Sunday, July 27, 2008

lunch at g's

I’ve known G for almost a decade but have never had the pleasure of tasting his attempts in the kitchen. And so when he offered to cook Sunday lunch for a couple of friends and I was privy to one of the limited invites, I jumped at it. I love homecooked meals. Plus I was curious about G’s cooking skills.

I had to laugh when G served his starter of melon and parma ham. Just look at the frilly hat on the toothpick. This was a side of G I’d never seen before.
His lasagna was excellent – having made a tactical decision to let his pre-assembled sit and rest for the greater part of the morning before finishing it off in the oven just before lunch, the homemade bolognaise and white sauce sauce had time to settle between the layers of pasta. I had two helpings. There wasn’t very much space left for the tarts G had procured from le pain quotidien for pudding.
Thanks G – it was a brilliant meal – great food, and fab conversations with your mates. And of course, more things I learnt from lunch that day that i can now tease you about. That’s what friends are for eh.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

belga queen

I like belga queen. I could see how some might say it’s clichéd – but I like it. I like the grand entrance, the high stained glass ceilings, the traces of opulence reminiscent of the building’s former life as credit du nord. and I liked the very good looking waiter.

I’ll go back just to look at the waiter. but the business lunch menu wasn’t too bad either.

I started with a tomato mouse with diced tomatoes, watercress salad, lashings of pecorino, basil pesto and lettuce. Yet another take on the insalata caprese with the themes of tomatoes, cheese and basil – clichéd, but delicious nonetheless - the light foamy creaminess of the tomato mousse, the very refreshing coolness of the lettuce, diced tomatoes and watercress, the sharpness of the pecorino with the luxurious velvety-ness of the fresh olive oil and basil pesto emulsion. I would have licked the inside of the glass clean had gorgeous waiter not walked by and smiled at me.

y.u.m.m.y. – both the starter and the waiter that is,

the main was a simple affair – served with flourish in a large cast iron staub cocotte, a roast chicken leg with sections of white asparagus and tourneed roast potatoes – it came with a sweet yet sharp gravy through which a strong sense of thyme had been infused. the asparagus was soft and tender – no hint of stringiness, and the roast potato was comfortingly fluffy.

and of course, any visit to belga queen can’t be complete with a visit also to its loos – the unisex affairs with see through cubicle doors – and always prompting a gaggle of stragglers waiting the wings, trying to figure out how one’s modesty is preserved in such a bathroom.

le pacifique

I love it how you can get Chinese food almost everywhere, simply because there are Chinese people everywhere. They really are everywhere. There are advantages I suppose – Chinese people means Chinese food - one never has to go too far in search of some version of Chinese restaurant. The trick however seems to be separating the dodgy joints from those that are worth their woks – and with Chinese restaurants, outward appearances almost always mean nothing – the dingiest looking hole-in-walls could be turning out the tastiest stuff.

And so after three and a half weeks in Brussels in Brussels, and having chinese food withdrawal symptoms, D brought G and I to le pacifique, a Vietnamese Chinese setup. With her almost encyclopedic knowledge of restaurants in Brussels, she was definitely a good person to know. And of course she’s terribly nice as well. Her recommendation of le pacifique came with the missive to eat number 34 on the menu – hoi sin sang mien – crispy egg noodles with an assortment of seafood. Who were we to argue with the expert, and so we supped on sang mein, grilled prawns over rice noodles and fried calamari rings with salt and chilli.

grilled prawns,plump and in their shells, atop a bed of blanched rice noodles, a generous sprinkling of fried shallots, scallions, ground peanuts and shredded carrots.

fried calamari rings with salt and chilli

number 34 - hoi sin sang mein - deep fried egg noodles with assorted seafood and bokchoi in oyster sauce.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

bonsoir clara

with a rue Antoine dansart address, bonsoir clara was promising to be achingly trendy just with its locale. a stone’s throw away from various homegrown designer boutiques with their painfully minimalist displays, the kartell shop on the corner with its lust inducing starke ghost chairs and l’archiduc, I was envisaging a room brimming with arty type people and yummy mummys doing lunch in between shopping for more yummy mummy clothes – which might have made getting a table for lunch a difficult affair.

but thankfully for me, that wasn’t the case and I was easily seated by the window overlooking rue Antoine dansart. not that I have anything against yummy mummys. the lunch menu was written on a board – there wasn’t a choice for lunch, though a brief glance through the carte did seem to offer several chi-chi sounding dishes (which I admit that in a weak moment of yuppieness I might have succumbed to), such as tempura-ed courgette flowers with brandade and tomato emulsion.

so the lunch menu – I started with tomatoes with a tian of smoked mozzarella, drizzled with a light basil pesto-esque sauce – it was a somewhat pseudo space age take on insalata caprese especially with the dried tomato crisp sitting atop the mozzarella which brought to mind freeze dried astronaut food (and tasted somewhat freezedried), but other than the erroneous tomato crisp – it was a perfectly adequate summer lunch starter – the tomatoes were refreshingly sweet against the saltiness of the smokey mozzarella cubes and the punch of the basil.

the main course was a little bit of an oxymoron – it was titled something along the lines of roast beef carpaccio – and it was that – roast beef, but sliced so thin, and the middles so pink as to be rare. it was topped with an assortment of cubed summer vegetables – purple sprouting broccoli, carrots, mange tout, courgettes, lashings of shaved parmesean, a large handful of rocket, and drizzled over with a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. it came with a cone of very thin waffle cut crisps. the dish could have done with a little more of that dressing, but that was perhaps my only substantial complaint – otherwise, for EUR 12.50 for entrée, plat and a very good coffee (with accompanying chocolate square no less), it was more than perfectly adequate for a middle-of-workday lunch.

ps. there aren’t any pictures simply because I committed the (usual) schoolgirl error of lugging my humongous camera all the way to work and down the cobbled streets through the throngs of tourists, but wisely forgot to also bring my memory card. so all these perfect shots I did attempt to take have been lost forever to digitalcameralblackholeness. oh well. any excuse for another lunch there.

Monday, July 21, 2008

the kitchen shop

so I am a little odd. I’d rather spend my paycheck on a set of steak knives and kitchen equipment than a tod’s bag or christian lobutins or whatever it is that girls buy.

and so I did get myself a set of steak knives this weekend. I couldn’t help it – there they were, beckoning me from the shop window, six laguiole steak knives with a lovely heavy wood handle and little bees carved into the metal work, all sitting prettily in their wooden box. I’ve been walking past them and lusting everyday on my way home from the gym. the shop caters to the catering trade, selling wine glasses, dinner plates and cutlery in bulk, stacks of crockery piled on the floor, boxes of other service ware – and in the midst of all that chaos, these lovely steak knives. I also managed to wander into a lovely kitchen shop,
dille and kamille, where i found the loveliest assortment of cookie cutters and other things I know I don’t need but couldn’t help buying anyway.

here’s a picture of my spoils.

1. extra large mixing bowl - possibly the largest i've ever seen.
2. giant rabbit cookie cutter
3. blue glass cake stand
4. pesto
5. tealight holder with metal cutouts of reindeer
6. fleur de sel
7. orrechiete with dried ceps, saffron risotto
8. spekuloos moulds
9. rocking horse, pig and cat cookie cutter
10. laguiole steak knives

and finally,

11. clothes peg with a ladybug – simply because I’m a little twee.

Friday, July 18, 2008

lovely lola

d once accused me of being a yuppie – I don’t think she was merely referring to the fact that I was an urban professional between the ages of 25 and 35 – it was more in the context her sisterly duty sister to give me grief about what can only be crassly described as my sometimes surfacing need for pseudo-trendiness.

I suppose tonight was one of those nights where I just wanted to go somewhere modern, sleek and possibly painfully trendy – somewhere where their interiors had sleek, clean lines, where the menu wasn’t overly fussy, where the wait staff was gorgeous and where they hopefully had tall cylindrical glass vases with lengthy statement making orchids.

I was assured by timeout and google that
Lola was going to be one of these places. Lola even had the tall cylindrical glass vases with lengthy statement making orchids that screamed this place über-trendy and is going to charge you lots for chichi looking food that might not taste very good.

the orchids were wrong – because the food wasn’t chichi looking. and it certainly tasted very good. I started with a crab stack with avocado, black sesame biscuit and wasabi mayonnaise. it was a very generous helping of crab – a tian of large, meaty chunks of fresh crab (none of that tinned stuff here) with creamy avocado through which a touch of citrus sharpness was detected. it was topped with a thin galette type pastry with an obligatory scattering of black sesame seeds which I suppose qualified it as the “black sesame biscuit”. there was a thin swipe of raspberry coulis and another of honey – both of which added a refreshing sweetness against the savouriness of the crab and the acidic creaminess of the avocado. I couldn’t really detect any heat of the wasabi, but it was overall a thoroughly enjoyable experience eating it all.

I had for my main the seabass risotto with thyme and provence vegetables – two fillets of seabass poached in fish stock, with a cake of creamy risotto and what looked like a rather elegant line of ratoutuille. the seabass was well, seabassy. it tasted exactly how seabass should taste and I was glad that they did not finish off in a pan or try to do anything fancy with the sauce – all it had was a drizzle of fish stock for moistness. together with the extremely creamy risotto through which some sort of soft cheese (like boursin, but it probably wasn’t just boursin) had been stirred through and it gave the mild looking risotto a powerful punch, which was a very welcome dimension against the mild sweetness of the seabass and the wholesomeness of the ratoutuille.

there was a black strip of unknown origin nestling on my risotto. it looked like kombu, but it didn’t’ taste like kombu. I was perplexed. the waitress didn’t know what it was called in English. I tried to mime seaweed with my hands, but she said it wasn’t that. it was hilarious. maybe she thought I was miming eels. anyway, I digress. my kombu conundrum led me to meet a pair of finns who were sitting at the next table who decided to rescue me from miming misery by informing me that what I thought was kombu was in fact, the grilled peel of an aubergine. ah. very clever. both the charming finns who explained that aubergine peel business to me, and the chef who decided to use it – it was a visual joke, linking the aubergine used in the ratoutuille to the marine theme of the seabass. and that’s all that trendy rubbish going to my head as I probably have read too much into what was probably just a garnish and a clever way to use up every component of the aubergine.

the finns, e and c, were very nice. they love lola – to the point they come almost every month and have the same dish (in its various forms and permutations that the chef tweaks for the seasons) of cod, mash and herby vegetables. they thumbed through the restaurant section of my timeout guide which I had gone through with a yellow highlighter, and put little stars next to the ones I should definitely try, and crosses against the ones which were utter rubbish and gave me a list and running commentary of their favourite restaurants. I hope I see them again – we’ve exchanged emails – so maybe I’ll get taken to one of their fav spots.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

les petit oignons

I can’t ever go back to les petit oignons.

it wasn’t the food – the food was very good and just what I needed today – honest, well executed food. I’ve had a very frustrating day where many things were talked about but very little achieved. today also seemed to be “would-strange-men-please-speak-to-me” day. having very politely but firmly refused the offer of a lift from strange man #1 who momentarily held up traffic and opened the door to beckon me in while I was waiting for the tram, I thought my strange man ration for the day (and indeed for the year) must be all used up. did he honestly think I was going to get in the car with total stranger? but alas, I was accosted all through dinner by strange man #2, the head waiter at les petit oignons who thought it would be a really good idea to keep asking me out for a drink and left his mobile phone number on my receipt. just great. I just need to turn of the big neon sign sticking out of my head that’s apparent to these strange men.

so that’s why I think it’s better I not return to les petit oignons lest strange man #2 recognises me and accosts me again. which is a shame. because I really liked les petit oignons. I had even been planning to go again in three weeks when the changed the menu – which, according to strange man #2, is what they do every three weeks or so, reflecting the seasonality of produce and the spoils of their regular supplies trips to france.

I started with a gratin of seafood – a little le crueset cocotte of scallops, prawns and cod in a light cream sauce over ribbons of leek. savouring the firmness of the fresh seafood against the smoothness of the cream sauce and ribbons of leek that while watching the patter of rain through the windows as it rained over the restaurant terrace, it was a very comforting dish.
Time Out remarked that the portions here were as they put it “invigorating portions” which I found to be a very fair remark as strange man #2 brought my main course with a warning to eat slowly if not I’ll never finish it. It was a very hearty plate, filled with many happy pieces of lamb fillet, roasted to a happy medium rare pink with a rich red wine gravy. the cake of charlotte potatoes with its tender scallops of potato slices baked with cream and the braised and then panfried chicory with its bitter sweet tinge completed the happy family.

I started talking to the jar in which my desert came in. I couldn’t help it. it was very good and I thought I should let it know how good it was. and maybe subconsciously I was hoping my strange behaviour of talking to my food would put strange man #2 off. anyway, back to the jar. it held a very lovely tiramisu “in the style of les petit oignons” as the menu put it. I’m sure the description sounded a lot prettier in french. a layer of strawberry liquor soaked sponge, lashings of strawberry juice laced mascarpone, topped with a thin sprinkling of muscovado which had been grilled to a delicate crisp. it was very good and strange man #2 was slightly visibly shocked at the spepd at which I had eaten my way through it.

oh well. maybe it’s for the best, my reluctance to return to les petit oignons – with food like that I’d probably have returned much too often than would have been healthy and start looking a little onion myself..

Saturday, July 05, 2008

bosquet 58

The three course menu takes commitment” – Time Out, Brussels.
i was wondering what Time Out meant when it said that about Bosquet 58, and as I paused to take a break as I struggled to finish the very moreish tarte tatin, i understood. this place really knew how to feed you.

even before I had placed my orders, I was presented with a glass of kir royale. very nice. it was extremely efficient service considering that madame louradour, wife of the chef proprietor was the only person servicing the front of house. she also very kindly handed me an English menu when after asking for a table, my french came to a halt. I could however ask for a glass of house white because that’s what I’ve just learnt today from the french cd I’ve been listening to. she had to correct my pronounciation though. the house white was extremely drinkable, slightly dry with an aftertaste of honey – very surprising considering that it cost less than eau minerale.

i had passed in the window display, a chalkboard with a handwritten menu du jour – at EUR 13 for three courses, I had somehow assumed it was only available for lunch. I was mistaken – that was the cost of dinner. I think I love Brussels.

the offerings were simple and honest bistro type food – no fuss with complicated preparations or frou frou presentations here. but it was good. eschewing the many salads and terrines on offer as a starter, I went for the vegetable soup, a comforting concoction of legumes, carrots and lentils, pureed to creamy consistency. the duck confit came with a more than generous helping of frites, and a rather peppery sauce – not a green in sight. I resolved not to eat all the chips which was very difficult to do as they were fried to a perfect crisp on the outside while still retaining that lovely fluffy interior that is the mark of a well cooked chip. the tarte tatin came with an assortment of fresh fruits and a very rich vanilla ice-cream – i tried to be virtuous and ate all the fruits first, but that didn’t stop me from eating all of the tarte tatin with its crisp (top)base and the lusciously soft slithers of apples which had been baked with a touch of cinnamon to absolute utter tenderness.

I’d normally say Bosquet 58’s a sure candidate for a repeat visit, considering that it’s only down the street from the gym. I had however earlier today compiled a list of all the restaurants I want to eat at in Brussels, consolidating the tips from reading various guides, blogs and recommendations from mates – I’m beginning to think that 3 months isn’t going to be long enough to eat my way through them. it’s just as well – I’m never going to be able to fit into my clothes after this summer if I keep eating at places like Bosquet 58.

p.s. - leave a comment if there's a particular restaurant in brussels you reckon should make my list.