December 8, 2009 / 12:03 PM / 9 years ago

Table Talk: Brussels brasserie, a warm embrace on a winter day

BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - Brussels can be a bit blustery and wet in December, snatching at your umbrella and chilling you to the bone.

When the weather is particularly bad that’s a good time to throw yourself into the warm embrace of Les Brassins, one of the coziest restaurants in Europe’s capital.

After you’ve negotiated the narrow cobbled streets of busy cosmopolitan Brussels which bring you to 36 Rue Keyenveld, brush the rain from your shoulders and get ready to tuck into some comfort food to warm yourself up.

They say “tout le monde connat Les Brassins,” everyone knows Les Brassin, which has had a timeless existence for the last 25 years since it opened.

It is a popular hang out for locals and expats who love the home-cooked feel of its traditional Belgian dishes. Les Brassin is also an excellent destination for the hungry, cold tourist, keen to experience authentic Belgian cuisine.

It is worth noting that Les Brassins, as welcoming and warm as it may appear from the outside, can be busy and without a reservation (+322 512 69 99), you may have to wait at the bar (which has no chairs) for 10 to 20 minutes.

Still, perusing and trying some of the brasserie’s selection of 61 beers — which each come in their own glasses — can be a pleasant way to while away the moments alongside other guests at the bar as you wait for a table to come free.

The bitter Kwak beer comes in a giant hourglass shaped vessel and “is impossible to drink,” says waitress Shirley, as she pours one for a diner.

Once you have managed to crack the mystery of getting the beer to flow just right, don’t greedily wolf it down. Wait for the food to come, because most of the beer at Les Brassins has an alcohol content of more than 8 percent.

Mint tea can be a lovely warming non-alcoholic option. It comes in a glass jammed with fresh mint leaves and is accompanied by a square of Belgian chocolate.

It’s hard not to find a place in Brussels which is not a bizarre mix of different styles.

Les Brassin is particularly beguiling. It’s a classy, old, dusty, vintage place, which gives away something of Belgium’s traditions, but maintains a lively atmosphere.

A selection of jazz, blues, folk and rock music wafts through the room like smoke, curling up to the ceiling, where it mixes with voices, laughter, the clink of glasses and cutlery.

The inviting red velvet sofas are supremely comfortable and provide the vantage point to observe walls adorned with old metal beer plaques. The collection of beer posters has been growing richer and richer for the past 25 years and gives the rustic setting a joyous, vintage feel.

Les Brassins’s small, wooden tables are just about the right size for a cozy conversation between diners and the convivial atmosphere lends itself to a good natter among friends nestled beneath the low ceilings with their red timber beams.

Service is quick once you do get a table. Crisp, fresh black bread is sliced, buttered and served on the house.

In this different-strokes-for-different-folks place, a large salad, a hearty burger or traditional Belgian specialty stewed in beer sauce come in under 15 euros ($22.32). Main courses also tend to be good value for generous portions.

Try the steamy onion soup as a starter which comes in a large bowl with side croutons and Gruyere cheese.

Hand-cut Belgian chips (frites) come in a metal bowl and are so moreish, that you may end up eating even the small, oily, crunchy ones at the bottom.

Goat’s cheese warm salad is a healthy choice. The smoked salmon and goat’s cheese snuggled in the crisp rucolla, watercress, spinach and salad leaves with a dash of honey is great if you have a bit of a sweet tooth.

Daily specials are written out on a chalk board and have been known to include the Belgian traditional ‘Lapin la Kriek’, or rabbit stewed in cherry beer.

Traditional ‘Stoemp’ - a mash made of potatoes and vegetables, served with two big sausages and a thick slice of bacon - is a popular dish. But there is also the Flemish Carbonnades, chunks of beef in a creamy beer stew, a mouthwatering traditional dish.

The ‘Boulletes Sauce Tomate’, or meat balls marinated in tomato sauce, are also filling and delicious. They come three to a plate and each the size of a croquet ball.

For dessert, consider a Dame Blanche - a few scoops of vanilla ice cream served with melted Belgian chocolate in a side pot. There is also Tiramisu with Speculoos (a sweet biscuit, specific to Belgium), Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Moelleux and chocolate ice cream served with chocolate sauce.

If that seems like a lot of chocolate, well after is Belgium.

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