Published on February 15th, 2018 | by Tony Mallett0
Que viva España!
A new kid on the block brings the best of Spain to the heart of Brussels, as Martin Banks discovers…
The number of Michelin-starred Spanish restaurants outside Spain can probably be counted on one hand.
It’s certainly a safe bet that there aren’t any in Belgium.
However, that particular gap in the market could be filled fairly soon if the quality of cuisine available at one top-notch restaurant is anything to go by.
Having opened earlier this month, El Impasse del Sablon is a real newcomer on Brussels’ restaurant scene.
It’s obviously still to find its place in the scheme of things but, judging by the customer feedback thus far it’s going to be a major player.
So, what is all the fuss about?
Well, the fact that it ticks three important boxes goes a long way to explaining its credentials.
Location, décor and the all-important food – this restaurant scores on all three.
First, it is delightfully located, with the entrance about half-way down a picturesque little passage (Impasse Saint-Jacques), just off the city’s chic Place Sablon.
The narrow thoroughfare contains African art galleries and up-market jewellery shops and can be easily missed, hence its reputation as one of the city’s best kept “secrets.”
As for the décor, this is a delight on the eye and the work of a well-known Spanish designer (who also just happens to have designed for the King of Spain.).
The general aim is to recreate the bourgeois style that you might expect to find in Madrid or other cities across Spain.
This is a particularly cosy and intimate place to eat – there are just 11 tables with seating for about 24 – and there’s a lovely little area at the entrance where diners can sit and have a relaxing drink before dinner.
The tables – unlike a lot of restaurants these days – are discreetly separated so as to provide as much privacy as possible.
And, so, to obviously the most important thing – the food.
Here, you are unlikely to be disappointed. Much of the produce and ingredients used in the cooking are sourced from Asturias, a northern region in Spain.
This is particularly appropriate as it is the region where Marcos Moran, the restaurant’s renowned consultant chef, hails from.
If you’re unfamiliar with the quality of Spanish gastronomic food then Jean-Francois Delaunay, the French-born restaurant manager (ably assisted by his Spanish colleague) is on hand to fully explain everything.
The wonderful card includes tapas and a very good selection of oysters. From the starters, one particular dish which is recommended is the champignons de saison, oeuf cuit lentement, pomme de terre et truffe – a real delight.
The langoustine with pasta and cabbage also gets the thumbs-up.
There’s a small, but special, choice of fish and meat of which the lamb shoulder, served with chestnut puree and goat curd, is a real treat for the taste buds.
The Iberian milk-fed pork shoulder with roasted garlic and mini pickled veg (or another dish, beef sirloin fillet with apple chutney) are equally mouth-watering offerings.
The fine dining actually starts well before the main course, with some terrific aperitivo.
These include something close to the heart of Marcos Moran, the original inspiration behind the food here. Called “crunchy”, it seeks to recreate one of Marcos’ childhood favourites and is accompanied by cod fish croquette and Iberico jamon. The latter is sourced from a pure breed of pig which goes some way to explaining why much of the food here has that ‘melt-in-the-mouth’ feel to it.
These small offerings all amount to great appetisers for the fantastic food that follows.
If the food is of the highest quality so too is the wine, again much of it sourced from Spain and all expertly detailed by the friendly and helpful Jean-Francois.
As well as the a la carte, there are also tasting menus available which, depending on the number of courses, are priced at either €75 or €90.
There are some who still think that Spanish food starts and ends with paella and cheap plonk.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth but it’s the image that’s been built up, partly as a result of cheap package holidays to Spain. But the best of Spanish gastronomy compares favourably with anything, as is evidenced here.
This restaurant doesn’t yet have star status but, if the ‘food experience’ currently being enjoyed by diners here is anything to go by, it can only be a matter of time before it does!
El Impasse del Sablon
Impasse Saint-Jacques, Sablon
02 512 9132