On an anonymous side street between De Brouckere and Congrès, next to office blocks and empty car parks, one finds the simple Japanese restaurant Sakagura. Despite its modest appearance, eating here is a culinary pleasure, and for very reasonable prices. Walking around the empty office blocs by night the area can feel dystopic, but stepping in through Sakagura’s doors saves you from the apocalypse.
We tried their ‘Omakase umi’, which consists of three little salads and two extra dishes of your choice. The salads are exemplary if you like fish and squiggly vegetables. One contained meaty octopus slices in zesty ginger, and the suspiciously named “mountain jellyfish”, turned out to be a juicy vegetable in vinegar and chili. All the salads were fresh, filling and and delicious, with interesting flavours you don’t get in your typical Japanese restaurant. But the typical Japanese restaurant often sells mass-produced sushi, and sushi isn’t on the menu at Sakagura.
To the salads we were served pan-fried gyoza dumplings with chili and salty sauce, and deep-fried chicken made of the browner, tastier parts. The queen of the table was a lightly boiled tuna with horseradish, which was pure tender deliciousness. Horseradish and fish is always a winner. Our greedy eyes ordered in vegetable tempura as well, but this was far too much food after what we already ordered, and it felt bland compared to the first dishes.
My greed has few limits though, and we finished with a green tea panna cotta, dressed with sweet red beans. To me it tasted like fish and cream at the same time, but perhaps that says more about my tastebuds than Japanese desserts (from what I understand it’s an acquired taste). Next time, I’ll finish with sake instead (because they have a large selection) and try eat slightly less. Because I’m definitely returning.
Sakagura, Rue du Marais 15, 1000 Bruxelles, http://www.sakagura.be/, 02 201 78 88
Huge bowls of Japanese noodle soup with pork neck and all the trimmings.
Cycling in Brussels offers a new kind of cold, which makes a Swede feel almost at home. Freezing my fingers off whilst battling grey traffic every morning brings on strong a strong longing for Umamido in Flagey. It’s a loud and brightly-lit Japanese Ramen (noodle soup) restaurant, with welcoming kitchen smells, and a friendly waiter who doesn’t stress despite the constant queue of guests.
It is advisable to start with kimchi or gyoza dumplings, if only because they look so nice. The kimchi is served in an oyster shell sat in a little pool of salt. I don’t quite get the salt, because the hot, salt and sour kicmhi has all the spicy and salty pickledness needed. If you go for lunch, and you are two, you get acouplpe of fried gyoza dumplings for free.
The miso soups are served up in an esthetically pleasing manner, in huge ceramic bowls. They taste rich and warming, and the creamy, meaty tasty of the pork neck accompanies the miso beautifully. It is so soft, it almost falls apart by itself. The garlic mushrooms adds a nice dimension of chewiness too, if you opt for adding that. And it is very filling food, so no worries for those who can’t imagine having just soup for lunch. The noodles are a very different quality than the ones you make at home, and keep their shape beautifully.
Unfortunately, the vegetable miso is dull, even with the addition of smoked garlic butter, so I would only recommend Umamido to my meaty friends. Perhaps one can hope in the future they will serve some seafood-based, savoury and equally rich alternative to the meat soups. But aside from that, Umamido may be one of the best was of celebrating the cold chills.
Umamido, Chaussée de Vlerugat 1.
I have a confession to make. I’m unphazed by gourmet pizzas. It’s not that I haven’t tried that pizza yet – I’ve had a multitude of connoisseur pizzas (although, admittedly, I haven’t been to Naples). They are all really nice, I just don’t think there’s that that much of a mystery to them. I don’t believe in the sublime pizza, unless you are really, really hungry. And if you are really, really hungry, even a Doctor Ötker pizza will be amazing (in fact, I eat them on a regular late-night basis, dipped in spicy sriracha mayo).
All this said, I do have a favourite pizza place in Brussels. Perhaps you can take it as a stamp of high esteem that even a pizza sceptic like me will hold this place above all the others. Da Vincenzo in place St Boniface always serves up a perfect crust, and perfectly savoury sauce, which means that you don’t need lots of extras. Their best pizza in the crudaoila, with fresh tomatoes, parmesan and rocket. That’s all. Grabbing one of these to go from St Boniface and pairing it with a bottle of wine in the park is an incredibly good idea. They are delicious.
Da Vincenzo, Rue du Paix 13, 1050 Brussels.
Kif kif is an old petrol station by the Flagey lakes turned cute meze place. Owned by an Moroccan-Israeli duo, it takes its name from the small plates with meze and salad that you select at the chef’s counter. If you pick meat from the grill you get five kifs to go with it, so it’s a hit for those who like eating many different things. They kifs are varied and very tasty. We sampled their artichokes, green lentils, beetroot salad, hummus, sweet potato and yoghurt dip (to name a few), which were the perfect compliment to the spicy merguez and kofta from the grill. The grilled meat was served with a cumin-dusted baked poato, which was a hit combo I’ve never tried before.
The vegetarian options were perhaps a little less exciting (we tried the tagine), but cheap and of good standard. A lot of attention has gone into designing the interior of Kif kif, but it doesn’t feel pretentious or uncomfortable, just relaxed and atmospheric. It’s a great place to gather with friends for late nights over good meze. For summer it must be a winner – they have an outside terrace, covered with colourful lights overlooking the Flagey ponds.
Square de Biarritz, 1 – 1050 Ixelles, phone: 02 644 18 10, here on the map:
La Tsampa is the perfect cute meat free weekday restaurant. Tucked-in behind a food shop close to Avenue Louise lies La Tsampa, it’s a hide-away from the meat-heavy menus of Bruxellois restaurants.
Normally functioning as a lunch restaurant, they close their kitchen at 19:30 which is an odd hour for any evening restaurant in Brussels. However, if you arrive on time, you’ll find a romantic terraced backroom with a simple but very tasty menu. And also, it’s very cheap.
Our group settled on different varieties of their main vegetarian plate (they all looked more or less the same), of tofus cooked with artichokes, lingonberry-marinated seitan steaks, veggie goulash and tagine. They were all served with rice or potatoes, salted cabbage and beetroot spouts. It was well salted (to my immense liking) and served with a pleasant smile. We were also treated to some detoxing juices that were special, quite unlike the normal sweet fruitness of such drinks.
We finished off with the house cake – a lush, dense chocolate cake on crumbled bottom with chesnut cream. Simple and unexaggerated. A good meal. If you are into alternative, organic and generally hard-to-find ingredients, this might also be a place to find them: in front of the restaurant, you go through a large food shop full of vegan organic ingredients.