| Guest post by Johanna | In order to survive the long, grey Belgian winter or the even longer, dark and absolutely freezing Scandinavian winter, one develops certain survival techniques. Of these, my absolute favorite, has to be the consumption of a warm beverage with… Read More
Growing mushrooms is very exciting. It reminds me of being all small in a natural history museum, yet you are at home, and can watch the process from your sofa (or wherever you choose to grow your babies). Brussels startup Permafungi collects used coffee grounds and mixes it with mushroom mycelium in order to grow oyster mushrooms. You can buy their kits to do this yourself at home. So here comes a tale of what it can look like.
Day 1-2. I have picked up the mushroom kit picked up from Färm in St Katherine. I parted with 14,95 euros for the kit and another 50 for lavish organic products, which is why I should not be allowed in fancy food shops. The mushroom kit is basically a log made of coffee grounds, something looking like hay, and mushroom mycelium, wrapped in transparent plastic. The first step is to cut criss-crossing holes through the plastic, and soak the ‘log’ in water over night.
Day 3-6. Excited waiting. I have placed the log in a light, cool place with fresh ventilation, and spray it regularly (perhaps too regularly, I have a tendency to over-water growing things).
Day 7. First signs of life – the white mycelium takes a less cloudy, more spongy, look, and is pressing its way out through the holes. The first picture is taken on the morning, the second in the afternoon. It feels as if they grow as soon as you turn your back on them.
Day 8. It’s like a friendly mushroom explosion, and everything goes very quickly – the first picture is from the morning, the second from the afternoon. I keep spraying, in an excited nervous way.
Day 9. The growth seems to have stopped. Time to eat. I carefully pick the mushrooms from the log and divide them up on a cutting. Without having rinsed them (because unless it’s strictly necessary, you should never, ever rinse mushrooms), I fry them slowly in some olive oil and butter. I add more butter, then serve them up on toast with some parmesan. I feel a bit like a scientist when I eat the mushroom sandwich, and it feels very good.
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.
Tiny and busy, Bottega no. 3 is already a neighbourhood favourite in Chatelain. It’s the perfect alternative Italian, with slightly kitsch decor, personable service and good music – not to mention great pasta. Despite the tiny kitchen, they also manage to cater for larger groups by serving three big antipasti platters to a company of twelve, and then a selection of the chef’s pasta – all to share on oddly matched china.
The scrumptious antipasti platter is packed with all kinds of delicacies, like truffle infused salami, mustardy ham, broccoli soufflé and several kinds of cheese – the nutty, tangy kind that almost stings a bit. Matched with good wine, and nice music streaming out from the huge speakers in the window, it’s a snug place to see an evening away.
The pasta we were served came in three formats: one for the veggies with truffle and mushroom, some with salmon and capers, and some with duck and ginger, all served on three huge platters to us to scoop from. They were all of perfect consistency, and the sauces well-paired. The unconventional duck was my favourite, but the vegetarians were also satisfied with their slightly more limited selection. The final of the evening, tiramisu and apple cake, set the comfort tone high. Bottega No. 3 is a little pricey, but serve reliably tasty pasta, and everything surrounding the eating experience is very pleasant. We left satisfied and in high spirits.
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 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 like an investigation, trying to figure out what is on the plate. Although we were left the menu at our side, we only 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 situated 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 wild 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 tender 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 were then served 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.
Time to write about one of my favourite cafés in Brussels: Aksum. Their great coffee is hardly a secret, and housed in a small venue decked out with vintage ethiopian furniture, they are often busy. Their hot chocolate is perfect, standing strong against the stiff competition in Brussels. But for me, the true star of this café is a cake – the passionfruit dacquoise. A thin layer of crème brûlée makes it perfectly crispy on top, which is followed by a velvety, intense passion fruit cream inside, and finished with a soft and chewy bottom of almond meringue. I cannot get enough of it. This beauty is actually not made by Aksum, but sourced from a local Marolles patisserie called Secret Gourmand (a hidden gem for ordering whole cakes). Apart from the delicious passionfruit dacquiose, they also serve pistachio and cherry cake, lime and almond cake, and a chocolate cake I never had the pleasure to try. But these cakes, coupled with the friendly service, delicious coffee and nice venue, makes it a good place for a Sunday treat.
Should you be heavily into coffee, Aksum is also a good place to shop – they import coffee beans from around the world, which is ground in a lovely old school grinder by the door. If you want to take some home, they have a selection of different beans and ways of grinding them. The Finnish owner gives clear advice about the best kind of coffee (and takes the time to answer emails about it). Finally, a little trivia for the Swedophiles: you might think of Italians first when listing coffee drinking nations, but people in the Nordics are even more crazy about their caffeine.