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 June issue.
Two sisters gave up their office jobs to open this relaxed lunch spot. They bravely went for a risky location in a dingy street near the Gare du Midi. The interior has a bare, industrial look, with pine benches, cactus plants and bright cushions. The sisters work in the tiled kitchen making tasty soups, salads and inventive sandwiches. You can also drop in during the day for a coffee and a warm homemade chocolate cookie straight from the oven.
Rue de Russie 10, Saint-Gilles +32 (0)2 534 43 98
This relaxed little bistro opened in September 2017 on a quiet corner in Ixelles, but it could almost be in Paris. The interior is a warm mix of dark green walls, exposed brick and odd little paintings. The menu is limited to a few simple dishes, a short list of organic wines and local craft beers. But everything they serve is fresh, tasty and healthy. Book a table before it gets too popular.
Rue Veydt 41, Ixelles +32 (0)2 259 26 27
Claudia and Enzo have delved into old Italian cookbooks to revive forgotten recipes from their homeland. They serve their food in a tiny restaurant in the fashionable Flemish quarter. You can drop in at lunchtime for an inexpensive pasta dish, or come along in the evening to sample Enzo’s complex, original cooking, while moody Italian songs play in the background.
Rue de Flandre 92, Dansaert Quarter +32 (0)466 33 59 25, signorava.com
This tiny shop with an old Belgian tiled floor and a quirky name makes a change from the usual tourist shops in the centre of Brussels. Owner Sofie Rombouts sells luxury notebooks, writing equipment, city guides and maps. She hunts out elusive notebooks crafted in Poland, sensual Japanese writing paper, and cards by Hungarian illustrator Anna Kövecses. It’s also one of the rare spots in Belgium where you can find Herb Lester’s wonderful maps of New York, Paris and other beloved cities.
Rue des Eperonniers 19, Central Brussels +32 (0)485 19 23 39, mofelitopaperito.com
Philema is like one of those local places you get in rural Greece that are half way between a grocery store and a restaurant. It is furnished with plain wooden tables next to shelves lined with jars of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The staff are very friendly and the chef comes round the tables to check everyone is having a good time. The cooking is based on Crete cuisine, featuring specialities like gamopilafo – a rice dish served at Cretan weddings.
This spacious restaurant opened in 2017 in a former camera shop on Place St Boniface. It’s a lively, welcoming place with old tiled floors, coloured paper lamps and big windows looking out on the square. The kitchen staff work until late at night producing tasty Japanese food alternating with traditional French dishes. In summer the vast pavement terrace catches the sun most of the day.
Rue Saint Boniface 15, Ixelles +32 (0)2 513 48 41, littletokyo.be
This smart new concept store near the royal palace combines a coffee shop, vegan restaurant, gift shop and grocery corner. It’s a bright, spacious place with a window counter, comfortable armchairs and a staircase for sitting strewn with cushions. You can drop in to pick up a coffee made with almond milk, or a bag of quinoa, or even a reproduction of a New Yorker cover to hang on your wall.
Rue de Namur 25, Central Brussels +32 (0)2 503 83 30
HERMAN TEIRLINCK BUILDING
The Flemish government moved its administration in 2017 into a stunning low-energy building designed by Dutch architect firm Neutelings Riedijk. Located in the Tour & Taxis district, it incorporates a public street that runs through the building, with a coffee bar and indoor gardens. It is a gorgeous contemporary working space, although some EU staff might start to ask why they have to spend their lives in such miserable office buildings.
Avenue du Porc 88, Sainctelette
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL
No secret bell to ring or hipster beards. Karoline and Harouna run a friendly, relaxed cocktail bar with a plain candlelit interior. Located in trendy Rue Dansaert, it appeals to a cosmopolitan Brussels crowd with its quirky range of cocktails including an amazing invention called Under the Garden, which is smoked in oak and then sealed with a small potted plant.
Rue Dansaert 161, Central Brussels +32 (0)2 223 59 99, www.libcocktailbar.com
I’M NOT ON THE GUEST LIST
Brussels local Yamina El Atlassi has been blogging about her favourite things in Brussels since 2011. She digs deep into the city’s nightlife to cover all those events that no one ever tells you about, like café concerts, dance parties and art shows. Her weekly online agenda is quite simply the best guide to the city’s underground events.