I had my first eight course dinner this week, and given my complete inexperience with these kinds of luxuries, it is possible that this review will be a bit biased. But it was so much fun! When you eat eight little meals, it feels like you’re eating the Eurovision song contest. Each dish has its own character, and looks nothing like the previous one. Given the tiny size of the dishes, it’s more about tasting than eating – sometimes an investigation, trying to figure out what is on the plate. Although we were left the menu at our side, we had very vague ideas about what we were actually eating at times (and had to google some of the ingredients like sorrel and verbena).
But aside from my excitement at the four-hour activity of eating eight little dishes in one evening, La Buvette in itself is a lovely place. It’s placed opposite its sister restaurant, the brilliant Café des Spores, but feels a bit more upmarket. When I asked for a nice red wine at Café des Spores, I was served a glass of their excellent house wine. At La Buvette you can only order by to the bottle, and if you ask for advice, the waiter goes to fetch the sommelier.
La Buvette is a tiny resturant, a little bit like someone’s house – the front still looks like the old butcher’s shop it’s housed in, and the upstairs like someone’s living room. The decor is simple. Getting lost trying to find the toilet, I ended up in someone’s artist studio at the top of the house. While the location far away from the centre, it is obvious that La Buvette doesn’t need a grand location to attract customers. The clientele seemed like local Bruxellois food lovers, not eurocrats.
As soon as we were seated, we were given sourdough bread with candied sunflower kernels and truly delicious porcini butter. We ordered a bottle of red organic Merlot at the recommendation of the sommelier, which was probably the biggest disappointment of the evening – it was a bit too dry, and not very special. The first dish, however, was very exciting: sea trout, seaweed, cucumber and some kind of vinegar-y wasabi-flavoured dressing.
The second dish was delicious, and perhaps the most visually appealing – potted rabbit with celeriac and lemon creme. The crunch of the celeriac against the tender, savoury rabbit was lovely. Fredrik, who opted for the vegetarian menu, was was served beetroot with blue cheese and celeriac, and wasn’t the biggest fan of the composition. However, the rest of the evening, I was impressed by how well they catered for a non meat-eater. The third dish was pretty: a colourful salad of sorrel, carrot, red onion, squash and ricotta cheese. Although we were delighted by the sorrel, which we used to eat in Sweden as kids, I thought the ricotta was too heavy, and there was not enough salty tangyness to the dish. It felt like a dessert-salad.
The fourth dish was one of our favourites: plaice with hay potato in a buckwheat broth. The fish was perfect: crispy brown on the outside, but falling apart into creamy little flakes, and soaking up the flavoursome broth perfectly. This was followed by the second main, which was confit lamb with aubergine cream and red cabbage. This was absolutely delicious, and I savoured every little bit of it. Fredrik’s option was also very tasty: Peeled, fried aubergine in some kind of soy vinaigrette. We were both very pleased with our mains, and I began to feel a little full.
The first dessert was absolutely perfect: white chocolate ice cream, meringue, blackberries and verbena sorbet. I think it was one of the nicest desserts I’ve ever tried. The fresh verbena sorbet unlocked a whole forest of flavours, which contrasted beautifully with the blackberry and the crispy meringue. The second dessert was a rice pudding with buckthorn sauce and salted caramelised almonds. This was also nice, but the least special dessert for me. The final dish was incredibly heavy, so it was lucky it was so small: dark chcolate tart with salty hazelnut praline. It was a grand finish of the evening, with very heavy flavours.
We finished off the evening with a small acidic coffee each, which was best combined with some sugar – somehow very apt for the kind of meal we’d had. While the eight course dinner in itself is not entirely unaffordable given the high quality of the food (45 euros), the wine, water and coffee upped the bill quite a lot. But for a very special treat, I would completely recommend La Buvette – great service, beautiful food, and actually quite exciting entertainment for a couple of hours. 8,5 meatballs out of ten.
I’m a little reluctant to write about Piola libri, because it is already always packed, especially on the Apero evenings. Eurocrats seem love to drink and socialise, yet the EU quarter in Brussels is anything but known for its abundance of charming little places to spend the evening. And consequently piola libri is always full to the brim. But don’t let the throngs of suits scare you away: the ambience always remains chic and cosy, often with jazz musicians accompanying the guest DJs. And the owner greets all the girls at the door with a large smile.
On aperitivi evenings at La piola, this Italian book shop-cum-bar serves up simple yet lovely, complimentary snacks at the bar. You just order something to drink, pay and then help yourself to a little plate of various snacks: feta cheese with chili, assorted olives, pickled onions, sticky rice, foccacia, crustini with various spreads, cold pasta with tuna and capers, and so on. It varies slightly from time to to time, but always hits the spot. There’s no strange ticketing system like in other aperitivi bars in Brussels, so you can go several times (although since it’s a system of trust, it’s one that of course shouldn’t be abused).
The wine is excellent, if a little more expensive than the average Brussels bar. But since you can skip dinner if you go here, that’s not really an issue. A good glass of spritzer is €5, and a glass of their very decent house red is €4.80. If you go a bit earlier, you can also browse their extensive selection of Italian literature and film, as it is a book shop during the day (with free wifi). Aperitivi is normally served on Thursday and Friday nights, but have a look on their website first, as they sometimes have live readings of Italian literature instead. And make sure to arrive early if you want a seat.
Piola libri can be found at 66-68 Rue Franklin, as seen below on the map:
I know rabbit might not be for everyone, and many of you will be thinking of this:
And not of this:
But I can assure you that rabbit meat is delicious… a bit like chicken (looks exactly like it…) but gamier. I recently spent a week at my parents’ house in Paris where rabbit meat is as common as chicken’s and was presented with two rabbits to cook for dinner. I had never cooked it and did not have many ingredients so decided to go for something I know how to do well: a wine stew. I mean you can never go wrong with wine and meat… add some butter and it’s heaven!
For this recipe you will need (enough for five people)
– Two rabbits cut in smallish pieces (ask your butcher to do it, it’s usually in six pieces)
– Two carrots, minced.
– An onion, chopped.
– 300 grams of mushrooms, roughly chopped (preferably a mix of nutty mushrooms).
– Two bunches of thyme.
– Half a bottle of wine (pour the rest into a glass and drink it to get over the fact you’re eating a cute bunny).
– A lot of butter
Start by adding a knob of butter to a pan and brown the rabbit pieces. Reserve and do the same with the mushrooms in batches so they brown but don’t become mushy. Put them aside with the rabbit and add more butter to the pan. Add the onion and carrots and sweat them for 5-10 minutes. When they become soft, turn up the heat and add the wine and the thyme. You can also add a bay leaf at this point.
Let the wine reduce to half and then add the rabbit and the mushrooms. Make sure they are covered and add water if needed. Season with salt and pepper and let cook for at least 45 minutes on very low heat, with a lid on. When the meat looks like it’s cooked and almost falling off the bone take the lid off to let it reduce. Right now is the time to prepare the polenta. If you are experienced you can have a go at polenta flour which has too cook for 45 minutes with constant turning and gives you an arm ache and possibly some burns. If you are not an experienced Italian grandma, grab a good quality semi-ready polenta and follow the instructions. When the polenta is almost cooked add some cream or ricotta cheese and some parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and serve the stew over it.
The next day, if you are lucky to have some stew and polenta left, serve them together. If like me all you had is polenta, fry it in a pan with some butter until it’s crispy. For the courgette, slice it really thinly (with a peeler or a mandolin) fry it for 2-3 minutes in some butter and sprinkle it with salt, pepper, good olive oil and goat’s cheese. And there you go: a really easy and healthy second meal after the indulgence of rabbit and wine.
(Sorry for the low quality pictures, I only had my phone)
I must admit I knew about Franco Manca for almost two years before visiting for the first time last week. It’s not that I don’t like pizza or that Chiswick (or Brixton) is very far from where I live. What happened is that since I’ve moved to the UK I have not yet encountered a decent pizza, let alone a decent Italian pizza (there is an exception to this – an amazing butternut squash and caramelised onion pizza at bar room bar in Birmingham two years ago… unfortunately it was a special and I never tasted it again)*. I mean I lived in Brussels for almost ten years where Italian restaurants and amazing simple pizzas are a common sight in every neighbourhood. Even in Lisbon, a place not wildly known for its breadth of Italian restaurants, I can direct you to at least 3 very good pizzerias. And so… after three years of failing to find any good pizzas, I had kind of forgotten about it. The other day, while shopping around Chiswick High Road I passed Franco Manca and saw lots of people having what seemed like great pizza in their outside tables. My faith in pizza was almost restored and I decided to come back later in the week… and I am so happy I did.
We were greeted by a huge pizza oven and hams and garlic hanging from the ceiling and were seated quickly. We started with the two panouzzi (flame baked bread) – one with Serrano ham from Brindisa and the other with artichokes, mozzarella and sundried tomatoes. While the ingredients were fresh and incredibly tasty the bread was more flame than baked. However, I think I would have this again just for the toppings. This was followed by a glass of Madregalo Rosso (a combination of Sangiovese and Montepulciano, two of my favourite grapes) which was very good – if a bit too light – and great value at £3.30. We quickly moved on the main event of the night, the pizza…
Mr Salted Cod went for a tasty Ham, Mushroom, Ricotta and Mozzarella pizza, while I stuck with more classic flavours in what can only be described as puttanesca on a pizza – olives, capers, anchovies and tomato – with the addition of mozzarella. As you can see in the picture this pizza ticks all the ‘perfect pizza’ boxes: fresh and simple ingredients, puffy crust, charred bits and thin base. My ‘puttanesca-like’ pizza was incredible – a perfect mix of salty from the anchovies and olives and sweet from the tomato sauce and the cheese. While I liked the other pizza too, I prefer to stick to more classic flavours when it comes to a tomato-based pizza (I just think it goes better with the sauce). On top of this, this pizzas tick the extra ‘perfect pizza’ box, price! At less than £7 each this is what I expect a pizza to be – fresh ingredients, thin crust and an acceptable price tag, just like in Italy, Belgium or Portugal. So thank you Franco Manca for restoring my faith in pizza in the UK – I feel like this will become my local.
Franco Manca Chiswick
144 Chiswick High Road
Rating: 9 meatballs out of 10.
*Also I must admit that I have had some very good pizzas from
Osteria Basilico, but these are quite expensive and I only have them as a takeaway so don’t really count as a great pizza.
EDIT: Osteria Basilico and Basilico the delivery service are not the same, sorry for the misunderstanding.