Derek Blyth is the former editor of The Bulletin and author of the bestselling The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels. He picks out ten of his favourite hidden secrets in every issue for The Brussels Times Magazine. These are the picks in the latest summer issue.
THE HUMAN PASSIONS
This little Greek temple in a shady corner of the Parc du Cinquantenaire was designed in 1889 by Victor Horta to display a sculpture by Jef Lambeau titled The Human Passions. This huge marble relief shocked the people of Brussels so much that it had to be locked away forever. It remains a hidden secret, though you can peer through a tiny grille for an illicit view. Guided tours are now finally being organised by the Musée du Cinquantenaire on Wednesday,
Saturday and Sunday.
Parc du Cinquantenaire, European Quarter
JOHN & ROSE
This spacious new art café brings another burst of creative energy to downtown Brussels. It has a relaxed Nordic mood, with pale wood tables, vintage armchairs and plants growing in old wooden crates. You can eat a simple lunch of soup and salad, or just sit with a coffee and a newspaper. The owners organise monthly art exhibitions, film screenings and concerts.
Rue de Flandre 80, Central Brussels
+32 (0)2 318 15 38, www.johnandrose.be
Ernest Blérot designed all the houses on one side of this street in a flamboyant Art Nouveau style. Each house is decorated differently, with bay windows, wrought iron balconies and carved doors providing visual excitement.
Rue Vanderschrick, Saint Gilles
Two young French women have created a stylish new shop in central Brussels opposite the ageing slipper store Paradis de la Babouche. They have opted for a handmade Nordic look, with an old tiled floor, palewood furniture and tiny plants in pots. The shop sells a small range of clothes at affordable prices, along with jewellery displayed in test tubes.
Rue des Teinturiers 11, Central Brussels
This tiny restaurant located in a former bar has a lovely old interior with wood panelling, mirrors and white linen tablecloths. The cooking is creative, the wines are excellent. But it may not last much longer. The building is due to be taken over by a branch of the Swedish chain store Cos. The locals are annoyed because Cos (owned by H&M) will probably drive out smaller fashion boutiques. So enjoy this intimate place before it vanishes.
Rue Antoine Dansaert 78, Central Brussels
Most people rush through Gare du Nord on their way somewhere else. But Brussels graphic artist Nena Peeters sat down in the corridors to sketch the people passing through the station. She published a graphic novel based on her observations and then organised a temporary exhibition of large-scale illustrations in the station corridors and on the platforms.
Gare du Nord, Central Brussels
This is a friendly, bustling wine bar on a busy avenue facing the Abbaye de la Cambre. You can sit inside among racks of wine bottles or outside on a large terrace. The sommelier offers 56 wines by the glass along with plates of pintxo. The fun part is that you load a card with credit and then help yourself from the row of open bottles along the back wall.
Avenue Emile de Mot 19, Ixelles
+32 (0)2 644 64 11, www.etiquette-wines.com
The Dansaert neighbourhood was shocked earlier this year when someone threw a Molotov cocktail into this flower shop. The defiant owner Laurent Gemenick responded by painting the shutters with a flower next to a crossed out Molotov cocktail. So you can still come here to buy a potted plant for a downtown apartment balcony or a delicate orchid for indoors.
Rue Dansaert 127, Central Brussels
+32 (0)2 503 40 45, www.flowerattitude.be
CENTRAL STATION UNDERGROUND PASSAGE
It used to be a gloomy commuter corridor, but the architects MA2 have transformed the long tunnel leading from Central Station’s booking hall to the metro. The lighting has been improved and the walls covered with metal sheets printed with moody black-and-white Belgian scenes by photographer Daniel Deltour. Even the street musicians sound better in the bright new space.
Gare Centrale, Central Brussels
PEÏ & MEÏ
You could easily walk past this new bistro on the steep Rue Rollebeek. It is decorated in a relaxed Nordic style with pale wood, bare brick walls and an open kitchen. Brussels chef Gauthier De Baere and his young team have developed an inspiring cooking style based on complex and unusual flavours.
Rue de Rollebeek 15, Sablon
+32 (0)2 880 53 39, www.peietmei.be