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.
PETITE RUE MALIBRAN
The quiet Petite Rue Malibran is one of a handful of old lanes that have miraculously survived in Brussels. Originally named Rue des Pucelles, it’s the last remnant of a 15th-century country lane that once meandered through open fields. Barely changed since the 18th century, it remains an almost rural corner of Ixelles with whitewashed cottages covered in wisteria and a little park.
Petite Rue Malibran, Ixelles LE TYPOGRAPHE
The beautiful Ixelles printing shop Le Typographe now has a small branch in the centre of town. Located among the design stores on Rue des Chartreux, the shop is the perfect spot to stock up on stylish notebooks, pens, stamps and writing paper. But you still have to go to their Ixelles workshop to order personalised business cards or wedding invitations.
This stylish new café has taken over a corner building once occupied by the bar Le Coq. The interior still has traces of the past including an ancient tiled floor and faded green wallpaper. But it has been given a clean modern look with little round wood tables, mirrors and a massive stone bar. The friendly staff deliver cocktails, Belgian beers and decent bar food. They also organise DJ concerts, cocktail nights and other events.
Launched back in 1982, Pias (named after the famous quote “Play it again, Sam”) has evolved into Belgium’s biggest record company. The company has supported a long list of musicians including Nick Cave, Soulwax and Editors. You can drop into their small independent record store – located on the ground floor of a landmark Art Deco building – to get an idea of what the company is up to these days. They occasionally organise concerts and album releases in the basement space.
St-Laurensstraat 36-38, Central Brussels +32 (0)2 558 58 11, www.pias.com
This friendly little restaurant feels like you are eating in an Italian family kitchen. It’s quite a crush inside on a busy evening, but the mood is upbeat as staff squeeze between the tables and try not to trip over children. The menu is fairly basic, with four starters and four pasta dishes, but everything that comes out of the kitchen is fresh and interesting, while the wines are all organic. It all adds up to a perfect Italian experience.
Rue Longue Vie 48, Ixelles +32 (0)473 49 64 93, www.certo.me
The first thing you’ll notice when you step inside this new coffee bar is the bulldog called Marcel. It’s a bit of a surprise, but most people seem happy enough to have him sniffing around their feet. Owner Marc quit a well-paid job in finance to set up this bohemian coffee bar on a square that is fast becoming cool. The coffee is made with beans from some of the best roasting firms in Europe. And there’s a terrace for sunny days.
The steep, hidden Rue des Champs-Elysées is named after a country tavern that formerly stood half way up the hill. The oldest buildings are Neoclassical, but you can also admire a few Art Nouveau houses. The strangest building is the house at No. 6 designed by Paul Hamesse in 1906 for the coal merchant Edouard Taymans. He invented a new type of stove which he displayed in the curious iron-and-glass showroom to the left. Victor Rousseau carved the stone sculpture above the entrance representing a family heating itself by a blazing fire.
Rue des Champs Elysees 6, Ixelles
FOOD TRUCK TRAIL
As well as hosting the largest food truck festival in Europe, Brussels has developed a food truck route spread over 20 locations. A sign at each location lists the food truck schedule for the week. Popular spots include Square Frère Orban in the European Quarter, Porte de Namur and Place Jean Rey next to the Leopold Park. So now you know where to find your favourite coffee or gourmet burger.
Named after a South Korean film, this relaxed Asian restaurant is a loving homage to Thai food. The interior is bright and modern, with an open kitchen and stools at the counter. The chef prepares delicious dishes including bao buns filled with chopped pork and “Angry Fish” (fried merlan with a spicy sichuan sauce). No booking so you may have to wait for a table.
It’s not easy to find this little square hidden behind the Ancienne Belgique concert hall. And it’s not especially interesting, apart from the blue street sign in two languages. It was named Place Jo Cox in 2018 in memory of a British member of parliament murdered by a far-right extremist a few days before the 2016 EU referendum. Jo Cox worked in Brussels for six years and was a big fan of AB.