It might have been that I just came back from two weeks of lovely weather in the States, have been lost in a daze of jet-lagged induced brain freezes all week, or that I was relieved to have a break from what has been a ridiculously busy return to work… but Brussels, this is one of the coolest things I have attended over my last 9 years here.
The concept: 30 restaurants offer 100 dishes for you to taste, set up in a pleasant posh-village atmosphere in the middle of the Bois de la Cambre. Most of the restaurants are of the better-know, larger Brussels based variety, but there are also 7 international restaurants from countries like China, Ukraine, Congo, Canada.
The formulas: You can buy tickets online or at the entrance for anywhere between €30-€90. These will get you a few drinks (of either beer or champagne) as well as tokens for purchasing dishes. I went with the basic €30 package and received an equal amount of tokens for use around the festival. Most of the dishes ranged between 6 and 14 euros a piece so you can expect to have three dishes. I only managed to make it through two so I still have some leftovers to use at some other point over the weekend!
The impression: Some of the restaurants are a delight to spend some time with. We adored talking to the reps from the Chengdu, China. Friendly, welcoming, and eager for us to try their dishes, this stop was a great way to start the tour. To boot, their mini-ribs were delicious. Our next stop was YuMe, the Asian Fusion Lounge that can be found on Avenue de Tervuren but that also runs cooking classes and a catering business. Their teriyaki beef was very good and watching their team put the dish together was fun. But the best deal was to be found at the Hirondelle d’Or, where we chose massive plates of spring rolls for only €6.
Others were a tad bit disappointing. All three of us have been dying to try the Tram Experience, but their booth looked quite empty, with nothing to draw us towards it. A tram… with food and wine on it… riding around town… these guys should have had an easy time getting people interested!
And there was more I’d like to go back to try. Two of my favorite fancier restaurants in town were there, Brasserie Royale and Strofilia. And I’ve been wondering about the Moroccan food at Babdar for some time now.
I loved the idea of paying for a meal… but getting several restaurant experiences out of it.
The atmosphere: The word “posh” kept floating through my mind as I wandered around, but not in a negative sense by any means. This is a really well put together experience, with lots of room to wander around, plenty of staff (at least, for the opening night…I sense it will be more crowded this weekend) and interesting things to sample at every turn. The bright pink carpets added a fun contrast to the bright green grass of the park and as dusk settled, fire lanterns and soft lighting lit up the trees. It all felt a little special.
The mystery: There is a tent towards the back of the festival where only “special people” can go (we never identified who these special people were exactly… but it looks like they get free appetizers). As we started walking towards it, a bouncer looked like he was going to body-check Jane out of the doorway so we quickly moved aside.
The verdict: EAT! is certainly worth a stop this weekend and it runs through Sunday. Sunday also happens to be the day without cars in Brussels! One of the best days of the year when everyone just wanders the streets and you never know what kind of festival you will run into. I – for one – will be checking out the Pineau Race in the Parc du Cinquantenaire. Waiters (or want-to-be-waiters) run with a bottle and three glasses of “pineau” for 2.5 km! The one that runs the fastest while spilling the least wins.