Monthly Archives: October 2012

Yesterday, the lovely author of Not Just a Pretty Dress spotted a post by Elle Belgique which got a few of us chatting over Twitter. Elle asked a bunch of expats to pick their favorite restaurants in Brussels for authentic food from different countries. To be totally honest with you, I haven’t heard of half of them (which is good news because this gives me yet another excuse to go out to dinner!) But I also disagreed with a few of them – one of them, violently (The Old Oak is simply not the best Irish pub in town…)

So I decided to put together a little list of my own. Not an expat list by any means. But rather, the start to a new series I’m calling “Jess Recommends”. Enjoy.

Best place to eat Thai and meet Janet Jackson’s back up dancers

True story, In what will still be one of the funniest dinners I have ever had in Brussels, we ended up eating Thai food next to the performers of Janet Jackson’s tour coming through town, including the tallest dancer I have ever seen. He was so tall, his legs would not fit under the table of the restaurant. That night will forever make this already special restaurant even more special. Premier Comptoir (Noi) makes a killer Pat Thai and Chicken Red Curry. And you can order everything for take-out for about 10 euros a plate.

Entertaining people watching

The food at Brasserie Royal is very good, glamorous Belgian fare. But there is also quality people watching at this place. A dinner here constitutes a pretty fancy night out for us, but most of the other people eating there seem to make it a regular thing. Young, old, there are all sorts of folk who come here and for some reason I find its crowd completely entertaining and over the top. Its the Belgian equivalent of preppy and kitsch at the same time. And sometimes that is fun. (Warning – the tables are all pretty close together…get there early for a pick of a table with more space.)

Impress the parents (or guaranteed special occasion destination)

Most expats will know this place simply because they remember their jaws dropping when they walked in as well as the funny little aprons the waiters have to wear. Belga Queen, an old bank turned fancy restaurant, is an eatery to impress, and yet it isn’t stuffy. Well worth the price for anniversaries, birthdays or any other special night out. Make sure you come prepared for indulgent cocktails and also visit the basement.

Best business card in town

I love this place for its quirkiness. Old school French cooking, eclectic colorful ceiling decorations, slightly chipped blue and white china plates, and owners who clearly love the place, L’Idoit du Village {The Village Idiot} is worth a trip. And in case you were wondering, the business card clearly states “The Idiot rests on weekends”. Simply charming.

Because you would never expect to find an amazing Italian restaurant here

You have to know where to find this place. And yet it is always crowded which I take as a good sign. Sale Pepe Rosmarino is a tiny Italian restaurant tucked in the otherwise residential streets behind Place Stephanie in St Gilles. You don’t come here for the service or a quick meal, and its a tiny bit overpriced, but there is something about the cozy atmosphere and heaping pasta dishes that makes the place feel authentic to me. {This place is so elusive that it is close to impossible to find quality pictures of it. The shot below comes from the cool blog Wicked Winterfrost.}

Best restaurant I’ve walked by for years and stupidly never noticed

Ever lost track of time and realised in panic that it is 10pm, you are a group of six people and you haven’t eaten dinner? This happened to us recently and Aglio e Olio opened us with open arms. Full of warmth in the way of wood paneling, mirrors and large wine glasses, this place simply felt friendly. The waiters improvised a spot for us where we could have drinks while we waited for a table. Several big parties intermixed with couples settled in for a romantic dinner out. We left at midnight and were certainly not the last to leave. The food was ridiculously well priced and while the staff was busy, they were quite friendly once you managed to flag them down. {Disclaimer: I was delusional with hunger at the time, so I’ll definitely be trying this one again to verify all this.}

I don’t want a meal, just a tasty snack and heaping glasses of wine

For the live of me, I can never remember the real name of this wine bar (Oeno Tk) so it has become known as “that wine bar behind the church near Chatelain” or “the pink wine bar” or “the bar that used to have that amazing South African pinotage before they stopped carrying it and broke my heart”… but I digress… Ask for recommendations in this place because they know their wine. It is reasonably priced. And their cheese and truffle oil snack served with fresh bread is to die for (and easily replicated at home. Your guests will think you are a genius.) Warning: it is very crowded on Wednesday nights when the Chatelain evening market is up.

It is on the street where Audrey Hepburn was born and is awesome

Les Brassins is a true Brussels restaurant. This is a casual place that loves good food, a comforting, cozy brasserie interior, and the essential: a table full of laughing friends you can share a late night with. This is the place you end up running to at 10pm at night, with a group of six people in the dead middle of January, praying that they will have space so you can laugh the night away, warm inside, over a good steak frits {that’s steak and fries for you anglophones}. If I ever leave Brussels, I will truly miss this place. Just bring cash as they do not accept cards. {Added bonus, the NYTimes endorses it… which means it has to be marvelous.}

Where to get your lunchtime taco fix

That isn’t really an accurate description but I do go to El Verde (or as it used to be known in its slightly better hey-day, El Vergel) when I am craving the closest thing to Latin American food I can find in Brussels. It is located way too close to work and therefore I’m pretty sure half of my salary has gone to this place. But it is worth it for their Churrasco queso. You can also get great salads here.

Where am I dying to go but have never been?

Neptune, on Rue Lesbroussart about half way up the hill from Place Flagey. I pass it ALL THE TIME and it looks tiny, adorable and romantic. This Brussels Kitchen spotlight made me want to go all the more. Sigh… (hint, hint, hint)

Any more recommendations from Brussels expats or natives?

Note: While Hurricane Sandy raged across New York, I sat peacefully in my Brussels apartment watching my recording of the latest episode of Strictly Come Dancing when MY TV CUT OUT. The following post is the result of the “creative process” (read: venting) from not having been able to see the end :

It is a sociological fact that anyone who watches a dance show automatically thinks they are a dance expert.

Myself included.

Ever since our girl’s night in {during which I discovered there is an underground network of English-speaking-Strictly Come Dancing-fans operating in Brussels}, I’ve been reminded about how obsessed I used to be with dance when I was little. I immediately revert into my twelve-year-old self who used to dance in parking lots and on playgrounds…and in the living room… and on the tree trunk in the backyard… and… more or less anywhere. Just ask my poor parents.

Only now, I substitute “dance” with yelling, smiling or wincing at my TV screen while hiding such activities in the safety of my own apartment.

I love that this show is so popular. The professional dancers truly are experts. The judges truly are worthy of judging. Len is a giant {but honest} sweetheart. And Bruce, well, bless him, is Bruce. Yes, it is completely over the top, but it is reality TV that requires immense hard work, artistry and showmanship. The celebrities really get into it – those that don’t do not last very long on the show and that is how it should be. All that aside, this show delivers in one critical way:  it makes dancing contagious.

I remember dance as being 100% intoxicating and I hope Strictly helps younger generations to feel the same way…

In the meantime…Flavia and Louis are totally winning me over. The Dirty Dancing routine?! But I also have soft spots for Kimberely Walsh and Victoria Pendleton. Now if only I had seen the end of the Halloween episode!

Don’t make me make plans for Saturday night… this girl is (once again) hooked.

Photos of Judges Craig, Darcy, Len and Bruno & Flavia and Louis, via BBC One. 

I am seriously obsessed with London. It is the best weekend getaway from Brussels. So just what I needed to feed my obsession on a Monday morning: in today’s Guardian London travel section is a glimpse into a gorgeous new book on London’s best preserved, but little known interiors. Published by English Heritage, London Hidden Interiors has me wanting to jump on a Eurostar pronto, with this book tucked under my arm. The book features 180 locations photographed by Derek Kendall along with an essay on London’s architectural history by Philip Davies.

(i) The 1950’s Rivioli Ballroom, Brockley Road | (ii) 1930’s Gala Bingo Hall, Mitcham Lane | (iii) Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Brentfield Road | (iv) Finsbury Town Hall, Islington

Also on the wish list for upcoming trips to England: a trip to visit Highclere Castle to indulge my equally indulgent Downtown Abbey obsession (you must read about A Lady in London’s recent visit) and a trip to the Hollywood costume exhibit at the V&A, which runs until January 2013.

Photos by Derek Kendall as published in the Guardian. 

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