Brussels is one of those places that doesn’t automatically leap out as a must visit destination for the hungry traveller. In my experience, many visitors to the Belgian capital are just there for work and most look forward to getting the train home.
However, on a recent visit to Brussels, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of (some) of the food I ate. My favourite place to chow down in Belgium is still Bruges, but I did discover a couple of good options for dining in EU-land.
An absolute must-visit is the In’t Spinnekopke, a short 10 minute walk from the stunning but touristy Grand Place. Pairing hearty Belgian cuisine with a sublime beer list, the restaurant itself was gloriously antiquated with welcoming and knowledgable staff – especially on the aforementioned brew front.
A starter came in the form of a traditional herring salad, which was undeniably heavy on the mayo sauce but none the worse for it. What looks a bit frumpy – like Belgium’s answer to the oft-maligned prawn cocktail, perhaps – actually tasted lovely and definitely scored high on the authenticity front.
To follow was a superbly cooked piece of rabbit, which had been braised for just the right amount of time in the local speciality beer, gueuze. Sweet and sour in the style of the more interesting German wheat beers, its tasty tang complemented the tender, gamey rabbit perfectly. The only moaning point was that, bizarrely, the chips weren’t up to much. They lacked crispness, which I expect in Spain but thought nearly impossible in Belgium. Nevermind – next time I’ll just order some mash to help absorb the superb beery sauce.
Less impressive overall but still worth noting for quickfire visitors to Brussels is Midi Station, a visually stunning restaurant-cum-lounge bar situated right across from the Eurostar station. Dining near stations is a crap shoot at best so, while my meal was far from perfect, it still had enough to recommend it to peckish travelling suits.
To start, a crab, smoked eel, and ray wing terrine was artfully presented, the plate coming flecked with little multi-coloured blobs of of wasabi-infused sauce. More importantly than the presentation, it was also exceptionally tasty, with the interesting combination of aquatic beings staying just the right side of the “fishy” line.
Sadly, the steak frites – another dish it’s hard to conceive of the Belgians or French ever getting wrong – was really disappointing. Ordering something medium-rare on the continent, it’s usually safe to expect your food to still be making the odd life-like noise when it arrives on the plate. Sadly, while fairly tender, this particular piece of beef was a dull purple colour on the inside – doubly shameful as the steak had a really good crust.
The accompanying salad was even worse – totally limp and soggy due to a savage overdressing and lack of initial freshness. Redeeming things at the last though, the chips were exceptional – classically crunchy on the outside but still fluffy within. An accompanying béarnaise sauce was punchier than I’m accustomed to in the UK, coming aggressively spiked with tarragon – a change of pace I really enjoyed.
Catering largely to lunching suits in the heart of European bureaucracy (aka expense accounts), this certainly isn’t the cheapest meal but, coupled with professional service, glamorous surroundings and a strong selection of beers, I doubt there’s a safer place to eat next to the Brussels Eurostar terminal. However, if you just want to have a drink or three, the more homely (and significantly cheaper) bar just before you reach the imposing Midi Station entrance (the one on the left) is an equally good shout. Especially if you’ve left your business cards at home.