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From sizzle to fizzle: Lucy Chang
In the past few months, a whole army of Thai restaurants have popped up around Brussels. Mike Blyer looks for the spice of life at Lucy Chang, a much-touted addition to the posh Châtelain hood.
Frequenting Lucy Chang sounds like grounds for divorce. Anybody with a name like that must be in charge of the best bordello in town, no? Sorry to disappoint. Lucy isn’t a madam catering to the euro-frustrés, but a newly opened Asian restaurant in Ixelles/ Elsene. The owner took the name from an American drag cabaret and tweaked it to escape copyright issues.
Instead of a transvestite chorus, the ‘Asian Grocery and Noodle Shop’ on Rue Américaine offers “a collection of traditional and eclectic dishes from Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia,Laos and China”. The formula has already worked in Antwerp, Knokke and Brasschaat (north of Antwerp),where Lucy’s franchising business is booming. Because I love Asian food, and because Rue Américaine is two minutes from my house, I visited Chang’s twice on your behalf. First up was a terrace lunch. I had the Vietnamese rice noodle soup with beef, while
Mrs B opted for the Szechuan wonton soupwith egg noodles and duck. The servings were huge and the overwhelming sensation was one of drowning. The noodles struggled for primacy in a bowl of warm water, while the side order of greasy fish cakes tasted of nothing much. The experience left us unsatisfied and so we returned several days later for dinner. This time we sat inside at well-spaced tables. A lot of love has gone into the monochromatic green interior, with asia-generica prints on the walls, a tin-lined roof and a big Buddha guarding the toilets.
The wine prices are more egalitarian than democratic, with each bottle costing €18. The list is short and, if our bottle of Sauvignon Blanc was representative of the rest, well chosen. They also have a good selection of imported beers for anybody hankering after the taste of their backpacking days. Bia Saigon is a favourite of mine.
The starters of stuffed chicken wing (divine), sesame prawn toast (excellent) and spring rolls (boring) were starter-sized – not too big and not too small – and arrived quickly. With the mains, we asked for fresh chili as Mrs B’s Massaman curry decidedly lacked kick despite its billing as the menu’s hottest dish. Unbelievably, the kitchen didn’t have any, which is like a French restaurant without butter.
My calamari and black tiger shrimps over glass noodles were better, but nevertheless under-seasoned. Also, three prawns seem a little tight for an entire dish. The green curry, like the Massaman, tasted largely of coconut milk. Its only vegetables, bamboo and aubergines, were tough and undercooked.
I wanted so much to like this place and came away frustrated. The attention to detail that’s gone into the interiors, and into the hiring and training of thoughtful, attractive and attentive serving staff hasn’t extended to the kitchen.
You should visit Lucy Chang and tell her what you like and what you don’t. I suspect she’ll listen if you shout loud enough. Three restaurants have come and gone on that corner of Rue Américaine in as many years. I’d like to see Lucy stick around, but only if she can leave the interiors aside and get into the kitchen.