Brussels is tagged as a dull, bureaucratic city. But snip the red tape, banish stereotypes and discover a new, fizzing food revolution, says Laura Millar


Join hungry punters by scooping up tasty, spicy stews with injera flatbread from big shared platters. Just a stone’s throw from the elegant and Gothic Grand Place, Ethiopian joint KoKoB is just one of dozens of places spearheading a fizzing food revolution.

Place du Chatelain

In Brussels, food appears to be everywhere; you pass clumps of tourists with their hands wrapped round cones of chips or munching on waffles; cookware stores display gleaming copper pans, and food markets like the one in Place du Chatelain on Wednesday afternoons attract what seems like half the population to its displays of locally-produced cheeses, meats, jams, sauces, pastries, olive oils and more.

Mer du Nord

Mer Du Nord, a fishmongers which sells fresh seafood cooked before your eyes, is in the which has a burgeoning street food scene around Sainte Catherine. You have to stand and queue then eat at the external counter or on a nearby bench. There is also a stall that’s been here for several years selling snails (very popular in Belgium), and a red van selling Mexican beers and tequila.


Nearby, Champigros is a good delicatessen with many products from France, and next door the bakery Charli (named after its affable owner, who comes from Montpellier) does a roaring trade. Opened four years ago, he’s about to expand, opening two more bakeries, a brasserie and an ice cream parlour.

Bia Mara

New-school fish and chip shop Bia Mara, set up by Simon Whiteside, is leading the revolution in the mid-market price range. With his partner Barry Wallace, both from Dublin, they spotted an opportunity to develop the highly successful food stall they ran there into a more permanent fixture, and investment brought them to Brussels last October, mainly because they knew there would be little or no competition. The restaurant’s location on Rue du Marche aux Poulets is a stone’s throw from the Grand Place, but tucked away from the tourist traps that line the area.

They focus on good, fresh and sustainable ingredients, with a fine dining twist, so on any given day you might find red mullet in a lime and coriander tempura batter, or turbot with a lemon and thyme panko crust; they even did hake in a Guinness tempura for St Patrick’s Day, with an oyster and sorrel sauce. They make all their own sauces and flavoured salts, and charge only €10 for a big serving of fish with hefty potato wedges.

Le Selecto

Le Selecto, a restaurant which opened 18 months ago, is run by renowned local chef Olivier Morland. He used to own another place, Le Pain et Le Vin, which was hailed as one of the best restaurants in Brussels, but which fell victim to the recession a few years ago. “That place was very formal in style,” he tells me. “Now, with Selecto, I am doing what I call ‘bistronomie’ – interpreting bistro food in a gastronomic way, in more relaxed setting. There are no white tablecloths or multiple sets of cutlery here.” This means the prices for his food are also much cheaper than before: a three- course meal will cost around €50.

I sample his five-course tasting menu, which uses the freshest local ingredients, and presents a contemporary twist on traditional cuisine. Mussels are fried into ‘beignets’ and served in a curried sauce; Coquilles St Jacques appears as a light but buttery seafood lasagne. There is a small portion of delicate foie gras with an intensely flavoured quince jam, followed by roasted veal with homemade gnocchi, asparagus and morel mushrooms. Dessert is a bitter chocolate mousse in a millefeuille pastry with vanilla and caramel cream.

Belga Queen

For a more glamorous affair, where Brussels' bright young things hang out, you have to try Belga Queen, the jewel in the crown of local chef, architect and designer Antoine Pinto. The keen foodie has his fingers in many new developments around the city – including the new restaurant and café within the Musée Royaux des Beaux- Arts – but this was his original endeavour, and he’s transformed a gigantic, cavernous space, which used to be the Credit du Nord bank, into a stylish, slick, and – some might say – flashy, temple to the table.

On a Saturday night it is rammed with beautiful people. I order scallops, pan-fried in a tangy lemon butter sauce, and half a lobster in a spicy Basque pil-pil sauce, served with crunchy vegetables, while my companion has rich, potato-shrimp croquettes, followed by pollock with a creamy cockle risotto. It’s heavenly, and we barely look up from our plates at the trendy revellers around us. For dessert, we share a classic Belgian waffle covered in dark chocolate sauce and Chantilly cream.


The two latest young punks of the chocolate scene have stores on the Place du Grand Sablon, an elegant square flanked on one side by a church, and featuring cobbled streets. It’s home to one of the city’s oldest chocolatiers, Wittamer, so it would be interesting to find out what the members of that grand old family make of the two very different shops which opened between 2009 and 2011.

Patrick Roger

Patrick Roger is not just a chocolatier, but an artist and sculptor. As a result, his store looks more like a Manhattan art gallery than a sweet shop, all exposed brickwork and dangling tubular lighting. In the main window is a huge chocolate sculpture of a fish, flanked by various brightly coloured chickens and eggs (in the run-up to Easter). But it is the individual chocolates which showcase his flair; he likes to experiment with flavours, so you’ll find chocolates made with lemon and basil (deliciously tangy), vinegar and caramel, jasmine flowers, and even beer.

Pierre Marcolini

If Roger’s place was like a gallery, Pierre Marcolini’s store is reminiscent of a jewellers. Chocolates are displayed in trays, and the country of origin of the cacao as well as the percentage is marked, like the number of carats, on each box. He uses flavours like Earl Grey tea, violets, rose and saffron, which are very delicate, and look especially elegant. If you want to increase your chance of contracting diabetes even more, then you must try speculoos biscuits, deliciously sweet and crunchy shortbread confections of brown sugar and cinnamon. A Maison Dandoy store is a good place to find them – they bake their own.