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 September issue.
THE GLASSMAKER’S HOUSE
Ernest Delune built this striking Art Nouveau house in 1902 for Clas Gruner Sterner, a Viennese craftsman who specialised in stained glass windows. Working in a studio at the top of the house, Sterner designed beautiful Art Nouveau windows for several of Delune’s houses in this neighbourhood as well as creating the striking stained glass windows in his own house.
Rue du Lac 6, Ixelles
This stylish Portuguese pasty shop opened about a year ago near the Horta Museum in Saint Gilles. It’s a bright place with light wood furnishings and blue graphic art on the walls. The coffee is really good, but the main reason to come here is to taste the little custard tarts called pasteis de nata.
Chaussée de Charleroi 196, Saint Gilles www.forcado.be
Here is a bright new Japanese noodle bar to replace the much-loved but tiny Yamato on Place Boniface. Located in an old camera shop, Little Tokyo is a bright, fresh place with a Scandinavian-style interior, old tiled floor and shady terrace. The young chef creates tasty miso soups, gyozas and main dishes with grilled lamb. And you no longer have to worry about poking your neighbour in the eye with your chopsticks.
Rue Saint Boniface 15, Ixelles www.littletokyo.be
This is an authentic coffee bar near the European Parliament where Italians squeeze inside to drink tiny espresso coffees and read La Repubblica. It’s not really a place for quiet conversation as the television is tuned to Rai Uno and the background music is just a bit too loud. But it’s the perfect place to gulp down a shot of strong coffee on your way to the office.
Rue d’Arlon 27, European Quarter +32 (0)488 58 18 32, www.caffeitaliano.be
Here is a friendly neighbourhood brasserie on a leafy square near the Gare du Midi. It has a rather grand 19th century interior with wood panelling, mirrors and chandeliers. The chefs work in an open kitchen at the back producing big pots of Dutch mussels, Flemish stews simmered in dark beer and plump sausages served with generous helpings of stoemp.
We love this cool modern beer café run by the same people as the homely Moeder Lambic behind St Gilles town hall. They have 35 Belgian beers on tap including rare lambics brewed in the misty Zenne valley. The knowledgeable staff will happily explain the merits of elusive Belgian beers with quirky names like Jambe de Bois and Mad Helen.
Now that the Mundaneum in Mons has reopened, you might want to know more about the man behind it. Born in 1868, Paul Otlet was the son of a rich Belgian industrialist. He lived in a house in Ixelles built in Art Nouveau style by Octave van Rysselberghe. Working in a corner room (which you can see from the street), he drew up plans for a building in Brussels which would contain all human knowledge. Now located in Mons, Otlet’s Mundaneum was recently described by Le Monde as “a paper version of Google”.
Rue de Livourne 48, Louise Quarter
When this dark old bar closed in 2012, it looked as if another Brussels institution was gone for ever. But no. It reopened a year later, looking much the same as before, but a little less gloomy. The new owners expanded the beer list to include sublime local brews like Faro and turned the dingy back meeting room into a little spaghetti restaurant where the chef strives to create the perfect bolognese sauce. The cafe now hosts organise Sunday afternoon concerts on a restored 1894 piano and recently published a book of spaghetti bolognese recipes called De Mijne is Den Beste (Mine is the Best).
The Galerie de l’Ô occupies a striking exhibition space in the old public baths in Forest commune. Here the organisers put on exhibitions of modern ceramic art in cool modern interiors. The gallery is organising a major exhibition called Ceramic Event 7 in late September as part of Brussels Design September. Held in an elegant mansion on Avenue Molière, it brings together works by 32 artists, including French artist Charlotte Coquen’s quirky Les Imbéciles, along with performances and video screenings.
19 to 27 September 2015, Entry €5 Avenue Molière 139, Forest www.galeriedelo.be
A new craft brewery has just opened up in the Marolles near the cultural centre Recyclart, filling the neighbourhood with the smell of fermenting beer. Named after an old Brussels expression meaning “on the sly,” En Stoemelings was launched back in the summer by two young entrepreneurs. You can observe them from the street working in their tiny brewhouse, where they create small batches of their Curieuse Neuse beer using sacks of hops from Poperinge. You can buy 75cl bottles in the brewery.