Who would have ever imagined that when Bryan left to go to Belgium for a 5-day business trip in late January 2020, he would end up getting "stuck" for seven weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic? I talked more about the details of our whole crazy pandemic travel story here.
Suffice it say, never would we have ever thought we would end up "living" in Brussels for almost two months. It was a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really get to know this city, something that's typically hard to do on a normal vacation where you only have a handful of days.
Our home base was the Marriott Grand Place Brussels, which has a great location in the center of the old city and is surrounded by a lot of restaurants. Because of that, we ended up not venturing far at all to eat, and ate almost all of our meals during those 6-7 weeks within walking distance of our hotel.
Below, I've tried my best to summarize our experiences dining in Brussels, especially around the Grand Place, and highlight some of our favorites. I will write in more detail about many of these places, but it's always nice to have an overview.
Presenting . . . my top places to eat around the Grand Place Brussels.
There are many, many very traditional Belgian spots where you can get a great selection of Belgian beers, many of the classic dishes (moules frites, shrimp croquettes, steak frites, Flemish beef stew (cooked in beer!), and the like). Cafe Georgette is known for Belgian fries but they also make a solid steak and lovely, simple salads. Aux Armes de Bruxelles has a classic old world, traditional Belgian feel and also makes a fantastic Flemish stew. La Villette was recommended by our hotel and we enjoyed its cozy, rustic atmosphere while having one of our first authentic moules frites experiences.
Fin de Siecle is cash-only and extremely popular due to its low prices and excellent food. Don't be surprised if you have to wait for seating. The portions are hearty, massive, and delicious. The place is loud, bustling, and there always seems to be a line. In ‘t Spinnekopke is insanely popular and known for its moules frites.
For seafood, we fell in love with Vismet, which served amazingly fresh seafood with just a touch of upscale. Belga Queen is old school fancy with an impressive dining space (think high ceilings, chandeliers, and servers in tuxedos). The seafood is good, expensive, and appropriate for expense account dinners. Others, such as La Maree or Les Petit Oignons were solid, highly rated, and had charming, cozy feels. Mer du Nord is a non-nonsense seafood bar outside where you eat standing up. I never got around to trying it, but it came highly recommended.
Of course, it goes without question that all of these places offer excellent Belgian beer.
"Foodie" Farm to Table and the Like
For the food enthusiast, I recommend La Paix (1 Michelin Star) for a truly creative and delightful tasting menu experience; Bozar Restaurant (1 Michelin Star) for artfully crafted (individually numbered!) pithiviers; SAN for a delicious modern tasting menu,\; Pre de chez Nous for farm-to-table modern French; and Resto Henri for relaxed yet modern European/Belgian fare.
I will be writing more about my meals at each of these restaurants in a separate post, so stay tuned!
I will write a whole separate article about beer. Needless to say, no other place in the world can quite match Belgium when it comes to beer. It is deeply rooted in their history and they have been making it for centuries. There are so many different ones to try, many of which you cannot try anywhere else in the world.
More on that in a future post . . .
Chocolate, Truffles, and Waffles, Oh My!
Belgium is a chocolate lovers paradise. It is home of so many world famous chocolatiers, such as Neuhaus, Godiva, Cote d'Or, Leonidas, and Pierre Marcolini (just to name a few).
Belgian waffle lovers much visit Maison Dandoy and queue up for a seat in order to enjoy a freshly made Belgian waffle. I love mine topped with just simple whip cream. I tried it once with speculoos (a national Belgian spiced cookie!), but I actually found it a bit too sweet.
Some of my favorite sweet memories include waffles (both Brussels and Liege) and speculoos cookies from Maison Dandoy, cappuccinos from OR Coffee Roasters, chocolate "tools" from La Belgique, and just the ability to try so many different chocolate types every day. Bryan really enjoyed pralines from Neuhaus and has a soft spot for Cote D'Or, which his dad used to bring back to the US from countless business trips to Belgium.
On our last day in Belgium, we ordered a Brussels style Belgian waffle topped with whipped cream from Le Cirio, (which also carries the world's number one beer Westvleteren 12) and it was also quite good!
Although Bryan commuted to his company's local office every day, I worked from "home" in the hotel. As a result, I had the chance to enjoy lunch around the Grand Place often. I fell in love with Yummy Bowl, a vegetarian bowl place that really cares about the quality of the ingredients, and returned frequently. As an avocado lover, I also liked dining solo at Avocado Show, which has a nice, bright space.
For beautiful views of Brussels and lovely salads, try having lunch at Restaurant MIM at the top of the Musical Instrument Museum. It's a lovely hidden spot that's truly a gem.
For normal quick and healthy "fast" lunches, I typically stopped by EXKI for a soup and/or a salad. Horia Oriental Natural Eatery, which has a Middle Eastern bent, is also very popular and reasonably priced.
Brussels is the capital of the European Union and thus has a very international feel. Though it's not a huge city (reminds me of Boston a bit, in its size and feel), it has excellent options when it comes to international food.
We enjoyed delicious authentic Neapolitan pizza at Nona Pizza, fantastic Japanese ramen at Umaido, exellent homemade pasta at Pasta Divina, and exquisite and cozy Italian at Wine Bar Osteria. We even tried the American steakhouse right inside our hotel, Midtown Grille, which was solid. Most notably they offered Rubia Gallega at a reasonable price.
We also tried Chinese food a handful of times, and were pleasant surprised with the hand-pulled noodles at Au Bon Bol, which was also conveniently located right next to our apartment. We returned to Pasta Divina and Wine Bar Osteria a number of times during our stay there (basically, after we started getting tired of traditional Belgian food).
The Grand Place Brussels
The Grand Place itself is beautiful and I never tired of visiting it at all hours. It has such an old, historic, and classic feel, almost like I'm stepping back in history. I loved staying right in this neighborhood and being able to walk to so many restaurants without worrying about traffic. Most of the major museums are also within walking distance, so we definitely took advantage of that.
Many, many of the city's main events occur right in this area. We enjoyed an amazing city-wide light festival, took many walks through the square at night, and just soaked in the unique European feel of the whole place, which is so different from Hong Kong.
Belgium . . . a Special Place
Belgium holds a special place in my heart. For some reason, it's always been there to catch us during crazy, worldwide events. The first time was in 2001 on our honeymoon in Europe when, due to the 9/11 attacks, we couldn't get home and spent three unexpected days in Brussels (our stopover city). That's when I tried my first Belgian waffle.
Nineteen years later, during this current unprecedented global coronavirus pandemic, we return to Belgium, a city we have not seen in a loooong time. This time, we are older and wiser. We still love the waffles, but have also developed a great appreciation for its unparalleled beer selection.
We really loved our unique time in Brussels and it feels like an old friend now. In many ways it reminds me of Boston. It's a smaller, more approachably-sized city that's walkable, European in feel, yet international at the same time. It had also been so long since I'd felt crisp, cool weather, I actually enjoyed putting on a sweater and wearing a jacket!
Thank you Brussels for all the kind people there who were very welcoming to us during this crazy time.