Published on February 11th, 2019 | by James Drew0
A message about MSG – not at Gallery Resto-Boutique!
Every business likes its own USP (Unique Selling Point) and Brussels restauranteur Lanh Pham (pictured, centre) thinks she’s found hers, writes Martin Banks.
Lanh refuses to use the additive monosodium glutamate in her dishes and it’s a policy that sets her apart from many other Asian restaurants in Belgium.
Glutamate is supposed to bring out the full natural flavour of your favourite dishes but the problem is that the additive has been blamed for everything from headaches to chest pain.
Lanh, who shops daily to ensure she gets only the freshest ingredients and products, firmly believes she can present tasty and wholesome dishes without resorting to the use of glutamate, not least in the sauces used in the preparation of her Vietnamese food.
It’s a “USP” that makes her restaurant, Gallery Resto-Boutique, very different from other Asian-style restaurants, most if not all of which use the controversial powder.
Lanh takes pride in not only producing tasty but also healthy and nutritious food, adding, “it’s important that clients are offered food that is good for them and that’s what we strive to do.”
In case customers were in any doubt about this, the front cover of the menu makes it clear that the dishes are all “sans glutamate”.
Lanh’s is a policy that could also be one of the reasons why the Vietnamese restaurant, in a business notorious for the depressingly high turnover of business failures, has proved its longevity.
It’s now into its 31st year since it was opened by a then 18-year-old Lanh who first arrived in Belgium at the age of 12 as a political refugee from her native Vietnam.
She did not speak either French or Dutch but, having settled close to Antwerp, soon picked up both languages. She also concedes that even when she opened the restaurant (with her ex-husband) she’d never cooked in her life (her only previous experience being observing her mother in the kitchen).
Again, the resourceful Lanh set about correcting this, partly by returning briefly to Vietnam to work at a friend’s restaurant for a short spell.
She recalls: “I always believe that if you have a ‘problem’ you should confront it full on and that’s what I did.”
She adds: “I love eating but I soon also discovered that I loved cooking as well. Nothing gives me more pleasure than eating, cooking and seeing other people enjoy my cooking.”
Given the problems with unsuitable kitchen staff that she’d encountered at the outset, the then newly acquired culinary knowledge was to prove invaluable.
Even now, all these years later, it still does as she’s a very much “hands on” restaurauteur who likes nothing more than rolling her sleeves up and pitching in in the kitchen. Indeed, after the busy lunch session finishes at 3pm, Lanh can be found in the kitchen preparing dishes and sauces for the following day.
The food here is excellent as is evidenced by the very loyal band of customers who, over the past three decades, keep coming back. But, looking forward, Lanh is keen on innovating and plans to introduce more dishes that might be best described as a fusion of Vietnamese and Belgian cuisine. One example could be mussels – that great mainstay of Belgian food – served in a Vietnamese curry.
The surroundings here are as delightful as the food (credit here to the current chef who comes from Laos) and guests are often taken aback by the quality of the artwork that adorns the walls.
Lanh is also an art lover and a great believer in utilizing artistic talent. To that end, she gives local artists here the chance to display their works in her restaurant for a period of up to 6-7 weeks. At present, a female Polish artist has her works, including impressive paintings and metalwork, displayed. Together with very friendly service from people like Vietnamese-born Lan, it all makes for a very relaxing way to enjoy one’s dining experience.
It’s not always been plain sailing for the go-ahead Lanh: business suffered so badly after the 2016 Brussels terrorist attacks that she feared she’d have to close.
That is all in the past though and, turning to the future, Lanh, now in her 50s, has possible plans to open a second restaurant.
The plans are still tentative but, as it is where she grew up when she first came to Belgium, it will probably be located in Flanders.
One thing’s for sure: if it’s half as good as Gallery it will also prove a long-term success too.
7 Rue du Grand Cerf, Brussels
T. +32 (0)2 511 8035