The French may beg to differ, but for my money the Belgian capital is often a far better place to eat out than its more famous neighbour, Paris. So when the Belgians decide to organise a year-long food festival – Brusselicious – you can be sure that it will reveal some creative haute-cuisine from the city’s outstanding young chefs, as well as being fun, irreverent, surreal, and quirky. There are dozens of events organised throughout the year, with reservations on brusselicious.be already open. Here are my top 10 events.
The most gastronomic and breathtaking event of Brusselicious is the four-week extravaganza in June that lives up to its vertiginous title – Dinner in the Sky. Just imagine a 22-person dining space, with a Michelin-starred chef in the middle, suspended high in the sky from a towering crane, with guests strapping on safety belts before being allowed to nibble the amuse-gueules. Each week, this floating restaurant will move to a different emblematic site in Brussels – the Atomium, Parc du Cinquantenaire, Palais Royal and Cambre forest – accompanied by a different celebrity chef. The price is expected to be sky high too, in the region of €150pp, but it will unforgettable, so book early.
Trams trundle all over the centre of Brussels, and one of the flagship Brusselicious events that will run from Tuesday to Sunday every week during the whole of 2012 is a futuristic white gourmet version. During a two-hour trip through the most beautiful parts of the city, guests will be served an haute-cuisine meal created by a legion of Belgium’s two-star Michelin chefs. Not cheap at €75 per person all-inclusive, but still necessary to book well in advance. The tram rolls into action on Valentine’s Day.
Brussels is always eccentric, as befits the home of Magritte, and the organisers of Brusselcious couldn’t miss the chance of presenting at least one over-the-top surrealist event. From 22 June, and lasting for three months through the summer, the urban landscape of the city will suddenly become the canvas for XXL, an exhibition of gigantic sculptures of Belgium’s favourite foods. Local artists have been given carte blanche to come up with eye-catching designs for giant chocolate bars, brussels sprouts, mussels, pints of beer and of course, a mega cone of frites.
The Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the most innovative and exciting museums in Brussels, and at the heart of this sprawling building is a visually stunning Gallery of Dinosaurs, just as popular with adults as kids. Throughout March, while the Museum will hold an exhibition exploring the five senses, the Dinosaur Gallery will be transformed into a venue for a unique series of meals created to explore our taste, touch, sight, sound and smell.
Moules frites at Brussels beach
Like many European cities, Brussels has embraced the concept of the urban beach pioneered by Paris Plage, where city river banks are transformed each summer into sandy beaches complete with palm trees and deck chairs. The Belgian capital does not boast a grand river like the Seine, and instead has to make do with the Quai des Péniches, alongside a gritty industrial canal. But the Belgians make up for this lack of glamour with their infectious enthusiasm for partying, so as long as the sun decides to come out during the month of July, Bruxelles Les Bains will be a fun venue with one enormous dining table for hundreds of people laid out with steaming cauldrons of succulent mussels and plates piled high with chips, everyone’s favourite meal – moules frites, for around €25 a head.
Flagged as the showcase event of this gastronomic year, the Brusselicious Festival will run from 6-9 September, bringing together all of Belgium’s gourmet influences, chefs and producers. Taking over one of the city’s prettiest parks, the Bois de la Cambre, more than 100 marquees will be set up, with visitors having the choice to join cooking classes, watch chefs demonstrating haute-cuisine recipes, sample chocolates, waffles, pâtisseries, stop off at a wine bar or traditional beer estaminet, and compare experimental molecular dishes with traditional carbonnade de boeuf a traditional beer and beef stew. Admission and demonstrations are free; guests pay for drinks and food.
Brussels Wine Week
While Brusselicious will host a beer festival over the first weekend of September, a far more offbeat event is Brussels Wine Week from 28 May-3 June – which is really more of a long weekend. For a country famed for brewing hundreds of different beers, it can come as a surprise that there are also vineyards dotted around the Belgian countryside, producing quite reasonable whites, from chardonnay and chenin to riesling and gewürztraminer, while reds are mainly limited to gamay and pinot noir. Belgian winemakers have also made a big impression when they have taken over estates in France, Italy and Spain. All these diverse vintages can be tasted during wine week at dozens of locations around town, from wine bars, cellars and restaurants, to stalls in the Grand Place.
The chip walk
For the Belgians, an old-fashioned “chippy” isn’t a shop or cafe, but rather a fritkot or baraque à frites, a ramshackle street stand where customers huddle and brave the elements all for a cone of chips smothered in mayonnaise. Everyone has their own favourite chip stall, and during November, Brusselicious will be running a fiercely-contested competition to find the best in town. To discover the top 10, follow the Brusselicious “chip walk”.
A slow food week
From 17-23 September, Karikol, the city’s Slow Food Convivium, organises a week-long celebration of sustainable, carbon-zero cuisine and biodiversity under the banner Bruxelles Potagère, or “Brussels, the vegetable garden”. Farmers from the surrounding countryside will bring in their products for tasting sessions, organic markets, picnics and gourmet promenades are on the agenda, while 70 chefs will come up with slow food-inspired menus for their restaurants.
Running throughout the whole year of Brusselicious, the city’s Cinematek will run two different movies a month, each themed to a different aspect of a gourmet meal, beginning with aperitifs and appetizers in January and ending with desserts in December. The season kicks off with Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? on 12 January. Entrance will be €12, which includes a tasting session at the end of the movie.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010