Monday, November 27, 2006 Belgium Belgium

First night in Brussels

This alley, and several others nearby, were packed with restaurants with touts in the street competing for our business. [IMG_0256]
Rue des Bouchers / Beenhouversstraat [Enlarge]

For our first meal in Brussels we had one thing on our mind: Moules Frites (Mussels and chips) and Belgian beer. We were wandering around the centre of town half-looking for a suitable hostelry when we stumbled upon the Rue des Bouchers. It is a tiny alley packed with small restaurants. Despite the fact that it was a northern European November evening, the tables were still set up outside with heaters warming them from above. Each restaurant had an awning, which almost touched a similar awning on the restaurant across the street. It all looked like a typical tourist trap but we decided that although we probably wouldn't end up eating here, we would walk through and have a look.

At about the third restaurant—we discovered later that there are over 70 restaurants packed into four short, narrow alleys—we were accosted by a tout standing outside the front door. He proceeded to give us in fluent and lightning-fast English, a comprehensive list of reasons why we should stop right here and come on in for our meal. When we showed a hint of indecision he promised that our first and last drinks would be on the house. We were tempted, especially since we probably only wanted two drinks each anyway. However we sensed that there was more to this quarter of the city to discover so we moved on, having thanked him very much and taken, at his insistence, his business card.

We quickly discovered two things: (1) that almost every establishment had a tout in the street who had a similar long list of great reasons why his or her kitchen / ambiance / value for money was better than the other 70-odd in the area, and (2) that many restaurants had real Belgians in them, which we took to mean that maybe the whole setup wasn't just there to part the tourists from their cash. And the food arranged on the stalls outside the windows did look and smell delicious. We decided to go for it. But how to choose?

We finally settled on a restaurant which looked just busy enough. Its tout was a very friendly man from Southern Spain or North Africa. His long list of reasons to come in was no longer or better than any of the others, but somehow he won us over.

Inside we were shown to our table and a complimentary glass of Kir Royale was placed in front of each of us. A basket of bread soon followed. We looked through the menu, provided in a helpful variety of languages, and settled without much deliberation on the €12 set menu of fromage croquettes, moules frites and an unidentified "dessert". We also ordered a Hoegaarden, Belgian witbier, each.

The first beer disappeared very easily and we decided to push the boat out and order another to accompany the main course. There was a bit of a delay after ordering and Glenn eventually caught the eye of the maître d' to find out what the problem was. Two beers were hastily poured for us and we then witnessed the maître d' reprimanding a waiter for having delivered "our" beers to the next door table. We had wondered why they'd looked so surprised to received them, but they didn't hesitate to drink them. Prehaps they thought that the clever Belgians had invented telepathic drink ordering.

After a delicious meal (the mystery dessert was a very tasty chocolate gateau, by the way) we navigated our way back to our room for our first night of hostelling.