Eat & Drink

Published on March 20th, 2018 | by Tony Mallett

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Go and ‘sea’ what it’s like at Restaurant Francois

Continuity in the restaurant business is no bad thing and Restaurant Francois, located in the heart of Brussels’ bustling place Sainte Catherine is a great example, writes Martin Banks

The fact that some of its customers have been dining here for six decades gives a clue as to its longevity.

Its head waiter, Jean-Francois, started as a 16-year-old in 1977 (his first job) and the head chef started in 1993. In fact, of the 18 people employed here, three have more than 30 years of service each.

For nearly 100 years Restaurant Francois – the name is taken from the founder – has been meeting the needs of locals and tourists alike. From relatively humble beginnings as a chip and mussels shop, its enduring success, popularity and reputation for serving some of the best fish in Brussels shows no sign of letting up.

The current owners, who took over a couple of years ago, have changed very little but, you have to ask, why should they when the restaurant is still packing ‘em in in such numbers?

One important thing that has changed recently, though, are the opening times. It used to be closed on Sunday and Monday then, two years ago, started opening on Sunday. 

Just recently, it was decided to open 7/7 with one reason being to help keep the business ahead of the game in the face of ever-rising competition. But, generally, people who eat here like things to be stable and familiar.

It’s no wonder they keep coming back – while Brussels is a long way from the sea, of course, the food (almost exclusively fish) is equal to the very best that could be found at the coast.

That includes mouth-watering scallops cooked in butter, oysters  from Zeeland in the Netherlands (only in season), small clams, shrimps and mussels.

Lobster lovers will be in their element, with a range of different preparations, including “Nage” (served with fresh veg in a cream); “Grille” (in a spicy sauce) and “Bleu” (served in a stock with melted butter and bacon).

The lobster, which can also be ordered as a soup, is (along with roasted cod and eel) the most popular dish on the menu.

Much of the fish is locally sourced, such as North Sea cod and the shrimps and eel, both Belgian traditions (the Belgian specialities are all marked with the Belgian flag on the menu).

Of course, there is a great range of fish, including raie, sole and tuna. If you really want to “push the boat out” try the Siberian caviar!

This really is a place for fish but, if you want to eat meat, there’s a small selection, including lamb and Irish steak, plus a veggie dish and also a kiddies’ menu.

Also available is the fixed “Francois Menu”, very affordable at €59, which is three courses, with a choice from four starters and four mains.

There’s an excellent wine list, too, which Jean-Francois and his helpful staff will happily guide you through.

There is also a highly popular traiteur service, based next door, and it also offers a valet parking service, no bad thing in this particularly busy part of town.

The nautical design lends itself to a great atmosphere – look out for the old black and white photos on the walls, including some of former customers like the late Toots Thielemans.

All the cooking is overseen by Simon Kambala, who has been working here for 15 years. He said that despite the fairly recent change in management, the principle remains the same: traditional food with a modern twist.

Simon added: “We only work with the freshest of fish and I liken what I do to a doctor, in terms of having to research my subject all the time.”

The restaurant has seen off lots of challenges over the years, including the terrible fall-out from the 2016 terrorist attacks on Brussels, but with its centenary fast approaching, it is still going strong.

More information

2 Quai aux Briques, Brussels
02 511 6089

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