The type of foodie that gets all excited at the mention of a steaming pot of North Sea mussels or handmade fish croquettes will be in heaven in Brussels. Sidestep the Rue des Bouchers with its pushy waiters and tourist traps, and go in search of these 10 seafood havens instead.
De Noordzee / La Mer du Nord
Fishmonger, Restaurant, Bar, Bakery, Seafood, Belgian, $$$
Three fish bars rich and currently expanding due to popular demand, Noordzee is one of Brussels’ most beloved seafood concepts: no nonsense, just the best the North Sea has to offer. The original fishmonger’s counter at Sainte-Catherine was opened by Wouter and Véronique over twenty years ago and it wasn’t long before locals started lining up to guzzle oysters, shrimp croquettes and steaming fish soup in the streets over lunch. Quick, relaxed and bursting with flavor, De Noordzee has grown to include a branch on the Rue de Luxembourg and a brand-new one in the old Marolles neighbourhood. At each one, your gourmet fast food is cooked on the spot and are paired with selected white wines.
One of Brussels’ highest profile fish restaurants. Chef Tom Decroos learned the trade from Sea Grill’s Yves Mattagne and struck out for himself over a decade ago to open Vismet, meaning ‘Fish Market’ in the Flemish dialect. The name alludes to the large covered fish market that used to occupy a great deal of the Place St. Catherine, now a square known for its quality restaurants and cozy cafés. With wood-panelled walls and crisp white tablecloths Vismet has gone for a sober interior where the real star is the food. A pinch more expensive but worth it by all accounts, the signature shrimp croquettes and daily specials by Decroos and his team are prepared in an open kitchen.
A seafood dish at Bij den Boer | courtesy of Bij den Boer
Like Noordzee and Vismet, Bij den Boer (‘At the Farmer’s) is another one of those great seafood places that have flocked together around Place St. Catherine. Owners Geert and Marnic are fond of keeping things more classic and unpretentious, and their charming restaurant and expert bouillaibaisses have kept locals coming back for years. Service isn’t the fastest, but sitting at the tiled brasserie with its old stove while eating a quality four-dish meal for under 30 euros, time has a tendency to slow down anyway.
Though Beaucoup Fish translates to ‘a lot of fish’, the menu at this elegant little eatery is suitably limited. A counter of fresh filets and clams on ice attests to the ingredients’ freshness. Seating at Jordan Roberfoit’s place is snug, simple and Scandinavian, clearing the scene for dishes that shine in simplicity and pure flavours. Next door Roberfoit’s eponymous fishmongers is a fixture for locals craving fish for dinner.
When thinking of Brussels’ seafood, the mind usually jumps to mussels and croquettes, but Bia Mara is playing a different ballgame. When Barry and Simon came to town armed with innovative fish and chips recipes that use sustainably sourced, lesser-known species and light breadcrumb coatings, the Bruxellois were soon hooked. After all, nothing like the description of a creative helping of Bia Mara fish and chips to make the mouth water: lemon and basel-infused tempura of sea bream with garlic truffle, Indian-spiced panko hake with curry lime sauce, …
When it comes to swanky seafood dining, the two Michelin-starred Sea Grill on the first floor of Brussels’ Radisson Blu Hotel is a dependable favorite. Seasoned chef Yves Mattagne has schooled a lot of upcoming youngsters (see ‘Vismet’) in the secrets to his buttery scallops, oyster creams and innovate flurries – his about a seaweed waffle? – but the restaurant’s pièce de résistance remains the Breton blue lobster à la presse. This rare, blue-hued lobster’s shell gets cracked open at the table in an antique silver lobster press. Mattagne’s plates come with a serious price tag but then again, this is the Premier League of haute seafood cuisine.
Out-of-style on the outside and therefore only an attraction to those in the know, Chez Jef et Fils is run by a friendly Bruxellois who was rocking the food truck life long before there was anything hip about it. Caracoles salesman Jef, his wife and his offspring (‘et Fils’ translates to ‘and Son’) have been small champions of the trade for sixty years. It has become nearly impossible for locals to imagine La Bourse without his signature white stall. Jef’s snails swim in a tasty broth alongside some crispy celery and are widely considered one of the best incarnations of this traditional dish in Brussels and beyond.
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For those without deep pockets but a rumbling tummy, L’Océan close to the Midi Station is an excellent budget-friendly option. Ordering is simple: pick whatever floats your boat from the counter full of sea fruits and shellfish, pay per kilo while your meal sizzles away on the grill, and grab a table upstairs. The place is reminiscent of Southern European fish bars you don’t usually find in this region. It’s nothing fancy but keeps late hours (midnight to be more exact), so kebab-tired travellers who’ve been enjoying the Belgian beer scene know where to head for some late night snacking.
The word ‘quaint’ almost seems to have been invented to describe Ixelles brasserie Au Vieux Bruxelles, and it definitely has a claim to history. The self-described ‘roi des moules-frites’ (the king of moules-frites) started serving steaming pots of North Sea mussels as early as 1882, and has maintained its Old World interior with lots of wood and red-checkered tablecloths ever since.
In a street known for its authentic Flemish pubs lies a low-profile restaurant that breathes a sincere love for the ocean. La Marée is run by Portuguese couple Mario and Teresa Alves. While she mans the stoves and goes to work on two batches of fresh fish deliveries a day, he welcomes locals and travellers that have found their way here through word of mouth with signature warmth. Teresa focuses on a pure cuisine with flavourful sauces and has built a loyal regular base because of it. A dinner of fine cod filet or steamed ray underneath the charming terrace’s blue canopy in summer is enough to think oneself in Lisbon.