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Fine dining: The Belgian restaurants celebrating new Michelin stars
With the acquisition or loss of a star having such a dramatic effect on a restaurant’s success, Michelin can make or break a business. The 2016 edition of the international gourmet bible features four new restaurants in Wallonia and one in Brussels, and two restaurants, one in each region, are promoted to two stars. Discover the latest fine-dining addresses enjoying Michelin recognition, from long-standing institutions to up-and-coming new chefs.
La Villa in the Sky
Avenue Louise, Brussels
Elevated to the lofty status of a two-star establishment, this restaurant literally reaches for the stars, located as it is on the roof of the IT Tower in Avenue Louise. Awarded a first star soon after opening at the end of 2014, it’s a collaboration between former 2010 Top Chef semi-finalist Alexandre Dionisio and Brussels gastronomic institution La Villa Lorraine. And their ambition continues.
“We were flattered to win a second, but we have a third star in our sights. It’s probably the best way of hanging on to it as well. It would be great for Brussels to have a three-star restaurant,” says Dionisio. Also keeping him on his toes are menus that change almost daily. “We’re not hostage to the menu; it’s a daily discipline, but the best way to stay in shape,” he says.
All this pressure suits his temperament. “I’m quickly bored,” he says, and he’s convinced that the attitude of his keen young team also keeps everyone alert. They work in an open kitchen, providing diners in the glass cube an alternative view to the panorama of the city. Menus from €85 for lunch, up to €175 in the evening (without wine).
While for some, recognition comes early, childhood friends Michel Van Cauwelaert and Marc Leveau have waited a while for their first star. “After twenty-five years in the business, the star represents enormous joy and the pleasure to see that it’s possible to do something you love in a way that you love without falling into established practices,” says Leveau, who’s responsible for front-of house.
Le Pilori occupies a renovated rustic building that has served as a restaurant for more than 80 years. With such a culinary heritage, it’s little wonder that the menus (€35-€75) find favour. Quality fish, seafood and cuts of meat are teamed with regional produce. The seasonal menu includes: roasted langoustine with almond butter; French Landes asparagus, either Flemish-style or with mousseline; saddle of lamb with olives and artichokes.
Leveau: “The most important features of our cuisine are fresh and seasonal produce and precise cooking, without unnecessary embellishment.” The extensive wine menu is recommended, as are the selections accompanying each menu, €24-€42. And for fans of French bubbles, Le Pilori offers tastings of Champagne that has just been disgorged, without the final addition of sugar, offering an authentic taste.
Le Comptoir de Marie
While Michelin’s expertise on expensive, fine dining restaurants is long established, it has also been criticised for the absence of more affordable and ethnic places to eat. So this city-centre tapas eatery with its €37 menu is a welcome addition to the guide. Owner Luc Broutard was surprised by the star, which was awarded 18 months after the restaurant opened. “First of all, it wasn’t expected. We work not to earn a star but to gain clients. Of course, it’s great recognition for the restaurant and for all the team,” he says.
The early accolade has also attracted a new clientele, from Michelin fans who regularly frequent starred restaurants and the curious from the region and further afield. Broutard owns two other local restaurants, Table du Boucher and Madeleine. As for the concept, he says: “The idea was to propose a convivial meal, and tapas lends itself to that. We are proof that a star does not have to mean expensive. I think that Michelin is evolving in a positive way. Why not an Asian restaurant next year? As long as the product, the quality and the taste are all there.”
Customers are advised to book well in advance, especially if they want a seat at the eponymous counter. Menu options include Andalucian gazpacho, tuna carpaccio with vegetable pickles, a bonbon of matured Holstein beef with potato puree and shallot confit and cheese from Philippe Olivier. €37 for menu of five tapas plus dessert, €28 for wine selection.
If there’s one characteristic of cuisine in Wallonia, it is regional produce. Chef Philippe Fauchet serves vegetables from his own garden, featured in a seasonal daily menu (€45). For 20 years he has been delivering a modern, inventive and pure cuisine, and fans are delighted that it has finally been recognised by Michelin. For a gastronomic feast, the 20th-anniversary menu currently includes crab with asparagus, langoustines with broad beans and wild garlic, turbot and caviar, sweetbreads, and pigeon (€125 + €70 wine).
Alternatively, there’s a table d’hôte on Sunday evening. The restaurant is a husband-and-wife operation. Situated close to the E42, the brick-and-steel structure is surrounded by fields; a contemporary, sober and elegant structure overlooking a garden and terrace. Menus also at €45 and €60.
d’Eugènie à Emilie
Having been promoted to two stars – the first came in 2012 – chef Eric Fernez appreciates Michelin’s confidence in his cuisine. Resolutely traditional in style, he says: “For many months, we have uncompromisingly made the choice to favour classical cuisine and high quality produce selected according to strict criteria, whether it be bread, lobster, poultry or vegetables.”
The second star has led to an increase of customers, and from further afield. “The ‘two-star’ clientele seem to be more informed and used to Michelin-star cuisine,” says Fernez. “Paradoxically, the demanding level of this cuisine is also accompanied by greater simplicity. This a challenge that we meet with great pleasure every day.”
Currently on the menu: poached turbot with mousseline, Breton lobster, Bresse chicken; among the desserts are favourites such as rum baba, crèpes comédie française and peach melba. Menus from €49-€140, including a €58 gourmet menu for under-28s. A charming footnote: the restaurant is named after Fernez’s grandmother Eugènie and daughter Emilie.
Rue du Midi, Brussels
Isabelle Arpin is the only female chef among the latest Michelin laureates; she has expressed surprise at winning a first star and pleasure at the recognition for their hard work. Arpin, from France, succeeded owner and sommelier Anca Petrescu’s exhusband, Alexandre Dionisio, in the kitchen (see La Villa in the Sky, hence the name over the door). She presents a cuisine centred on flavour, passion and femininity. Her delicate, subtle and colourful dishes also feature spice.
She is inspired by her travels and her imagination according to the arrival of fresh produce. For lunch, count on €50 for three courses (all-in formula €75) or €34 for two. There are two evening menus, €75 and €130.
This article first appeared in WAB magazine (Wallonia and Brussels)