An artisanal bakery which boasts quality breads and cakes almost too beautiful to eat. There are various different breads to try, from traditional baguettes to olive, walnut, apricot and hazelnut; but I’m told that once they’ve found one they like customers tend to stick with it. Even the Neptune restaurant I’ve featured before buys its own particular type of loaf from here. The bread is made upstairs and allowed to rise 24 hours before baking. It’s a process that takes time and space, but here production is limited by the premises rather than number of personnel. So after 26 years with the shop and atelier in the same building, the Saint-Aulaye has just moved to a new building which has the same surface area, but will no longer require its 12 pâtissiers to traispse up and down four flights of stairs.
“Photo? Of course, je vous en prie!” He says, as he hands me my box of strawberry and raspberry tarts. “Everyone in Brussels knows about this atelier”, he adds. “Oh?” I say. I hadn’t known, and I only wish I’d been told about this place earlier – it has been here for 60 years, after all. Now there’s no need for that sinking feeling as you plod home after a late night at the office and remember that the fridge is bare, or wonder what to eat after an impromptu gathering leaves you unexpectedly drunk and ravenous!
Here’s what I suggest: head down the long corridor that opens out into the cavernous atelier, weigh yourselves on the huge and antique scales. So that’s 20 bags of flour…. Re-emerge from there. Enjoy some beers and frites in the bars around Place Jourdan. Return several hours later for bread, rolls, croissants or tarts. Weigh yourselves again. From Midnight the cocoa-buttery smell of fresh pain au chocolat will waft down the corridor to entice you in – for this is the hour of the first fresh pastries of the day. What a great idea in a land where supermarkets generally close at 8pm! Open every day from 19:00 to 7:00. From 7:00 the actual bakery on the square takes over, but that is not so much fun.
Rue Général Leman, 8 1040 Etterbeek
Google map: bit.ly/VjxshK
Garcia’s tearoom is packed on a Sunday morning, but in the adjoining blue and white tiled bakery business is slower and you can call in and pick up your sweet Portuguese pastries at any time. On a quieter weekday morning I had my first sampling of savoury Portuguese treats in the tearoom – including mini shrimp croquettes, cod and chicken pastries. Now I’m hooked, but that’s okay
because I can still have one of everything available and it will still be as cheap as Belgian chips.
The owner is from Lavre in Southern Portugal, but left to see the world. To remind him of home, and us of sunnier Mediterranean climes, we sit next to a recreated façade of his house, happily caffeinating ourselves. Hearing Portuguese spoken on the terraces around Place Flagey, it seems like a large proportion of Brussels’ Portuguese community must have settled in this area, but no, they’re everywhere, says the guy serving my pastries. What a lovely language, and what lovely pastries!
Avenue de la Couronne, 75- 77, 1050 Ixelles
Google map: bit.ly/VjwfXv
Once upon a time in Brussels, two chefs decided they’d had enough of working for someone else and set out on their own. They began selling homemade tarts and quiches from a cart at Flagey market, using recipes from their respective grandmothers. I wasn’t in Brussels
then, but I know that I would have approved.
Over the last twelve years the tarts have moved inside from cart to shop and some recipes have evolved, but others have stayed exactly as they were, including the grandmothers’ Linzer raspberry tart and the frangipane. However it was the lure of lemon that first drew me into their shop, and I am happy to learn that the tangy, creamy lemon tart and the raspberry Linzer one are the bestsellers!
The main rue de la Paix site I featured before is now unfortunately closed, but creator Marc
carries on the tart tradition at one of the former franchise sites. The place has a new name,
but the tarts are the same! Expect an enticing window display of chocolate, raspberry, apple and brown sugar – in mini tarts and larger versions for you to take away - or enjoy
186, Chaussée de Vleurgat, 1000 Bruxelles
+32(0)2 649 01 19
Google map: bit.ly/Pubo1x
* Bec is our Been there local for Brussels. You can view her profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/brussels-local-rebecca.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/Becinbrussels
Les Gens que J’aime is a short walk away from the Grand Place and an ideal place to pause sightseeing for refreshment. It used to be another naff chocolate shop, but luckily the owners are faithful to their 60s retro theme: believe me, you don’t hear The Doors too often in Brussels! I liked going upstairs to the low-ceilinged gallery, where I ate lasagne off a psychedelic circle tablecloth and drank ginger tea from a dribbling teapot. The food is reasonably priced and includes bagels, meatloaf and waffles, which should keep you going at least until evening.
Rue du Midi 15, 1000 Brussels
Google map: bit.ly/qGWyXm
Tout Bon has occupied its corner of Place du Luxembourg since 1997. I like coming here for breakfast! There are various formulas to choose from: involving combinations of egg and bacon, bread, croissants and orange juice. Substitute tea or coffee for rich hot chocolate that coats your throat, and enjoy the French way dunking everything in it. They have a selection of delicious jams to smother your bread in: strawberry and blueberry, chocolate and hazlenut paste, Belgian honey and slow-cooked syrupy pears from the Ardennes. On weekdays in term-time you may find yourself in earshot of lobbyists, diplomats or Commission officials deep in conversation over some issue or other. Meanwhile on Friday evenings the square wakes up as young MEP assistants spill out here to relax after work.
The hulking monolith of the European Parliament dominates one end of the square. Wandering around it won’t reveal anything of what actually goes on in there, so I would recommend contacting your MEP some time in advance and requesting a guided visit.
Upon entering you might think you’ve arrived in a Bavarian hunting lodge – complete with yellowing walls, dim lighting, and a collection of antlers. Actually you’re in the former meeting point for Belgium’s surrealist scene. And yet despite the visits of Magritte, Alechinsky, Scutenaire and Breton, despite the 406 framed portraits and photos, the place does not have the kind of surrealist drawings, poems or doodling that you might have been expecting and certainly hoped for. That is because everything of value was sold, save a few exceptions; and what we have combines donations and founder and art dealer Geert van Bruaene's mix-match collection of objects, including a group of Virgin Marys. Luckily the café was rescued and spared the museum treatment: it is once again the venue for literary salons, poetry readings and much beer drinking. And what is on the walls is certainly worth perusing.
Try and sit at Magritte’s table: solid, wooden and smooth from years of elbow rubbing; although it too is like a school pupil’s desk with no strange etchings to be found. Sneak in here one afternoon to enjoy a strong beer – a spontaneously fermenting lambic, gueuze or kriek would seem an appropriate choice, accompanied by the special house pralines – and before long voices recede into the distance and you find yourself contemplating the mysterious phrases on the walls….. Hmm, perhaps this place is surreal after all!
“Nul ne m’est étranger comme moi-même.”
La Fleur is open every day from 11:00 until Midnight (until 19:00 on Sundays). It’s closed on Mondays, unless there’s some literary event going on.
Rue des Alexiens 55, 1000 Bruxelles
+32(0)2 511 16 59
Google map: bit.ly/kPvion
The Mokafe cafe in Galerie du Roi 9 serves a delicious and complete breakfast for around six euros including mouthwatering croissants and real fresh squeezed juice.
Galerie du Roi 9, Bruxelles 1000
Google map: tinyurl.com/krr7jb
An average Belgian bar might have a couple of dozen beers available. A good Belgian bar might have a couple of hundred. The Delirium Cafe has over TWO THOUSAND beers available at any one time. Not only a terrific range of Belgian beers but also beers from over 60 other countries. The menu actually lists about 2500 beers, but they restrict their claimed selection to "over 2000" as not all are available 100% of the time, though I've never ordered anything they couldn't find. One thing to be aware of, the beer price goes up during live music gigs, which happen twice a week. It's in the maze of alleyways that make up the Ilot Sacre, so can be hard to find at first.
Impasse de la Fidélité, 4A, Brussels. About 100m from the Grand Place and not far from Brussels Central Station. Website: www.deliriumcafe.be/ Tel: 32/2.514.44.34
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