Derek Blyth is the 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 April issue.
The French street artist OAKOAK was commissioned in 2017 to produce 12 tiny works in the Saint-Catherine district. They are carefully merged into the urban fabric so most people don’t even notice them. The works include a manhole turned into a fish skeleton outside Rue de Flandre 54, the Dalton brothers behind bars at Boulevard d’Ypres 15 and a piano keyboard on the doorstep of Rue du Marché aux Porcs 23.
The name looks Finnish, but Juttu is a pure Belgian concept. Created by outdoor company AS Adventure, this inspiring concept store opened in early March on the upper floor of the former Marks and Spencer shop. Head up the escalator to the first floor and you find yourself in a cool Nordic style space with an inspiring mix of clothes, watches, plants and books. The focus is on 100 small emerging brands with a unique identity, like Anerkjendt of Denmark, Cluse of Amsterdam and Anrwrp from Belgium. And there’s a smart Scandi-style bio café run by Chyl.
Avenue de la Toison d’Or 26, Ixelles +32 (0)2 771 95 34, juttu.be
Two young women opened this innovative restaurant on a quiet Ixelles street in 2018. They aim to provide healthy, tasty cooking while following sustainable, no-waste principles. The kitchen offers inventive dishes featuring unexpected flavours, along with good wines and unusual beers from two of the city’s innovative microbreweries.
Rue de la Longue Haie 51, Ixelles +32 (0)2 647 68 03, lelocalbxl.be
Jens Crabbe’s new coffee shop near the Brussels canal has become a hotspot with a young local crowd. The interior has a tiled floor, pale wood benches and a lunch counter hidden in the back room. This is a place to visit if you are looking for an exceptionally smooth flat white made on a shiny La Marzocco espresso machine.
This elegant cocktail bar and restaurant occupies a former tea room near Place Flagey. It is decorated with marble tables, wooden shelves and a flamboyant mock rococo ceiling. Chef Nicolas Decloedt creates innovative food using vegetables supplied by local wild farmers, while barman Mathieu Chaumont comes up with cocktails and craft beers to match.
You get a fantastic, unreal view of the modern Brussels skyline from the 19th-century Pont du Jubilé. The bridge runs above the newly-planted park at Tour et Taxis, providing a panoramic view of a strange, semi-wild landscape, along with an abandoned rail yard, vast customs warehouses and several modern buildings. Not at all what you expect in Brussels.
Pont du Jubilé, Sainctelette Metro: Pannenhuis
MONUMENT TO THE FAIRGROUND WORKERS
A beautiful, sad monument stands on a little square near the Gare du Midi. It represents a Pierrot holding a gold mask in one hand and a sword in the other. The monument was put up in 1924 in memory of 30 fairground workers who died in World War One. A further 30 names were added after the Second World War. The monument stands on the boulevard where the Midi Funfair is held every year.
Square de l’Aviation, Central Brussels
This cavernous bar on two levels is located in an old industrial building near the canal. It is furnished in a rugged rustic style with massive wood tables, low lamps and ancient metal stools. Not the most comfortable place in town, but it attracts trendy locals with its tasty Japanese food, craft beers from Brussels Beer Project and regular concerts.
Rue d’Alost 7-11, Dansaert Quarter +0476 84 12 86, kumiko.be
You can tell Brussels is getting serious about beer from the growing number of new craft breweries opening all over town. But where do you buy those quirky experimental beers that are competing with big brands? Some can be found in supermarkets, but you really need to go to a specialised shop to get the interesting stuff. Malting Pot is one of the best places to head for advice on what is new. This small shop near Place Flagey stocks about 200 beers by small breweries, including local pioneers Brasserie de la Senne and Brussels Beer Project, along with foreign brews imported from France, the United States and even Norway.
Four local creatives opened this fabulous plant store in the Marolles in 2015. It is dedicated to rare cacti, ancient ferns and other green curiosities to perk up an urban apartment. You can also pick up vintage furniture, terrariums and handmade macramé hangers.