brut is a great example of how to make food responsibly without compromising on taste.
The Middle Eastern influences are evident at Pois Chiche. The weekend menu has just two options: a brunch platter featuring lots of fresh vegetables, hummus and more, and shakshuka. During the week, the menu is more extensive, and you can enjoy falafel, grilled Belgian halloumi, fattoush and much more. With a relaxed atmosphere and friendly service, this restaurant is a great place to visit if you’re ambling around the city during a gentle morning walk or if you want to explore the trendy Sablon district.
OLD BOY is one of the coolest spots in the city | Courtesy of OLD BOY
The guys behind OLD BOY are emblematic of Brussels’s new wave of Asian-inspired restaurants. Both Xavier and John are from Brussels and have Asian lineage (Taiwanese and Thai, respectively). The restaurant’s 10-dish menu changes every few weeks (with three permanent signatures) and features Belgian-Asian blends such as black wontons – deep-fried wontons with black pudding. A walk-in-only place, OLD BOY is considered one of the coolest spots in the city, and the owners are set to open Lil Boy right next door, a takeaway-only complement to the main event.
Taiwanese cuisine is well known for its generous meat and seafood portions, so it’s quite a feat that Liu Lin – which opened at the bottom of the Sablon district (not far from Pois Chiche) earlier in 2019 – is a fully vegan restaurant. Off the back of two establishments in Leuven, sisters Liu and Lin have carved out an array of meat-free dishes such as the prawn-like tempura, lalot skewer and konjac calamari, all of which pays homage to the country’s carnivorous culinary style but are completely animal-free.
On lively Rue Lesbroussart and a stone’s throw from the leafy, central retreat of Parc Tenbosch, Semson is another new addition to Brussels’s food scene, blending Western and Eastern cuisines, specifically Lebanese with regards to the latter. Think hummus, tabbouleh and zaatar in the Lebanese style but with modern twists. Run by locals keen to merge Eastern and Western cooking traditions, Semson is indicative of a growing number of great restaurants that highlight the diversity of Brussels’s ethnic and culinary landscape.
Can Tho is an ideal spot for a relaxing lunch | Courtesy of Can Tho
Known for its Art Nouveau architecture and ever-changing culinary scene, Ixelles is home to Can Tho, a restaurant serving Vietnamese specialities such as pho, bo bun, congee and more. Close to both Parc Léopold and Schuman (where you can find the European Parliament), it’s an excellent spot to enjoy a laid-back, informal lunch before taking an afternoon stroll.